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How to Set Up a Monthly Giving Program

9 min read
June 07, 2024
Abby Jarvis

Now’s the perfect time to set up a monthly giving program.

Recurring giving is on the rise—the number of monthly donors in the average nonprofit’s database grew 127% from 2018 to 2022! As more and more people choose to support their favorite causes with this type of gift, it’s more important than ever to let your community set up monthly donations.

Luckily, laying the foundation for a monthly giving program is relatively straightforward. We’ll cover some immediate first steps (finding a provider, enabling monthly gifts, and updating your receipts), then share some stewardship ideas you can work through after you launch your program.

Find the Right Provider

Your online giving platform should include the ability to process monthly gifts. It’s a standard feature for most solutions, but it’s worth double-checking! If you’re using a custom solution, your payment processor can help you figure out how to support monthly donations. 

If you’re starting a monthly giving program from scratch, you might like this roundup of some of the most popular online fundraising platforms.

Add Monthly Options to Your Donation Form

The next step is to make sure your main donation form includes the option to make monthly gifts. You may also consider setting up other frequencies (like bi-weekly or quarterly), but monthly gifts are by far the most common type of recurring donation.

If your platform allows, set up some suggested donation amounts for monthly gifts. Ideally, these will be different from the suggestions you’ve provided for one-time donations. Tailoring these to your monthly donors is useful for two reasons.

One is practicality. Monthly donors tend to give smaller amounts than one-time donors. And that makes sense—giving $100 once is very different than giving $100 every month! Having unique suggestions will help people choose what to give. Just make sure they also have the option to choose their own donation amount!

The other advantage is that it gives you the opportunity to share impact statements that will speak directly to your monthly donors. Try writing impact statements that help people understand how invaluable their long-term support is to your nonprofit and your work.

Name Your Monthly Giving Program

People create monthly gifts because they have a deep personal and emotional connection to the cause they’re supporting.

We know this because of our recent analysis of around 13,000 personal notes left by donors when they set up recurring gifts. Many donors used language that referenced key identity markers, like their age, background, religion, sexual identity, and even socioeconomic status.

This tells us that the decision to make a monthly gift is deeply tied to one’s sense of self. Strengthening the tie between a monthly donor’s identity and their commitment to your organization is a valuable way to build relationships with them—and that’s why creating a named group for monthly donors is such a good idea.

A named group makes it easier for someone to personally identify with your organization. They’re not just a monthly donor—they’re an “Animal Hero,” a “Conservation Champion,” or something else along those lines.

This is such a valuable tactic that we have a whole article about it. Here’s where you can read more about named groups for monthly donors—there are some great examples, too!

Customize the Receipt for New Monthly Donors

Making a monthly gift is a big deal. Someone’s committed to supporting your work, and they’ll probably do so for a long time—the average monthly donor stays engaged for more than eight years!

Acknowledging and celebrating that person’s generosity is going to be an important part of building a relationship with them. The first opportunity you’ll have to do so is through the automated donation receipt they’ll receive when they initiate their gift.

Your online fundraising platform should give you the ability to automate this kind of email. Your system’s new monthly gift email will probably come pre-populated with some generic text thanking the recipient for their gift and including some transaction details.

Make the most of that receipt by updating its content and design. Swapping out the generic thank-you language for a heartfelt message and sharing some details about their impact will turn a humdrum system email into a valuable opportunity to get your new supporter excited about their gift.

Think Through Monthly Receipts

Should you send your monthly donors a monthly receipt? Or should you send them periodic updates summarizing their gifts instead?

Our research shows that most nonprofits who set up monthly giving programs elect to send monthly receipts, and those receipts seem to have little to no impact on retention. 

That said, you may want to consider periodically updating those automated receipts. Receiving the same “thank you for your donation of $__” email over and over can make donations feel transactional, like paying your electric bill every month. Refreshing them every once in a while is a good way to keep your messaging from getting stale.

Make a Stewardship Plan for Monthly Donors

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again—your monthly donors are some of the most invaluable people in your community. Spend some time thinking through how you’ll keep them engaged with your organization and your work. They deserve it.

Here are some ideas!

Create a Special Email Segment

People will commit to supporting your organization because they’re passionate about the work. They give through you to the people you serve. 

When you create an email segment exclusively for monthly donors, you can easily send them updates about how their generosity is having a real-life impact. Keeping them up to date on how their support is making a difference is an important part of a stewardship plan.

Send Them Tailored Versions of Standard Communications

Once you’ve set up an email segment specifically for monthly donors, you can send them more personal versions of other emails, too. When you send newsletters, general updates, event invitations, and other important messages to your broader donor base, try sending a dedicated version specifically to your monthly supporters.

You don’t need to write each of those communications from scratch. Simply copying the version you’ll send to other donors and tweaking the copy a little can make a big impression.

Plan How You’ll Approach Future Appeals

Should you exclude your monthly donors from receiving additional appeals?

No! But you do need to be thoughtful about how (and how frequently) you ask for more support.

While we were looking into how recurring donors support their favorite causes, we found that half of them made extra donations on top of their monthly commitment. It’s absolutely okay to send periodic appeals for extra support. But when you do so, you’ll want to make sure you do it appropriately.

First, you’ll need to acknowledge that they’re already a monthly donor and thank them for their generosity. Then, explain why you’re asking for another gift and what that money will make possible.

You can also ask people to increase their existing monthly gift. The same general rules apply; thank them for their existing gift, explain how they can make an even bigger impact, and ask them to increase their donation amount.

In both instances, you’ll want to be strategic about when you make these appeals. Asking someone to increase their gift size two weeks after making their first gift won’t go over well, nor will sending monthly appeals to monthly donors. Just be thoughtful!

Get Creative with Donor Appreciation

Regular updates and tailored communications are important parts of a good donor stewardship plan. But if you really want to build a loyal, passionate group of monthly donors, look for ways to surprise and delight them.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Send a handwritten card to someone on the anniversary of their first gift
  • Mail cards or notes on donors’ birthdays or other holidays
  • Run a donor appreciation event for the people who give on a monthly basis
  • Offer your monthly supporters little thank-yous like early registration or discount codes for events, discounts on memberships or merchandise, or even special swag
  • Call your monthly donors just to say “thank you” and learn a little about them

These little touches will make your monthly donors feel valued, remind them of their passion for your cause, and reinforce the relationship between them and your organization!

Now’s the Perfect Time to Set Up a Monthly Giving Program

People are ready and willing to give to their favorite causes on a monthly basis. You just have to let them!

The first step is to make sure your online fundraising platform can accommodate monthly gifts. Then, enable monthly giving options on your donation form and, if you can, create unique suggested donation amounts (and impact statements!) for that type of gift. Give your program a name, update your automated receipts, and launch your program.

After you do, spend some time thinking about how you’re going to build relationships with those supporters. The effort will be well worth it—a monthly giving program can result in donor relationships that last for years.

Everything You Need to Know About Recurring Giving

Will people really set up monthly gifts? How much do monthly donors usually give? What inspires them to get involved?

Get answers to all these questions (and a zillion more) by downloading The Recurring Giving Report: Data-Backed Insights for Sustainable Generosity. It’s full of data and benchmarks for nonprofits of all sizes, fundraising advice from industry experts, examples from real nonprofits, and insights you can use to reach monthly donors.

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