Starting a monthly giving program is a great use of your time because monthly donors are the lifeblood of a small nonprofit – bringing in sustainable revenue and creating a safety net of loyal supporters.
Imagine what you could do if you had hundreds or thousands of dollars steadily coming in your door each month…
Here are just a few really good, real life examples:
- Draft Gratitude relies on their Monthly Giving Team to cover about half of their monthly expenses for the horses.
- Illuminate India and Clubhouse Guatemala both completely cover the cost of many of the children in their programs with monthly sponsors.
- Other organizations bring in $3,000 to $5,000 each month to support their operations and make a bigger impact in communities.
These nonprofits have gotten really good at making it easy for people to understand how their donation will make a difference. They’re also good at making it easy for people to give and satisfying to stay involved.
Building a robust monthly donor program is a Fundraising 101 strategy, but some nonprofits keep this strategy on the bench and instead look to events and campaigns for quick returns. By taking the time to create and follow a plan for a monthly donor program, you’ll grow your base of monthly givers and increase your revenue significantly over time.
Why More Monthly Givers?
Monthly giving can change the game for your new, young, or small nonprofit!
Let’s look at the math.
If someone gives you a donation of $100, that’s great. If they give you $100 twice in the same year, that’s even better, right?
Now, what if someone were to give you $20 per month? That’s $240 for the year, which is more than the person who gave two $100 donations. Not to mention the $240 is predictable income!
For the donor, $20 per month is easier to manage in their budget. For some people, a $240 donation is out of reach, but $20 per month is doable. Here’s a story of my own about that.
I once sat at a fundraising lunch wanting to make a commitment for $1,000 to the nonprofit but didn’t have the ability to write that check that day. They were smart and offered a monthly payment option of $83 per month. I was easily able to say yes to that! It felt great to me as a donor to be able to say “yes” at the level I wanted and great for the nonprofit because they got a donor that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Now, here’s the more surprising part of monthly giving: Not only do you get more money when someone gives a monthly gift, but the loyalty level increases.
Many will give to your Giving Tuesday and year-end campaigns in addition to their monthly gifts. They’re more likely to mention your organization on their social media channels and in casual conversations with friends and family. They’ll share your content. They’ll come to your signature event and maybe even volunteer to clean up afterward. Many will make monthly donations for years, in some cases regularly increasing the monthly amount. In fact, it’s common for regular givers to become planned givers. (In other words, people who give regularly are more likely to leave you in their will.)
Knowing where and how to find monthly donors for your nonprofit is a key skill in successful fundraising, and one you’ll certainly want to get good at! More on that in a moment. But first, let’s be sure you’re connecting your monthly gift to something that makes sense for the donor, helping them easily understand how their donation will be making a difference in the lives of those you serve.
Calculating How Much to Ask For
Start the asking at a low level. Here’s a formula I learned from my friend Erica Waasdorp from A Direct Solution.
First, figure out what your average gift amount is from one of your last appeals. (Hopefully you’re tracking your appeals well enough to know this, but if not, get out your calculator and run a couple of reports.)
Divide that amount by 3.
That’s about what you should be asking for as an entry-level monthly donation – a third of your typical appeal donation.
For example, if you know your average gift is $25 when you send out an appeal, then
$25 divided by 3 = $8.33
Ask for something in the $8 or $8.50 range as an entry level gift. Or go straight for $8.33 if that’s a number that means something tangible for your organization. The more tangible, the more likely people will say “yes.”
If you’ve calculated your Core Number and know exactly what it costs you to deliver a unit of service, use THAT number.
Here you can see how the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri uses their core number of $6.20:
Erica says that the typical monthly gift across the board is about $24. For animal causes it’s about $22.
There’s your benchmark for figuring out how YOUR monthly giving program is doing. If your donors aren’t giving that much on average, maybe it’s time to upgrade them.
Draft Gratitude asks for a monthly gift of $12 because that’s what it costs them to take care of a horse per day. They find that a lot of their monthly donors give $24 to pay for 2 days of care (and that’s right in line with Erica’s benchmarks).
So that’s the math. But now you’re probably thinking, “How do I convince people to give over and over and over again?” Ah! Very good question.
Using the Right Kind of Message to Get a “Yes!”
As with all Asks, center your language around the things you’ll be able to do with the donor’s money – like the lives they’ll be able to change.
Getting the message just right will save you from feeling nervous about asking for money, rambling when you talk about your organization’s work, and boring your audience.
Here are a few examples of how to ask for monthly donations with confidence
- “Monthly donors make this work possible! Without them, young people on our waitlist continue to face the challenges that low levels of literacy create in their lives. For every four monthly gifts of $25, we are able to enroll one student from that list into our Learning for Literacy program – empowering them with vital knowledge and skills to change their futures! Please make a difference in their lives today.”
