Once, Twice, Three Times a Donor: How to Boost Recurring Donations

Ryan Jones • Jun 22, 2020
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If you aren’t putting your effort into identifying and encouraging recurring donors, I’ve got news for you: you’re working too hard.

While finding new donors is always a good thing, it’s far from the most efficient way to raise the most money with the least input. Recurring donors can be up to four times more valuable than a one-time donor, yet few organizations are putting their focus on recurring gifts.

So strap in and get ready to learn why your long-term strategy needs to be built around recurring donors.

Steal these 10 Email Templates to Boost Recurring Donations

Use these examples to create engaging stories and design beautiful emails.

3 Reasons Why Recurring Donations Are So Important

Recurring donors often make monthly gifts, or they can be semi-monthly, a few times a year, or annually. Whatever schedule they are on doesn’t really matter; what matters is the fact that they tend to be more important to your organization than a one-time gift. But why?

Increased Donor Lifetime Value

Donor Lifetime Value (LTV) measures the revenue that donors will generate over the course of their journey with your organization. You can calculate LTV for a single donor, for segments within your ecosystem, or for your entire database.

Regardless, higher LTV is better, and recurring donors do more for your LTV score than one-time donations, even when giving smaller amounts; a donor who gives for five years is worth much more than five donors, since the work you put into those five donors offsets the value you get from them. Take a minute to calculate your donor LTV here and you’ll see the difference a few years makes. It’s worthwhile to repeat that recurring donors are worth up to four times more than one-time donors over the life of their giving. But it’s even more revealing that for small organizations, this number jumps to 11 times more value. So don’t sleep on your monthly donors.

Increased Donor Retention

We’ve talked about donor retention recently. Holding onto donors year over year and encouraging them to give again is always a good strategy compared to finding new donors. And according to this study, first-year recurring donors are more than twice as likely to give in their second year when compared to one-time donors.  If you extend that timeline out to a decade, recurring donors are four times more likely to still be giving compared to one-time donors. So it’s definitely worth it to get first-time donors signed up for monthly recurring donations and raise more money.

Increased Ability to Plan for the Future

There is a reason that subscription services are so popular these days. From Netflix to razors to dog treats, people are happy to sign up for a small monthly service that delivers the goods on schedule. And gifts to nonprofits are no exception.

A platform that can accept recurring donations is good for donors because it takes some of the onus off their plate and automates their goodwill. But it’s also great for you, since putting donations on a schedule lets you predict your revenue stream. Stable and predictable income means you can make better, more strategic decisions and make a more significant impact in the long term.

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Is Your Organization Set Up for Recurring Donors?

If you’re under the impression that securing recurring donations involves calling hundreds of donors every month to remind them to mail you a check, boy have I got news for you. The future is now—setting up a recurring donation is easy.

If you’re using modern software (like Keela) on your website, collecting scheduled credit card donations using online donation forms is just as easy as snapping up one-time gifts. Just make sure your form offers a recurring option.

Donors can choose between individual and cumulative receipts, and Keela will take the administrative burden off your plate when it comes to tracking the gift each month. And if you want to explain more about recurring donations, or promote the idea a little more strongly, you can either add information directly to your donation page, or you can create a separate page and link to it, giving you the freedom to write as much as you like and add photos or video.

Set Goals

Before you get started on your recurring donation campaign, it’s a good idea to set some goals for your organization. You might want a certain percentage of your revenue to come from recurring donations by the end of the year, or you could simply shoot for having a specific number of active recurring donors. Either way, it gives you a target to aim at, keeping your efforts focussed.

The Ask

It’s all well and good to make recurring gifts an option. But like everything else in the nonprofit world, it all comes down to the ask.

Start by softening up your audience by prioritizing recurring gifts in your marketing materials. Publish a blog post on your website, mention recurring gifts on your social media feeds, and write about it in your newsletter to let people know that scheduling their contributions to your cause is an option. But you will have to actually ask at some point.

Many nonprofits don’t actively encourage recurring donations, instead choosing to send communications that only mention one-time gifts or just leaving the recurring option available but unmentioned. While it’s not a good idea to be aggressive about it, it pays to ask.

