Monthly Giving FAQs
The financial lifeblood of many organizations is provided not by the few large givers, but by the loyal donors who give a modest amount every month… the monthly giving club participants.
There are many issues to consider regarding monthly giving programs. You may already have a program in place and are considering how to expand it.
We're asked a lot of questions and provide a great deal of strategic thinking to help each client determine what's best for their current circumstances, as well as what they should consider as they seek to utilize monthly giving clubs in their fundraising programs.
We hope you find the following set of questions and answers enlightening and valuable. The following questions were put to Jack Doyle, Amergent's President and resident monthly giving club expert.
- Why do most organizations have a monthly giving program?
- How do you find monthly donors? Can they be acquired or do you have to "grow your own"?
- Are there dangers or presumptions you find when analyzing the fundraising practices of monthly giving clubs?
- Any other "bad" practices that you can identify?
- How do you go about suggesting increases in the donor's monthly amount? Is there a formula?
- Even the most loyal donors forget occasionally, so what can you do about missed monthly payments?
- Are there other forms of feedback you can include on the monthly giving pledge reminders?
- How many times in one year can you invite people into your monthly giving club?
Q: Why do most organizations have a monthly giving program?
A monthly giving program provides donors who "love" the organization a convenient way to help often, almost without thinking about it. The donor makes a commitment to give a certain amount of money every month, that isn't missed in their weekly or monthly budget. Many donors give in the range of $5 to $25 each month, but we have seen some have success at higher monthly amounts.
The successful monthly giving program is one that is based on a combination of permission marketing and relationship fundraising, both keys to long-term success. You agree with each donor on how they can help, at what level, and for how long. For many of these donors, their commitment is open-ended for their lifetime.
Q: How do you find monthly donors? Can they be acquired or do you have to "grow your own"?
There are no easy solutions or answers these days. You earn the trust of donors over time and those who are inclined to give in this manner, self identify over time. Some can be identified early on in their giving and others indicate a willingness after a certain number of gifts.
With every batch of new donors, we all know some will never give again, but (if we're lucky) two-thirds of them will. We just don't know which ones.
Likewise, we would like to know which donors are going to give us 10 gifts in their lifetime and which are going to make big gifts. It all depends on how well we earn their trust and fulfill our mission, as they believe we should. When we do this, we open more opportunities to invite more people into our monthly giving club. You can't really acquire them, but you can nurture them along.
Q: Are there dangers or presumptions you find when analyzing the fundraising practices of monthly giving clubs?
Naturally, everyone is very fond of his or her monthly donors and many express a sense of wanting to protect them from everything else the organization does. This can lead to well-meaning, but misguided fundraising practices, especially in terms of strengthening the friendships and donor relationships.
It's common for people to assume the monthly donors can't give more at one time than what they have already pledged.
Often, what they pledged was an amount suggested to them. What they are able and willing to give you often isn't addressed if all you are doing is thanking them for their last gift and asking them to fulfill their pledge again this month. In different tests, we found a large percentage of monthly donors who responded to upgrade campaigns (sometimes more than 35% were willing to make a single gift 5 times larger than anything they had ever done before).
When asked why they were willing to do it, they would often say, "Because you finally asked!"
On the one hand, we're grateful so many are willing to be so generous, but the downside is, how many organizations are ignoring their most loyal donors, taking them for granted, when many of them want to help in a bigger way.
We find letting your monthly donors help out in special ways every year makes them feel more involved. Allowing them to choose to be more active and more generous is a good thing for a lot of them. And you can make all the others feel good, even if they choose not to upgrade and make an extra gift.
It's all about relationship fundraising.
Q: Any other "bad" practices that you can identify?
It's not ironic that most of the people who self identify or indicate likelihood for joining a monthly giving club are the donors who have responded consistently to the regular direct mail appeals. This is one of the ways we find new monthly giving club members… repeat giving.
I've worked with a number of organizations that immediately change the donor's record when they join a monthly giving club, to prevent them from getting any more direct mail appeals. They even eliminate donors from annual appeals they may have been giving to for several years.
The danger I see here is that the organization is ignoring the donor's giving patterns and preferences for when they like to give. The donor had no say in the decision. Now the donor won't receive the holiday mailings they have repeatedly contributed to year after year.
