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How to Start, Grow, and Maintain Your Monthly Giving Program

11 min read
April 04, 2024
Allison Smith headshot
Allison Smith
Content Marketing Coordinator, Neon One
monthly giving: a group photo

Recurring donors are some of the most valuable supporters in a nonprofit’s community. How can you reach and retain this type of donor?

Adding recurring options to your donation form is a great place to start. But building a full-blown recurring giving program will be key to building a base of monthly donors.

At Generosity Xchange 2022, monthly giving expert Erica Waasdorp took the stage to share her valuable expertise in a session titled “How To Make Small Donors Start Recurring.” Erica’s session was chock full of actionable insights that work for all nonprofits—and they’re still applicable today.

This article summarizes and expands on her tips! Whether you have no monthly donors or hundreds of them, you’ll learn steps to build and expand a fantastic recurring program.

Why Monthly Donors are Important

Let’s begin with why your nonprofit should prioritize building a loyal base of monthly donors. 

For starters, monthly donors have a longer lifetime value than other types of donors in your database. According to our research, the average non-recurring donor stays engaged with a nonprofit for 1.73 years. Recurring donors stick around for a whopping 8.08 years!

Partially because that lifetime is so long, recurring donors generally give much more over the course of their relationship with an organization than other kinds of donors.

They’re also very likely to support you in other ways, too. Did you know that your recurring donors are six times more likely to leave your organization money in their will? It’s true!

Many recurring donors also give additional one-time gifts, attend events, volunteer, serve as board members, and support their favorite causes in other ways.

Donors Are Embracing Monthly Giving

Do you worry that your donors are uninterested, unable to, or are generally bothered by being asked to be a part of a monthly giving program? 

Here’s a fun fact: Erica shared that monthly giving is, in fact, preferred by younger donors and allows those who want to give a larger sum to do so in a more affordable manner.

Our research reveals that this type of giving is becoming more popular. Between 2018 and 2022, the average number of recurring donors in a nonprofit’s database grew 127%! This was true for nonprofits of all sizes, too—small, midsize, and large nonprofits alike saw increasing numbers of donors choosing to give this way.

If you’re looking to provide your organization with reliable monthly revenue and improve your donor retention rates, creating a monthly giving program is a no-brainer! 

Start A Monthly Giving Program

If your nonprofit has no recurring donors, building a base of loyal monthly donors may seem like an impossible task. Don’t worry! Erica emphasized that it’s “better too late than never” when starting a monthly giving program.

Here are some best practices that will help guide your journey. 

Give Your Monthly Giving Program a Name

Instead of asking people to make a monthly gift, ask them to join a branded group. Think “Animal Heros” or “Friends of Agloe Conservatory.” You’ll help potential donors feel a deeper connection to the program they are about to join. It can also help make a monthly gift feel less transactional. It signals to your donor that their involvement is more than a recurring credit card transaction—they are a part of a community!

Create a Unique Monthly Donation Page

Your standard donation form—the one you include in your website’s navigation menu—should include recurring options, but it shouldn’t make a recurring gift the default way to give. Creating a unique monthly donation page, though, is great when you’re specifically asking for recurring gifts. You can fill this page with monthly giving program FAQs, include specific impact statements, and share information about what your new recurring donors can expect.

Adjust Your Suggested Giving Amounts 

Including suggested giving amounts is a great tactic to use on any donation form. But many monthly donors tend to give slightly smaller amounts than their one-time counterparts—and that’s why you might want to make your suggested amounts for recurring gifts smaller than the ones you’ve chosen for one-time donations. 

Review Your Systems

Reaching new recurring donors takes work. Be sure you retain them! Take time to update your thank-you pages, donation records, processors, and email systems with messaging that’s especially for this group of donors. Keep an eye on your donors’ data, too. Improperly marked records or a faulty email system can prevent you from properly stewarding your monthly donors. Staying on top of your monthly donor data will also help you avoid losing donors due to an upcoming credit card expiration.

For more insight on how to start a recurring giving program from scratch, check out the resource below:

Grow Your Monthly Giving Program

If you have a small number of monthly donors or would like to generate more revenue from monthly donors, here are some tactics you can try. 

Promote Your Monthly Giving Program on Social Media

Acquiring recurring donors takes time—it’s not an “if we build it, they will come” situation! In addition to sharing details about your recurring giving program on your website and through email, make sure you include it in your social media posts, too. Focus on sharing compelling stories that will make people excited about supporting your cause, tell them what that support will achieve, and make it easy for them to set up an ongoing gift.

Add a “Give Monthly” Call to Action to Direct Mail Appeals

Since many direct mail donors have historically given by check, nonprofits commonly focus on asking for one-time gifts through this channel. But by explicitly asking your donors to give monthly, you may have a more successful campaign in terms of expected revenue than if you had just asked for single gifts.

