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6 Reasons Why Recurring Donors Are the Future

8 min read
April 26, 2024
Alex Huntsberger
A printed out sign taped to a street light post that reads "Good News is Coming"

In 2023, giving to nonprofits was down—and it wasn’t a one-year blip. So that’s the bad news. 

Here’s the good news: Recurring donors are bucking these negative trends. Not only are committed, regular givers holding strong in the face of industry-wide declines in giving, but their numbers are actually increasing! 

If your nonprofit doesn’t have a plan for acquiring recurring donors as a part of your fundraising strategy, you’re missing out. Big time. 

In this post, we’ll cover six reasons—drawn from Neon One’s own research—why recurring donors are the future of nonprofit giving. 

The Recurring Giving Report: Data-Backed Insights for Sustainable Generosity

How do we know so much about recurring donors? We analyzed five years of giving data from Neon CRM clients and produced an 83-page report, that’s how! (Did that sound a little braggy? Well, 83 pages is really, really long; please, just let us have this).  

The Recurring Giving Report: Data-Backed Insights for Sustainable Generosity looked at recurring transactions recorded in Neon CRM over a five-year period: 2018 through 2022. In total, we analyzed gifts from over 100,000 donors who gave to more than 2,000 organizations. 

We found that recurring donors are a uniquely valuable resource to the nonprofits they support—a trend that holds true for small, midsize, and large organizations alike! For the full analysis (plus actionable tips for implementing a recurring giving program), download the full report. 

6 Things You Need to Know About Recurring Donors

The truly amazing thing about recurring donors is how resilient their support remains across all nonprofit causes and sizes. There are so many ways that the support of these loyal, engaged supporters can’t be summed up in numbers—but the numbers are pretty incredible, too!

Here are six ways—all of them backed up by hard data—that recurring donors show the path forward for nonprofit giving.  

1. Recurring Donor Bases Grew by 127%

From 2018 to 2022, the average nonprofit saw their number of recurring donors grow 127%. Most nonprofits didn’t have a lot of recurring donors—your typical organization saw an increase from 11 recurring donors in 2018 to 25 donors in 2022—but that increase is still remarkable. 

The report breaks down its results by organizational size, with additional separate analyses from small nonprofits (less than #1 million annual revenue), midsize nonprofits (between $1 million and $5 million in annual revenue) and large nonprofits (over $5 million in annual revenue). 

A graph with 4 lines representing small, midsize, large, and all nonprofits. All of the lines are showing growth in the average number of recurring donors from 2018 to 2022. There is also text stating that "the average nonprofit's recurring donor base grew 127%" and an image of Neon One's Recurring Giving Report, the source of these industry-wide recurring giving benchmarks.
A graph with 4 lines representing small, midsize, large, and all nonprofits. All of the lines are showing growth in the average number of recurring donors from 2018 to 2022. There is also text stating that "the average nonprofit’s recurring donor base grew 127%" and an image of Neon One’s Recurring Giving Report, the source of these industry-wide recurring giving benchmarks.

Recurring donors increased across all three categories, too! Despite the fact that the average nonprofit saw the total number of records in their database decline from 2018 to 2022, this growth in recurring donors shows that your nonprofit’s most engaged supporters are willing to step up for their favorite organizations. 

As recurring donors make up a larger and larger portion of a nonprofit’s overall donor base, their role in your fundraising strategy will only increase. How many of your regular donors are willing to set up regular, recurring gifts? There’s only one way to find out! 

2. Recurring Donation Revenue Increased 144% 

One of the great things about recurring donors is how the impact of their support compounds over time. With every scheduled gift, their donor lifetime value increases—not to mention that the regularity of their giving gives your nonprofit a stable revenue stream, the kind that can be crucial for long-term planning. 

This is another area where increases were seen by nonprofits of all sizes. 

Midsize nonprofit saw the largest percentage increase, with recurring donations growing 154% from $7,874.13 in 2018 to $20,002.61 in 2022.. 

But small and large nonprofits got in on the game, too! Large nonprofits saw their recurring donation revenue grow 143% (from $21,726.52 to $52,920.56), while small nonprofits’ revenue from recurring donations increased 134.66% (from $3,220.14 to $7,556.4). 

For small organizations, recurring donations made up less than 1% of revenue in 2018, but that percentage had grown to 2.39% in 2022. The potential benefits that small nonprofits can see from a thriving recurring giving program—especially the promise of greater financial stability—are huge.

Want to see how a recurring giving program at your nonprofit would stack up the average program for your NTEE code? This calculator will let you find out.