I'm a proponent of the practice that allows donors to upgrade their support and join as many monthly programs as they want, and still allows them to receive mailings that they have regularly responded to in the past.
On the flip side of this, once I'm in the monthly giving program, you have no reason to include me in any regular direct mail appeals that I have received and regularly ignored over the years. Save your money.
Q: How do you go about suggesting increases in the donor's monthly amount? Is there a formula?
Every organization needs to know its own strengths and donors' preferences, so it can suggest something appropriate and within reach of most of its monthly giving club participants.
There are different types of monthly giving programs. The smaller ones have donors who give between $50-$120 annually; the next level is in the $400-$500 range and then there are ones for donors to give $900-$1,200.
When it's time to ask your donors to consider an increase in their monthly gift, make it an amount they will find easy to say yes to while being meaningful enough to benefit you. In other words, don't undershoot an opportunity.
What are some guidelines? Ask the $5 monthly donor to go to $10 or $15… not huge amounts, but a nice annual increase. Ask the $10 donor to go to $15 or $20. Ask the $20 donor to go to $30 or $40.
When you're in the larger clubs, you ask the $50 donors to go to $75 or $100.
But don't ask without reason or context for the added funds. Tell them why you need more money. Remind them how many people they help with their support. Use symbolic examples of how much good is done every month. Make sure the examples you give are believable from the donor's perspective.
Q: Even the most loyal donors forget occasionally, so what can you do about missed monthly payments?
The best programs have an average participation rate of between 9-10 gifts per year. This means some people give all 12 months, some people change to quarterly, and others just forget. That's to be expected when the donors are writing checks and mailing them in.
For the programs that rely on EFT and credit card debiting, the payment rates are very high.
We think it's a good idea to let your donors know you are aware of their behavior, and give them feedback in a positive way. If a donor misses a month, the next month's reminder can include a message, "As we prepare this note, we see that your last gift was 2 months ago… thought you'd like to know in case you want to catch up this month".
If you have a set year, the monthly pledge reminder should include the original pledge amount, the number of payments made and how much that adds up to, along with the balance left to pay off for the year (i.e. their monthly gift times 12). People remember the balance they owe and think about ways of making good on it. Sometimes, they accelerate their payments.
Q: Are there other forms of feedback you can include on the monthly giving pledge reminders?
I have an excellent example, and I think this is an opportunity most organizations can relate to. It has to do with making proactive changes to a process that is very operational in nature, and not always under the control of the fundraisers.
Here's the scenario:
A donor has pledged $10 per month; that is what is in the donor record and $10 is printed on the monthly reminder.
The donor decides to give more and begins sending in $20; the reminder in the following month says thank you for your gift of $20, enclosed is this month's slip for your $10 pledge.
The donor sends $20 again and again, but the reminder process doesn't change.
A good monthly donor program will be adept at responding to changes in the donor's giving. Once a pattern is noted (i.e. 2 consecutive months of $20 or any amount more than the pledged amount) the message should reflect, "We are so grateful for your increased support. Thank you so much. Please confirm you want to make $20 your new monthly pledge by indicating here ( )."
Be proactive! Treat each donor with respect and good customer service. Your excellent treatment will distinguish you from other programs.
Q: How many times in one year can you invite people into your monthly giving club?
I think all programs should look to have two different processes for inviting people into their sustainer programs. One process is planned for the greatest number of prospects; the other is a reactive process that you implement when prospects self identify.
The first one is easy. You are looking to invite regular donors who have given frequently in a short timeframe. I can tell you from doing lots of Vital Signs Analysis™ (Amergent's donor giving behavior audit) reports that most organizations get multiple gifts from donors during the period of time between October and January. This is the window of opportunity for making offers to frequent givers if you want a response.
But the simplest thing to do is generate a report that shows giving activity by month for your own donors. Find out when your frequent donors are active/responsive.
I'd say the most popular month for inviting donors into a monthly giving program is January, because it's the start of a new year (i.e. resolutions) and you already have their year-end, Christmas, etc. contributions in the bank.
The other process is the one I called reactive. You should have an invitation ready to go out to any donor who shows the pattern of repeat giving in a short period of time, if that person was not in your all-out invitation.
Keep track of the number of times you ask each donor to join a monthly giving club. It's not for everybody, and you don't want to force something onto a good donor who has repeatedly ignored the offer. You need to determine for yourself what level of promoting the club is excessive.