How To Construct Your Nonprofit Monthly Giving Program
Creating sustainable income for your nonprofit.
In our other article “The Nonprofit Monthly Giving Program,” we outlined some of the benefits and drawbacks of setting up a monthly giving program for your nonprofit. According to Network for Good “monthly donors give an average of 42% more in one year than people who give one-time gifts.” After considering the pros and cons, your nonprofit can take advantage of this statistic through its own monthly giving program, creating steady income for your nonprofit to continue working towards your mission. But putting together a monthly giving program requires a lot of endurance and diligence on the part of your nonprofit; we’re here to help, sketching out some useful steps that you can refer to and follow below.
Before you start.
Before we jump in, sit and consider the following for a moment: What is your goal for your monthly giving program? Primarily answering this question is fundamental to making sure that your nonprofit is in agreement before moving on to the coming steps. Create goals that are specific to your nonprofit and its mission. What can monthly giving bring to the people or groups you serve? What can a monthly program do for your mission? After answering these questions, get started by taking a look at the following steps.
Commit and make the investment.
Launching a monthly giving program takes time, effort, and dedication. While it may seem like a huge undertaking, it deserves your commitment and investment. A monthly giving program cannot hope to get off the ground, get established, and function if no one is on board. All hands must be on deck, as a monthly giving program, especially in its early stages, needs constant focus. With the help of your board and Executive Director, dedicate the proper resources needed to get your program off the ground and running. In order to lessen the load on your staff and to guarantee your monthly program’s efficiency, see our next point.
- Start by building a team specifically for the program and assigning a leader: Erica Waasdrop in her book Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, echoes the need for a leader as it emphasizes accountability. A monthly giving program effects multiple departments, therefore collaboration is key. It also means that the program will pass through multiple sets of hands; by giving a specific person complete ownership of the program it “make[s] sure the buck stops somewhere.”
- “Start with the end in mind”: Recommended by Waasdorp, be prepared for any situations and possible snags that your nonprofit can encounter along the way of implementing your monthly giving program, this includes having all templates and scripts already written and ready for use, this includes your letter of appeal. Iris Sutcliffe of Network for Good suggests that you “Look at your existing appeals, especially those that worked really well for your last year, and find ways to modify them to speak specifically to monthly giving,” This is meant to guide your writing of that letter, implementing elements that have made previous appeals successful. Also, brace yourselves for any other hiccups along the road, such as denied and expired credit cards, and have a section in your plan to address that.
- Run tests: Planning is all well and good but it is always good practice to go through the
program step by step, a practice we highlighted in our discussion of the most
common mistakes on donation pages. Test and adjust your program according to
what combination of things, such as communication avenues, wording, and timing,
works best in crafting your appeal for monthly giving. Consider asking your
most loyal supporters on how best to approach them with your appeals, which we
will discuss later in this article.
Make some room on your website.
Carve some space out on your nonprofit website for monthly giving by creating a separate page that is completely dedicated to the program with information, visuals, and testimonials. This will be prime real estate for you to make your case and where you can implement your tiers of giving, donor benefits, and show exactly where contributions will go.
Reserve a space for your program on your homepage as well. Make your monthly program easy to find and clearly display it. Having this set up and the page completely independent from other materials on your nonprofit website will make it easy to update when needed and accessible for potential donors who are interested specifically in giving monthly.
Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority suggests, however, that you design your website after you’ve finished writing your initial appeal but launch it before you send out your letters of appeal. “This is because you want the webpage to match the look, feel, tone, and language of your letter,” Garecht says, “but you also want people who receive the letter and want to find more information on your website to have somewhere to go to get that information.” It is a way to keep your messaging uniform and maintain you brand, a cohesiveness that we address in detail in our own discussion of why nonprofit branding is important.
Figure out who to approach.
Taking a look at your donor base, identify those who would be the best suited for your monthly giving program. Those who give in large amounts may prefer to give a lump sum of their gift whereas those who give small amounts may be more interested in giving a small amount each month. Identify those who contribute regularly, who give a couple of dollars a couple of times a year, Waasdorp suggests as “receny and frequency are more important that monetary value for monthly giving prospects.” Use this information to target those donors who may be interested in giving monthly.
Reach out to your most dedicated supporters.
After doing all of your planning and making sure all of your materials are in place (website designed and ready to launch, appeals written, communications set), gather those who are the most active within your nonprofit, starting with volunteers, some staff, and board members, and recruit them for your monthly giving program.
This would be a good place to show impact when you reach out even further to your most loyal and long-standing donors who give multiple times a year. Show potential monthly contributors that although volunteers, staff, and board members already give a copious amount of time and effort to your nonprofit, they also take it a step further by giving from their own wallets. Invite these volunteers, staff, board members, and donor groups to be the first ones to join your monthly giving program. You can depend on them to give their candid opinions and comments on all of the different aspects of the program, from the initial appeal to the sign up process to the thank you emails. You can also depend on them to back your program and be the first ones to sign up and give.
