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5 Things to Know About Monthly Donors

7 min read
May 10, 2024
Abby Jarvis

Monthly donors are a big deal. They’re a dedicated group of people who are deeply invested in the causes they support. Their loyalty and longevity are invaluable to nonprofits for a ton of reasons, not least of which is the fact that they provide steady, reliable revenue.

But who are monthly donors, exactly? And how can nonprofits build relationships with them?

Data from The Recurring Giving Report: Data-Backed Strategies for Sustainable Generosity gives us some insight into when, how, and why monthly donors make the decision to give. Here’s what we found and what it means for you.

1. Monthly Donors Tend to Give In May, December, and November

When we looked at all recurring donations initiated between 2018 and 2022, we found that the largest percentage of them were set up in the month of May. 

Across all five years, monthly donors initiated 12,460 in the month of May. December was the second-most common month with 11,627, and November came in third with 9,678 gifts.

What to Do With This Information

What is happening in May that makes it the most popular month to initiate a recurring gift? We simply don’t know! When we ask fundraisers that question, there’s no real consensus. 

One common theory is that people are giving after receiving their tax refunds. Another is that nonprofits whose fiscal years end in June are sending appeals in May. A third is that people are generous because they’re happy and optimistic as the weather warms.

Should you send fundraising appeals for monthly gifts in these months? It depends. 

Giving year-end donors recurring options during the end-of-year giving season is a good move. Try including specific appeals for monthly gifts in your year-end campaign, too. 

It’s an especially effective tactic on GivingTuesday, too—gifts initiated on that day made up a significant portion of donations set up during the end of the year.

You can always try sending appeals for monthly gifts in May. But the best thing you can do is look at the data you have on your own supporters to identify when your existing donors initiate recurring gifts.

2. Monthly Donors Usually Use Credit Cards

This is probably not terribly surprising to you. 91% of monthly donors choose to use their credit or debit card to make their gifts. 

A much smaller (but not insignificant!) group of donors set up their gifts using ACH (Automated Clearing House—an electronic bank-to-bank payment system) or eChecks to make their gifts. 8.24% of donors chose this payment method.

What to Do With This Information

Make sure you’ve made it easy for potential monthly donors to set up a gift. Enable recurring options on your donation forms and check that you’re able to accept gifts from all major credit card companies.

Consider enabling ACH/eCheck gifts, too. This type of payment method is by no means common, but it does have a couple of advantages. Processing fees tend to be lower than credit cards, and they don’t expire the way cards do.

3. Monthly Donors Give Other Ways, Too

When fundraisers consider asking for recurring donations, two common questions pop up frequently:

  • What if someone decides to set up a smaller monthly gift instead of making a large donation?
  • Should I exclude my monthly donors from future appeals?

Those are fair questions. But research shows they shouldn’t keep you up at night.

50% of the donors included in The Recurring Giving Report gave additional gifts on top of their ongoing commitments. 

Monthly donors also attended events, paid for memberships, volunteered, and served as board members.

What to Do With This Information 

Starting a monthly giving program can be intimidating. It’s understandable to be worried about unanticipated impacts on annual fundraising goals and future appeals.

But this data reveals that monthly donors are some of the most dedicated and involved people in your database. 
If you prioritize building relationships with them, connecting them to your cause, and sending them relevant, targeted updates and appeals, you can build a base of loyal supporters that will stay engaged and move you toward your fundraising goals.

4. Monthly Donors Are Emotionally Invested In Your Cause

Data is really good at answering questions about what people do. It’s much less effective at answering questions about why they do it. But that doesn’t mean that the data in this report lends no insight into why people set up monthly gifts.

Of the 111,000+ recurring donors represented in the report, about 13,000 of them left notes for their favorite nonprofits during the donation process. 

An AI analysis of those notes reveals what fundraisers have known for years: That making a gift to a nonprofit—especially when that gift takes the form of regular, ongoing support over a long period of time—is a deeply emotional decision. 

Over and over again, donors used words that alluded to emotions like “gratitude,” “love,” and “inspiration.” This indicates that, to monthly donors, their support isn’t just a financial transaction. It’s the result of an emotional attachment to the cause.

What to Do With This Information

Tap into your donors’ emotions! Focus on creating emotional connections between your supporters and the people they’ll impact with their gift. Your appeals will be much more compelling (and effective!) when you do.

The same tactic works for impact updates, too. Periodically send updates to your recurring donors to share stories, let them know how their support is making a difference, and reinforce their emotional connection to your cause. 

This is a powerful way to keep this invaluable group of people engaged in your work, and it can set the stage for future engagement and support.

5. Monthly Donors’ Identities Play a Role, Too

The same analysis that revealed the deeply emotional nature of recurring gifts also revealed that the decision to give is often tied to someone’s sense of self. 

Monthly donors’ notes included words and phrases that indicate their gifts are influenced by identity markers like their age, race, gender, religion, and socioeconomic status.

A recurring gift isn’t only the result of an emotional impulse. Emotions do play an important role! But so does a donor’s sense of who they are as a person. Their generosity is a reflection of who they are and what they value.

What to Do With This Information

In addition to reinforcing the emotional connection between your donors and your cause, try to incorporate language that also appeals to someone’s sense of self. 

Creating a named group for your monthly donors—like “Animal Heros” or “Friends of the Hillsborough River”—can be a useful way to do this. 

You can also try referencing your donors’ generosity and kindness—or, if you want to be more specific, call out that you know they’re passionate about your cause.

Your monthly donors’ gifts are a glimpse into who they are as people. Use that fact to shape your communications with them and it will forge a long-lasting relationship with them.

Get to Know Monthly Donors

On paper, monthly donors have some fairly predictable behaviors. They tend to initiate their gifts in May, December, and November—almost always using a credit or debit card. 

But they don’t usually limit their support to just their monthly commitment. They give other ways, too, whether it’s through making additional gifts or serving as volunteers. That’s because their support isn’t purely transactional. 

People who set up monthly donations have a personal connection to the causes they support, and they are emotionally invested in making a difference. When you acknowledge those elements, you can begin building deep relationships with them that can last for years.

Want to learn more about monthly donors and how they support the causes they love? Grab a copy of The Recurring Giving Report: Data-Backed Insights for Sustainable Generosity. You’ll learn how recurring giving has grown and evolved and how you can use that information to start or grow your own monthly giving program.

Get the Report

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