- “One way we can make sure I get a lifetime of care is through monthly donations. This way, Unity Farm Sanctuary can rely on steady funding for me and all my fellow farm friends and really focus on our needs. Because of our team of monthly donors – who we fondly call Rescuers – I can now peacefully sleep at night knowing I’m safe and sound in my forever home and feel lots of love! Will you become a Rescuer today and show us we matter?”
- “Give monthly and join Spring Resources, a passionate group of people bringing fresh, clean water to everyone in the world. By donating $20 per month, families like these will no longer need to haul pails of water multiple times a day back and forth from their local stream that’s contaminated with garbage and disease-causing viruses and bacteria. You’ll be giving them the gift of easy to access fresh, healthy water that hydrates and nourishes their bodies – giving them the goodness they deserve.”
As you’ll notice in each of those messages, the monthly contribution is being tied to something very specific, very tangible – something the donor can visualize. See how that works? So give this a try when you’re pulling together your own Asks and you’ll find that more people say “Yes!” to you.
Finding Those Monthly Donors You Need
Now that you know WHY monthly donors are so important and HOW to get them to give (and how much!), let’s take a look at WHERE to find tons of new ones!
Wouldn’t it be fabulous if people simply walked around wearing a button that says, “I might be willing to make a monthly contribution to your nonprofit if you just ask.” It would! Alas, that’s not the way things work. The truth is, you’re going to need to be a bit strategic with your methods.
A campaign targeted at certain groups of people is going to be your best bet for getting your monthly giving program off and running. For a few easy, quick wins, start by asking these folks first:
Yourself! Yes, you! Sign yourself up in your own program. If you don’t believe in it and support it, how can you expect others to?
Friends and family. Tell your friends and family that you’ve started a monthly giving program for your nonprofit and ask them to join. Remind them that their donation doesn’t have to be large to have an impact.
Current Board members. Your Board members are leaders of your organization, and they should be making a personal financial contribution. Some may prefer to make a one-time gift. Others may contribute to match funds so their gift can be leveraged and go even farther. But an automatic monthly payment will be just right for some Board members. The convenience can’t be beat!
Current volunteers. Your volunteers are aware of the needs of your nonprofit and likely to give if you offer them the chance. Many nonprofits think “They give their time – we can’t ask for their money, too.” If that’s your thinking, you’re actually taking the decision away from them. Give them the choice and let them decide if monthly giving is right for them.
But don’t stop there! To do some SERIOUS recruiting, here are 10 additional ways to find more monthly donors:
1. Frequent donors. Look through your donor records and pull out anyone who has given 3 or more times in the past year. These donors are already on their way to becoming monthly donors, and with the right ask, you just might be able to motivate them to say “Yes!”
This technique helped me grow my first monthly giving program very quickly, adding a couple of dozen donors in just a few weeks. Some people will sign up immediately and for others, you’ve planted the seed of the idea in their minds and they’ll sign up another time.
2. Website visitors. Make sure monthly giving is an option on your website. If not, you’re missing opportunities to gain new monthly donors. A simple checkbox, like the one in the image below, will work.
Word of caution. Some organizations have tried pre-selecting that box so that when someone gets to the page, the checkbox is already checked. As a donor, I don’t like this strategy. It feels pushy and presumptive, and you might end up spending a lot of time on the phone and in email conversation with frustrated donors who never intend to sign up for a monthly donation.
3. Special Ask event. If you want to bring in lots of new monthly donors at once, consider holding an event where you specifically ask people to make a monthly pledge. The Humane Society of Southeast Missouri tried and after a short, strategic program, they were able to sign up a couple of dozen new monthly donors. The keys here are to get the right people in the room (they need to care about the work your nonprofit is doing) and keep the program short and strategic (no rambling speeches and finish EARLY!).
4. Recruit in January. Kick the new year off with a short campaign asking people to make a monthly commitment to your nonprofit. An appeal sent at the first of the year catches people who want to make some changes for the new year, including making the world a better place. For best results, combine your appeal with social media posts about how monthly giving makes a big difference, a short video of your nonprofit in action, and a mention in your newsletter.
5. Monthly option in appeals. Anytime throughout the year that you’re sending an appeal, whether through the mail or email, make monthly giving an option. A simple checkbox that says “Make this gift a monthly gift” will do.
6. Previous Board members. So many nonprofits forget about past Board members, and yet, they’re a great source of support if you keep them engaged. Whether you’ve kept the relationship going or not, warm them up with a personal update then ask for a monthly gift. You may not be able to get ALL of them to sign on for monthly gifts, but you’re likely to get a few.