This would be a good look for your nonprofit, as when you launch the program in its entirety, you can include in your monthly giving webpage and appeals that others have already joined. You can even include a counter or an infographic communicating those numbers on your home page or on the program webpage itself. When others stumble on your monthly giving program, they will feel more inclined to join because a number of others have already.
Reach out to everyone else.
To supplement those who may stumble upon your monthly giving program by chance, reach out to the rest of your donor base who weren’t included in the first batch of those mentioned in the previous point. Send out appeals through all of your channels and include monthly giving as an option of your nonprofit’s default donation form.
Iris Sutcliffe of Network for Good says to also consider reaching out to “lapsed donors” to see if they would be open to the idea of monthly giving, maybe to create consistency for them and allow them to “see their impact multiple over time.” Lapsed donors have the potential to become great assets of your monthly giving program, if you are able to communicate with them to identify what it is that keeps them from giving on a consistent basis, or why they stopped giving altogether, and meeting them halfway. Don’t discount them, encourage them to come back.
Use all channels to promote.
You can’t hope to reach out and promote your monthly giving program if you’re not going to max out the word on all of your channels. Make use of different lines of communication. Don’t get stuck on just one form of reaching out or promoting your monthly giving program. Make use of email, social media, direct mail, newsletters, print ads if your nonprofit has the resources, or even online advertisements such as Google Grants. If you’re unfamiliar with Google Grants, we would like to refer you our article detailing what Google Grants is and what it could do for your nonprofit.
Starting first with your letter of appeal, this will be sent through direct mail, encouraging current donors on your mailing list to check out your newly launched monthly giving program. Going back to Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority, he advises that your letter should be sent out after your monthly giving webpage is up and running, and implement with your donation and home pages, and undergone a couple of tests to make sure that you worked out any initial kinks out of the process. The timing of this letter is important, according to Garecht, in that these letters are seen to be “much more effective in the Spring and Fall than they are in the Summer near the Christmas/Hanukah/New Year’s holiday season” as people are more willing to give during these times.
Following the dispatch of your letter, send out an email to your entire email list informing them of your recent launch. This email should already be written up to this point and matching in tone and style you sent through direct mail. This another opportunity to ask those on your email list to sign up for your monthly giving program by including links in the email so that they can sign up right off the bat after reading the email.
If your nonprofit has the resources, pick up the phone and check in, following up on your letters and emails. Calling through your email and donor lists can be a very time-consuming and meticulous exercise in manpower. However, according to Garecht’s experience, those nonprofits who follow up via phone to encourage donors to join their monthly giving program have more success than those don’t. If you do decide to go with phone calls you can either have a third party conduct those calls or make those phone calls yourselves. Your monthly program can still be successful if you decide not to pick up the phone, but, like with all things in the nonprofit sector, picking up the phone every once in a while adds a personal touch that isn’t always communicated via email.
Don’t forget to promote your monthly giving program through the Thank You letters and emails you send to those who make general and one-time donations. The sooner you secure that second the donation, the better, especially if you’re able to turn that second donation into a monthly commitment.
Break it down.
Now that you’ve got your donor’s attention and they’ve been directed to or pursued your monthly giving program webpage, spell things out for them and explain the need for recurring donations through this monthly giving program. Show exactly where these monthly donations will go. Most nonprofits do that by using infographics on the webpage or including statistics or factoids in letters and emails. This is especially important since monthly giving works in giving tiers (which we address next) where you can show what each tier has the potential to do for your nonprofit’s mission. Doing it this way, Allison Gauss of Classy says, will help “translate a gift size into results,” showing donors the real-life application of the donation they make.
Take Doctors Without Borders, for example, they do exactly this by outlining each tier along with the corresponding program or good that each tier will do for the mission.
- $7.50 (25 cents a day): support a child effected by famine by providing two nutritious meals everyday for a month
- $15 (50 cents a day): will provide 40 refugees with clean water
- $30 ($1 a day): can help in emergency examinations and basic surgery for doctors out in the field by providing them with surgical kits with the vital instruments
They even break down their giving program down by day, in order to appease those who may still be hesitant to give a certain amount all at once per month. It is easier on their mind to give when they are thinking in smaller amounts on a day to day basis.
Nonprofit Pro’s Heather Fignar really drives it home saying “Take the tangible case you’ve made for monthly giving, and do some math. Can you break it down to a daily or weekly amount that is less that the price of a latte?”
Make joining easy.
Make joining your monthly program an easy progress. Starting with your webpage, keep it straightforward by removing any potentially distracting or excessive pages that could cause the donor to click away and leave the page entirely. The same should be applied to the form itself; keep it simple a few fields, name, mailing address, and credit card information. This may seem redundant to those donors who already give from time to time, but it is important to have that information on hand for your monthly donor base and give you an opportunity to update some information if it is no longer relevant.
