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Keeping Monthly Donors Is Worth The Effort

By The NonProfit Times - May 7, 2013

Monthly donors have some of the strongest retention rates in the business. Retention among donors giving one-time gifts is between 41 and 50 percent, while donors enrolled in a monthly giving program are retained 70 to 80 percent of the time.

Eliza Sloan, senior account director at direct marketing firm MKDM in Charlottesville, Va., along with two nonprofit monthly giving program managers, presented steps to monthly giving program success during the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation’s 2013 Washington Nonprofit Conference.

The first step is to do your homework, said Mathew Rojas, director of membership and integrated direct marketing for Lambda Legal in New York City. “People overestimate their capabilities in recurring giving,” he said. A monthly gift program can be run in-house or contracted out, said Rojas, and each method carries its own advantages and disadvantages.

An in-house program offers more control. You can sign people up every day. Process credit cards every day. Enter information into your content management system every day. A contracted program takes the administrative burden off a nonprofit, but organizations are at the mercy of the contractors’ processing schedule.

Next, you’ll want to target your best prospects, said Sanaya Kaufman, director of individual giving for Friends of the High Line (FotHL) in New York City. Recently acquired donors are newly dedicated and excited, and multi-year donors have demonstrated commitment and dedication to FotHL. She cautioned audience members not to accidentally downgrade that last group of donors: “If you have a donor giving $300 a year, don’t ask for $20 a month,” she said.

Step three is to develop your case for monthly giving. Stress efficiency, financial stability and ease of giving, said Sloan. Try to anticipate a donor’s objections to a recurring giving program. “If they’re afraid they can’t keep track of their donations, tell them you’re sending an annual statement,” she said. If they want to know how to cancel a recurring gift, make sure that’s clear in your marketing materials.

Rojas said a monthly giving program is a club that donors join, and as such should be a sub-brand of your organization. Monthly donors to FotHL are known as Highliners, and Lambda Legal’s monthly giving program is called the Justice Fund. A sub-brand, said Rojas, “can help build a sense of affiliation, a sense of feeling important to the organization.” Your marketing materials will say that these donors are special; “If you don’t treat them as special, you’ll have donors who are upset,” said Rojas.

Rojas saw a 27 percent increase in online recurring gifts between FY2011 and FY2012, highlighting the importance of promoting your monthly giving program online. When Lambda Legal redesigned its website, it implemented a two-ask donation form, with a monthly ask string on top and a single gift stream on the bottom. It caused a 100 percent increase in recurring gift enrollment. Above all, he said, make sure you plug your program on your Home Page. “The worst thing you can do online is a really big donate button with a small link to a monthly giving program on the home page,” he said. Feature the program prominently.

Make sure to promote the program in other channels, too, said Kaufman. FothHL uses the telephone, direct mail and face to face. “Telemarketing for us has been a way of introducing monthly giving,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity on the phone to explain the program; you can talk through all the details.” She said the organization includes plugs for the program in direct mail and email marketing messages as well.

Look to existing donors to find candidates for your monthly giving program. “Build in recurring donors into existing reports,” said Rojas. Lambda Legal had a strong year for bequests, and Rojas realized that some 18 percent of people in Lambda’s bequest society are also recurring givers. That prompted him to reach out to others in the bequest society for the recurring giving program.

Finally, “appreciating and recognizing support is important,” said Kaufman. “Any time you speak to (monthly donors), reference the program. Continue to reinforce the special part of the monthly giving program. Reinforce the brand and club they’re a part of.”

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