7. Invite program participants. Invite the people who benefit from your nonprofit’s programs and services to make a monthly gift. Depending on your mission, this might be a terrific source of new monthly donors. Don’t make assumptions and count out people who appear to have limited resources. Sometimes, it’s a great source of pride for them to be able to give a few dollars a month and feel like they’re giving back.
8. Offer a Challenge. With the right campaign, you can enlist your Board, staff, and volunteers to each bring in 1-5 new monthly donors. Don’t ask for help just so you can grow your monthly giving program, even if that’s what you’re trying to do. Ask for their help so you can eliminate a waiting list or expand a service. Remember, people don’t want to fund your existence, they want to fund your impact.
9. Ask vendors. Companies you spend money with are an often overlooked source of donors for regular donations, in-kind donations, sponsorships, and monthly donations. Look through your QuickBooks records to see who you regularly do business with and ask them to consider a monthly donation. The worst they can say is no.
10. Engaged supporters: Certain supporters are more engaged than others. Who emails you regularly to ask if you’ve seen a news article about your organization’s area of interest? Who likes every one of your Facebook posts? Who can be seen wearing your nonprofit’s t-shirt in Instagram posts? Think about these special supporters who love your organization, heart and soul, and reach out! They’ll feel honored that you’ve noticed them, and it might just be the thing to get them donating monthly.
11. Upgrade current monthly donors. This isn’t really a source of new donors, but it will feel like getting new donors. Ask your current donors to consider increasing the amount they give. If you’ve done a good job taking care of your monthly donors, you’ll get several takes.
You can start with a letter or email, but the phone is your friend if you want to upgrade your monthly donors. The most effective way to upgrade a monthly donor is to call them. Be ready to thank them and give them an update on how their monthly donation has already made a difference before you ask them to upgrade.
I know the phone can be scary but remember that your monthly donors already love you. They’re telling you so with their wallet! They’ll be happy to chat with you, and if you have a good enough reason for them to upgrade, chances are good that they will. So, no need to be scared to call them. They’re a dear friend you just haven’t gotten to know yet.
Tips For Retaining Monthly Donors
Gratitude. This is something that’s extremely important to show ALL of our donors — especially those who give on a regular basis.
That said, it won’t do you any good to pour new donors into the top of your monthly giving bucket if the bucket is leaking heavily. You need to do your best to keep your monthly donors happy so they keep giving!
Be sure you’re following these tips below to keep your monthly donors around for a long time
Tip #1: Monthly donors need to be thanked differently. The worst thing you can do is thank these precious, loyal donors with the same old thank-you letter every month. Boring!
You’ll likely have monthly donors tell you they don’t WANT a thank-you letter. And you need to respond accordingly.
They DO want to know how things are going, so get creative!
- One month, call them to thank them and give them an update.
- The next month, send them a short video showing your nonprofit in action.
- The next month, send a hand-written note.
- The next month, try something else or just repeat the cycle.
The important thing is that you are thanking them every month, but not in a boring way. Make it fresh and keep them in the loop so they feel connected to your nonprofit’s work.
Tip #2: Focus on customer service. Customer service is extremely important to monthly donors. When they email or call, they expect an answer in a short period of time. As well they should.
Remember that these are some of your most loyal donors. They’re the ones most likely to give the most over time. They’re the most likely to leave you an estate gift. Don’t brush them off because they only give $8.50 a month and that just doesn’t seem like a lot.
Tip #3: Stay on top of credit card declines and expirations. Expired credit cards and monthly charges that don’t go through cause a huge leak in your monthly giving budget. Be ready to review monthly donations every month to see which ones didn’t go through and call them to get updated credit card info. If you don’t, you’re losing a lot of money! You might even consider being proactive and reaching out to the monthly donors whose cards will be expiring soon so you can avoid any issues with payment not going through.
The Bottom Line
Monthly giving is an amazing way to create sustainable revenue for your nonprofit. Recruitment of new monthly givers is an ongoing activity so get out there and find monthly donors regularly to add to your donor family.
When you make monthly giving a priority and carve out the time to work on it, you’ll see more money coming in — which lessens the amount you have to figure out how to raise. Your monthly donor program will pay off big, in terms of monthly income and long-term support, especially when you are fundraising for a new nonprofit.
As you see your monthly donor base grow, you’ll see your programs flourish and be able to change more lives. And that’s what it’s all about!
You can get more resources for monthly giving from Erica Waasdorp at www.adirectsolution.com. She has a Monthly Giving Starter Kit for those who are ready to dip their toe in the pool, and a Monthly Giving Marketing Kit for those already swimming. You might also want to grab her book “The Sleeping Giant” on Amazon.