Make the decision to give even easier by starting small and proposing giving options for your donor. Implement tiers giving, i.e. 5-10-20/ 10-25-30/ 25-50-75. By offering giving options and starting at the lower end of dollar amounts, your monthly giving program has the potential to attract a younger donor base, such as Millennials, who can’t typically give large amounts to start with. Getting people who have supported your nonprofit before to get on board with a monthly giving program can also allow them begin with a smaller tier and then grow it over time, becoming “lifetime fundraisers and major donors,” says Taylor Corrado of HubSpot.
Welcome your new monthly donors.
Roll out the welcome mat for your monthly donors! Set up welcome emails and letters specifically for them and send it out as soon as they made their commitment to monthly giving to solidify and give justification to the good feeling they get when they make their first contribution. This is so important to getting things started off on the right foot between your nonprofit and a monthly donor, especially taking in our next topic.
Having a group of loyal supporters who give on a consistent basis can bolster annual campaigns and sustain your nonprofit through lean times. That being said, your nonprofit has to deliver on its customer service, Erica Waasdorp states in her book Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, responding to their emails, letters, or calls promptly. Your monthly donors are the ones who have personally invested in your organization is a big way, keeping them happy and involved is key.
Make your monthly donors part of an exclusive group with their own group name, such as “founders” or “partners” of the monthly giving program. Create a feeling of exclusivity by letting them be the first to know about changes in your nonprofit, other launches, or upcoming events. Always keep them in mind during special appeals as well and approach them first before everyone else. Your nonprofit should also approach communications with your monthly donors differently, which we discuss further later on in this article.
Going back to Doctors Without Borders, their organization calls donors who are part of their monthly giving program “Field Partners.” Field Partners receive a quarterly newsletter that Doctors Without Borders puts out, called “Alert” that keeps them up to date about their work around the world and their current missions along with a tax receipt for their donation at the end of the year. Their messaging is also tailored towards monthly donors with affirmation of the good they do: “You monthly support as a Field Partner is a guarantee of regular and predictable funds, allowing us to respond immediately to emergencies.” Doctors Without Borders lets its monthly donors know exactly what their donations do: it gives them the right resources to respond to the need as they arise, making them a powerful asset, allowing them to do their work instantaneously needs arise, as opposed to waiting for the right amount of donations in order to take actions.
By doing this, monthly donors will feel like they are working more intimately with your nonprofit because they were called on before the monthly program even launched, are making more of a difference with their commitment to give monthly, and are now part of an exclusive group that is privy to news before everyone else.
Like we have been emphasizing throughout this article, it is important to treat your monthly donors as its own group separate from other donors, with its own communications procedures and networks. Allison Gauss of Classy recommends gathering your monthly donors into a separate email list so as to send materials (such as newsletters) and messages that are particular to them. This keeps them from being folded into the general email list where you consistently sending appeals for donations. They are already giving month, so don’t overdo it with appeals and reserve them for larger donation campaigns. Instead, use your letters and emails to update them.
Frequently keep your monthly donors updated on how their contributions have helped the cause. One of the main goals in your communications with your monthly donors is to talk about impact. Frequently keep then updated on how their contributions have helped the cause, which Elicia Tedrow of Salsa emphasizes herself, saying that they should be updated “on a regular basis with images, stories, statistics, and other concrete examples.” If you have the resources, follow Doctors Without Borders’ lead and send out a newsletter that Is exclusively for your monthly donors. No matter what route you take in order to show your monthly donors the impact they are making, use it as a storytelling opportunity. Don't just leave their impact in the world of facts and statistic, improve your nonprofit storytelling by weaving an emotional narrative that really shows them how their monthly contribution makes a real and human impact.
Acknowledge your monthly donors and their contributions. Keeping these communication lines open will serve to keep them giving in the future. It’s about providing the best experience you can for them with your nonprofit.
After your donors have made their initials payments spanning over their first few months in your monthly giving program ask if they would like to move on to the next payment tier. Your nonprofit can also set up a “regular upgrade cycle program so you occasionally ask your monthly givers to help just a bit more,” suggests Heather Fignar of Nonprofit Pro. You can implement a regular upgrade cycle if you feel that your donors would be more comfortable with a small and gradual increase in their monthly contribution as opposed to jumping to the next giving tier.
Say Thank You!
Always remember to say Thank You! Don’t stop there; thank them in a way that is specific to them because their contribution is specific. Thank those who have joined your monthly giving program in a special and creative way. Some suggestions from the Classy blog we like include a special message on your nonprofit’s website, donor profiles, a welcome package complete with pictures, and a video message. There are many ways that you can say Thank You, which we cover in an article all its own, and allows your nonprofit to get creative.