If you choose to go this route, make it easy for people to set up this type of gift. Try including a QR code people can use to navigate to your online donation form to finish their gift—this is a great use case for that monthly giving-specific form you create.

You may also want to consider including contact information for someone at your office who can help donors who would prefer to set up their gift over the phone.

Invite One-Time Donors to Set Up Monthly Gifts

This tactic will be most effective if you’ve told one-time donors what their previous gift achieved. Once they know they’ve made a difference with their one-time donation, they’ll be more likely to set up an ongoing gift to achieve similar outcomes.

Occasionally Ask Your Monthly Donors for Upgrades

Every once in a while, ask your monthly donors to increase their support for your organization. 12% of monthly donors will upgrade when asked—it’s worth trying! 

There are a few things to keep in mind if you want this to be successful. The first is that new recurring donors should not be approached for upgrades for a while—give them six months (or longer) before asking for increased support.

The second is that, as is the case with any type of donor, appeals for additional support from your monthly donors will be most effective if they already understand how their existing gift makes a difference. Share their impact, thank them for their existing gift, and tell them why you’re asking for more support. Then ask for an upgrade.

Alternatively, you can occasionally ask monthly donors to give an additional one-time gift, buy a membership, attend an event, or support you in other ways.

Include a Monthly Giving Call to Action In Your Email Signature

This is a small touch that can help keep your program in the minds of your constituents, even when you’re not actually asking for support. When you do ask for a monthly gift, it won’t be a new concept! 

Steward and Maintain Your Monthly Donors

Once you have a base of donors giving to your organization on a monthly basis, it’s important to put in the work to keep them engaged. Here are some ways to do that!

Create Specific Appeals for Your Monthly Donors

We touched on this already, but it’s important enough to say twice. When you ask recurring donors for additional gifts outside of their monthly contribution, they should receive an appeal that’s different from the one you send the rest of your donor base. These donors are special—treat them accordingly! 

When you send appeals in the future, create a version that’s tailored to your monthly donors. Make sure you acknowledge their ongoing commitment to your cause and thank them for their support before getting into the appeal.

Be Sure to Send Tax Receipts

Sending tax receipts summarizing a monthly donor’s annual contributions may seem like a small detail, but it’s a valuable way to show them you care about their support. Make sure they receive a tax receipt in January! 

In addition to being a thoughtful gesture that makes their lives a little easier, taking this step is also a valuable donor stewardship opportunity. Try using this tax letter template from Erica to plant the seeds for legacy gifts via a “connection survey” that helps you determine how your monthly donors feel about legacy giving.

Plan a Monthly Donor Retention Day

The average recurring donors support their favorite nonprofits for years and years. That doesn’t mean they’ll never lapse, though—keeping an eye on your recurring donors is important!

Erica recommends setting aside time once a month to check in on your monthly giving program. This is the perfect time to review any payments that didn’t go through, if you have any donors who could benefit from some follow-up, which supporters’ payment methods are due to expire soon, and more. 

Proactive outreach to your monthly donors—whether that’s calling them to ask about updating their card or simply telling them how much you appreciate them—is the best way to keep your retention levels high by building relationships with this donor segment.

Talk to canceling or lapsed monthly donors 

That monthly donor retention day will probably turn up some supporters who are intentionally not renewing their gifts. Some may cancel. And that’s okay!

There are steps you can consider taking when someone asks to cancel their monthly gift. Erica recommends that you ask if they are willing to pause or lower their contribution instead. The donor may not realize this is an option, and it may help you retain a donor even if their financial situation has changed.

If your monthly donor still wants to cancel, that’s okay. Thank them for their ongoing support, and reiterate how much their generosity means to your community.

Keep stewardship simple, at least at first

You don’t have to have a complex stewardship plan right away. Be sure to at least send a thank-you letter to new monthly donors and think through how you want to handle sending donation receipts to this segment of donors. 

You can always take a more advanced approach at a later date. If you’re intimidated by scheduling get-to-know-you calls with each monthly donor, planning exclusive events, celebrating anniversaries, or other next-level retention efforts, it’s okay! Start with the basics, then slowly expand your stewardship activities.

Learn more donor stewardship tips:

How Will You Build Your Monthly Giving Program?

Recurring donations are becoming more common. If you haven’t started a monthly giving program yet—or if you’re considering expanding your current program—now is the perfect time to get started!

While you’re planning how you’ll reach new monthly donors, make sure you consider how you’ll keep them engaged with your work after they initiate their gift. Think through how you’ll approach asking them to upgrade their gifts, keep up with lapsing donors, and handle stewarding this valuable group.

Looking for even more tips? Keep reading! This article includes 10 pointers for creating a next-level monthly giving program.

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