Projected Recurring Revenue

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You’re doing a great job growing and expanding your recurring giving base. That means you’re well on your way to building a sustainable nonprofit!

Illustration of Genesis, from the One Bunch, in a crouched position

3. The Average Recurring Donor Gave $941.11 in 2022

Cultivating major donors is always going to be a part of nonprofit fundraising. But reliance on major gifts can leave your nonprofit exposed to the whims and changing priorities of individual givers—never a great position to be in.

Recurring donors, on the other hand, can make a financial impact similar to that of a major giver simply by virtue of giving smaller amounts consistently. By building a base of recurring givers, you ensure steady financial support while insulating yourself from the loss of any one supporter.

But just how big an impact can recurring donors make? Well, in 2022, the final year we analyzed in The Recurring Giving Report, the average recurring donor gave $941.11. Here’s the rub: That number is actually quite a bit less than the amount given annually by the average non-recurring donor: $2,155.10.

So while almost $950 from a single donor in a given year isn’t anything to sniff at, this would seem to undercut our point that recurring donors are the future. Why would anyone choose a donor who gives less than half what another donor gives? Small donations are great and all, but the numbers don’t lie. Do they?

Keep reading. 

4. The Average Donor Lifetime for Recurring Givers is 8.08 Years

Read that headline again. As of 2022, our research found that the average recurring donor sticks around for 8.08 years! Compare that to non-recurring donors, whose average donor lifetime as of 2022 was only 1.68 years.

Let’s do some quick math. A non-recurring donor gives $2,155.10 annually but only sticks around for 1.68 years, bringing their donor lifetime value to $3.620.67. Meanwhile, a recurring donor gives $941.11 per year but sticks around for 8.08 years …

That recurring donor’s lifetime value? A whopping $7,604.17.

So once average donor lifetime is factored into the equation, the value of recurring and non-recurring donors flips. Non-recurring donors go from giving over twice as much on an annual basis as recurring givers do to giving almost half as much over the course of their relationship with the organization.

As impressive as that statistic is, it’s not until you pair it with this next one that the real ROI of returning donors really snaps into focus. 

Considering Bloomerang? Click on this image to take a peek at a head-to-head comparison and see which option is best for you.
Considering Bloomerang? Click on this image to take a peek at a head-to-head comparison and see which option is best for you.

5. The Donor Retention Rate for Recurring Givers is 77%

On average, 2022 saw recurring donors stick around year over year at a rate of 77%. For non-recurring donors, the number was lower. How much lower? Try less than half: 34%

It’s a commonly cited truth that acquiring new donors costs way more than retaining your existing ones. With recurring donors, that truth is, well, is it possible for a truth to get truer? The ROI on recurring givers is out of this world. 

And that’s what makes this final finding the real icing on the cake. 

6. 50% of Recurring Donors Make Additional Gifts

If you’ve built a base of recurring donors for your nonprofit, you might feel like one hand is tied behind your back when it comes to raising funds for a specific project or occasion. These folks already give on a regular schedule, they aren’t going to give additional gifts on top of that, are they? 

They sure are! In fact, a staggering half of recurring donors make additional gifts to their favorite nonprofits above and beyond their recurring donations. It turns out that when someone loves a nonprofit enough to become a recurring giver, they’re willing to go above and beyond when the moment calls for it. 

So don’t be afraid to include your recurring givers in your other fundraising appeals. Just make sure that you create a donor segment just for them that comes with special messaging—and maybe even their own donation form tailored to acknowledge their ongoing support. 

Some Tips for Launching a Monthly Giving Program

Hopefully, by now, you’ve been convinced that recurring donors are the future—not just for your nonprofit but for the entire industry at large. So what’s next?

That’s easy: It’s time for your nonprofit to design and launch its very own monthly giving program—probably one that incorporates some of the expert tips included in the report heated towards small, midsize, and large nonprofits, respectively.

Okay, so we said “easy,” but launching a monthly giving program is anything but. To help get you started, check out the article below. It’s chock full of tips and advice, and it’s got some handy templates, too.

Download The Recurring Giving Report for More 

Okay, so to recap, recurring donations are one of the only kinds of nonprofit giving that’s on the rise, with the average recurring donor giving almost $1,000 annually for 8 years—with the occasional extra gift and an (almost) 80% retention rate thrown in for good measure.

Did we miss anything? Well, sort of. Because there is so much more information about these donors and industry trends contained in The Recurring Giving Report, itself. If this article has gotten even a little bit excited about starting your own recurring giving program, download the full report today!

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