If there is one thing a charity can do to make its fundraising life easier, it is to establish a program of monthly donations. There is almost no downside to monthly giving and plenty of advantages. Monthly donors are simply of higher lifetime value, are more loyal than most donors, and provide a steady, predictable income for nonprofits.
Donors love monthly giving too. Once they decide to be a steady supporter of your cause, they appreciate the convenience of monthly giving and the idea of providing dependable support to their favorite cause.
Monthly giving has been around for a long time now so best practices have emerged. Here are the most basic ones.
1. Tie Monthly Giving to a Specific Purpose.
My monthly gift to an animal sanctuary started because I fell in love with a particular dog that was recovering from abuse. I signed up to support her with a monthly gift. I'm sure that by now, that particular dog is out of recovery and probably adopted. But I keep on with my monthly giving because I love the cause.
Many recurring gift programs are tied to particular people...sponsoring a child or an animal is probably the oldest form of monthly giving. For instance, Best Friends Animal Society encourages sponsorship of a particular animal and at Save the Children, you can sponsor a child.
But you can also tie the gift to an action or to support a particular ongoing activity. UNICEF, for instance, offers several actions such as providing 12 packets of biscuits for malnourished kids and supporting a course of anti-malarial treatment for 33 children. Similarly, Mercy Corps provides stories about specific people and how each level of giving can help them.
2. Reassure Donors That They Can Stop at Any Time
Committing to an ongoing charge to one's credit card or withdrawal from a bank account is a big step for most people. They want to be reassured that they can get out of it should they change their mind or if their budget goes south. So make it easy to cancel or change the amount should the donor wish to.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada adds this line to the recurring gift form on its website: "My Guarantee: I understand that my gift is ongoing but that I can change or cancel my pledge at any time." Their monthly donation form is a wonderful model for any organization trying to figure out how to design its own.
But also encourage donors to increase their gifts. Most charities with recurring gift programs have regular campaigns to encourage recurring donors to upgrade their gifts. You might do this on the anniversary of the donor's first gift or during a particular season, such as the year end holidays.
3. Invite Monthly Donors to Be Part of a Special Program or Group
Everyone likes to be special. It used to be that we had to be rich to become a member of exclusive philanthropic circles. But now that feeling of being part of a special group is achieved through many charitable giving programs. The Salvation Army does that with its Bed and Bread Club. For $10 monthly you can help a needy person in a very specific way...provide a place to sleep and a meal. Furthermore, the Bed and Bread Club is run by local Salvation Army affiliates so donors can help in their very own communities.
Similarly, Operation Smile creates a special group of supporters by inviting monthly donors to become Smile Partners.
To make your special monthly giving program stand out, design a distinctive logo, set up a special page on your website, and develop thematic materials that will reinforce the specialness of the program and make it stick in your donors' minds.
4. Make Your Appeal for Monthly Giving Ubiquitous
It's easy to incorporate information about your monthly giving program across your communications channels.
Add the option to your regular donation landing page on your website. Put the information about recurring giving options in your direct mailing; in your newsletters, and in every fundraising campaign. You never know when that person who is giving individual donations will convert to monthly giving.
Also use various ways of recruiting people to your giving program. Some large nonprofits do very well with television advertising and telethons. Marketing with the telephone is often quite successful, especially if you target those donors who have already donated via a direct mail appeal. Then it is a matter of converting them to recurring donors.
In countries other than the US, person-to-person recruiting right on the street has been successful, although this form of donor acquistion has a very high attrition rate. The point is, though, to mix up the ways you reach out to donors.
5. Love Your Monthly Donors by Treating Them Well.
Monthly donors can be 7-10 times more valuable over time than regular donors, according to the guru of recurring giving, Harvey McKinnon. Plus they are the most loyal donors you're likely to have. Once signed up, it's not unusual for monthly donors to stay with your organization for many years. But they will remain loyal only if you give them plenty of the right attention.
In a webinar on recurring giving, a representative from the Nature Conservancy of Canada explained some of the ways her organization stays close to its monthly givers. It starts with a a thank you phone call when a monthly donor signs up, a welcome kit in the mail, a tax receipt once a year, email newsletters, and a thank you video toward the end of each year.
Treating your monthly donors well also includes keeping meticulous records so that you can follow up when a credit card expires so you don't lose that donor; and asking monthly donors what kinds of communications they want to receive and how frequently.