8 Ways Small Nonprofits Can Jumpstart Their Monthly Giving Program

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary monthly giving page.

Monthly giving programs should be a natural for small, even tiny nonprofits. Yet, many of these organizations still don't use this form of giving. 

It may be that they think it is just too complicated. But it's not, and the payoff can be eye-popping.

For instance, Erica Waasdorp, an expert on recurring giving, estimates that monthly donors cost 2-5 cents per $1 raised. On the other hand, Direct mail acquisition can cost as much as $1.15 per $1 raised.

Waasdorp's Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant has become a classic. I especially enjoy her down-to-earth approach. I also watched a webinar sponsored by Pamela Grow that featured Waasdorp (part of Pamela's Simple Development System).

Waasdorp is a pro for sure, with years of experience in the US and other countries. And she has plenty of very basic advice for small organizations that might just be tiptoeing into the monthly giving arena.

Here are some tips that I gleaned from Waasdorp's book and her webinar:

  1. Make Monthly Giving the Centerpiece of Your Online Giving
    1. If you offer online giving through your website, it's easy to set up a simple recurring gift program. Just about any credit card processing provider can provide the recurring gift option or donors can set up a preauthorization system with their bank. Plus, if you use a third party, such as Network for Good, that option is available. In the US, monthly giving online with a credit card is the most popular way for donors to set up their recurring gifts.
  2. Make it Special
    1. It's a good idea to create an exclusive "club" for monthly givers. But, don't spend months sitting in committee meetings trying to figure out how to structure and name it. Just brainstorm some names and pick one.
    2. You don't even need to design a unique logo. Use your official logo and put the monthly giving club name right under it. That way you can efficiently use materials you already have. Make your name easy to remember and to say. It should be easy to include in a sentence, such as "Join our Champions Program today."
  3. Focus on Small Donations and New Donors
    1. Start by going after donors who have already given to you in small amounts...say between $5 and $99. And those who have already donated by credit card. Small donors are your best prospects and those who are comfortable sharing their credit card numbers.
    2. Brand new donors are good prospects too if you suggest the recurring option right after their first gift. Research has shown that such an ask is not a turn-off and does not negatively affect future donations, even if the donor says no.
  4. Act Quickly
    1. Ask donors to sign up for a recurring gift right after they have made another donation. In fact, you could include that suggestion in your thank you letter. A thanks and introduction to the monthly program all at the same time can work. Especially if you've targeted small amount donors and right after they have given. Use economic terms to appeal to them. The charity saves money; the donor gets the convenience of not having to think about it, and giving becomes painless.
  5. Get Specific
    1. Be specific in your ask for a recurring donation. Waasdorp uses SmileTrain as an example. That organization says, "For $20 a month you can give a child a smile again." That's a lot better than saying something like, "$8 a month will go towards research."
  6. Get on Top of Churn
    1. One of the few negatives about recurring donations made with credit cards is "churn." Some 30 percent of US credit card holders change their cards every year, plus credit cards expire all too frequently. Set up a system to catch these incidents and to immediately follow up with donors to capture their new information.
    2. An email, a snail mail letter, and finally a phone call is one system you might use. The key is to follow up quickly. The colder the donors get, the harder it will be to win them back.
  7. Go Overboard With Marketing
  • devote a particular page on your website to monthly giving 
  • always mention your monthly giving program in your newsletters along with a testimonial from a real monthly giver
  • include monthly giving pitches at special events
  • use social media pages to direct donors to your monthly giving website page.


8. Pay Attention, Lots of Attention!

Keep your recurring donors by treating them like rock stars.
Great thank you emails, notes and thank you letters always work well as does the occasional phone call just to say thanks. Many charities use mailed "welcome packages" and "certificates" indicating membership in their particular club. Use end of year holidays to do something special.
For instance, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary sent a special mailing with a video of some of the animals it helps. I got a holiday card with handwritten thank yous from just about everyone in the office of the International Center for Research on Women one year.

These personal touches reinforce the already strong loyalty that most charities enjoy with their monthly donors.

The point is that recurring giving is not that difficult, is one of the most efficient ways you can fundraise, and it can grow with your organization. Stick with the basics, a reasonable number of donors, and attend to the personal side of caring for them.

As your nonprofit advances, it can get a lot more sophisticated, but don't let what the big groups do intimidate you. Recurring giving can work for your organization whatever its size. What is important right now is to get started.