Email is probably the best place to make your ask for so many of the same reasons that email marketing, in general, is such an effective strategy: email is flexible, it hits people in their homes, when they’re bored looking at their phones, email seems more trustworthy than social media, and you can easily schedule it to hit key points in the donor journey.

6 Tips to Secure More Recurring Donations

Aside from asking your audience directly to set up a monthly giving program, there are things you can do to boost your efforts when you’re on the hunt for more recurring donors.

Look at Your Current Metrics

If you dig into your data, you may find some of your donors already qualify as recurring, even if you haven’t given them the option. 

If your organization has a high retention rate, donors who consistently give year after year may appreciate the opportunity to schedule their gifts or even increase the frequency. Look for giving patterns that could indicate that individual donors already have you penciled into their calendars, like always giving in the same month, during holidays, or on specific dates, like the first or last day of the month. Even one-time donors who have given recently may be good candidates for a recurring gift marketing campaign.

Another great indicator that a donor may be ready to automate their giving is many small donations. Someone who gave $1,000 one time might want to give again but it’s hard to say for sure; someone who gave $25 ten times is pretty likely to give again. Remember: emotional connections are powerful—if a donor has given to you several times, it probably means your mission means a lot to them.

Reach Out

Once you’ve identified potential recurring donors, it’s time to reach out. As discussed above, email is a great way to get in touch. If you aren’t completely sure that your audience is going to be receptive to a recurring donation campaign, you could start by sending a donor survey asking whether recurring donations would be a useful option. An engaged and loyal donor base will probably at least give you a straight answer, and in all likelihood will respond enthusiastically in favor of automated giving.

If your data mining operation reveals only some individuals who are likely to give on a schedule, it may be worth calling them on the phone, especially if they happen to be in an older demographic. This will give you a chance to ask questions and connect with these already committed supporters on a personal level.

Reinforce Impact

There are a million reasons why someone might have given to your nonprofit organization. But there’s really only one reason they keep giving: they care.

So to boost your recurring donations, you need to make people care. How? Tell a great story. Stories help to create context for your mission while building an emotional connection between their wallets and your beneficiaries. People who are genuinely emotionally connected are much more likely to give again.

Incentivize Your Donors

There is nothing like a push in the right direction. Offering an incentive to potential recurring donors is an amazing way to strengthen your pitch. 

Incentives don’t necessarily have to be extravagant; simply pointing out that a recurring gift can be canceled at any time is often enough to get people to sign up. Even naming your donation levels (e.g. bronze, silver, and gold) can convince people to increase their commitment.

If your nonprofit has branded swag, like t-shirts, hats, buttons, bumper stickers, etc., you can create tiers where the swag gets better as the donation amount or frequency increases. And don’t discount the value of bragging—offering public recognition on your website or social media is exactly what some donors are looking for.

If you have a wealthy benefactor who is interested in setting up a matching program, try sending out an email offer that explains matching and give the options to make or increase the amount of a recurring gift.

Follow Up

Even if your recurring donor campaign is wicked awesome, you’re still going to get more one-time donors. Getting people to make a long-term commitment isn’t easy and it doesn’t always work on the first try. But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Send an email to one-time donors within 48 hours thanking them profusely for their contribution. A week later, send another email showing the impact of the work that your organization does and explain how they are so important to the cause. 

Then it’s time to hit them with the knockout blow: a month later, follow up again, this time offering the opportunity to set up a recurring donation. Chances are, some of those one-time donors take the bait and sign up because you took the time to start a relationship with them.

And if that doesn’t work, wait for a special occasion to follow up again, like the anniversary of their first gift, birthdays, holidays, etc. Milestones like these are the perfect excuse to send another emailing seeking out that upgrade.

Offer the Right Options 

No matter what your recurring donation campaign looks like, make sure you’re capturing and analyzing the data. Specifically, you’re definitely going to want to know what the mean, median, mode, and range of your donations are so that you can give people donation options that they are likely to choose.

For example, if you received ten donations ($10, $25, $25, $25, $25, $50, $50, $75, $80, $1000) and you calculated the mean, it looks like your average donation is $136.50. But when you look at the mode, which is $25, does it seem likely that most people are going to give more than $100? Probably not. The more data you have, the easier time you’ll have deciding which gift options to put on your donation page. 

If you don’t want to figure out your average donations, don’t worry. Keela’s Smart Ask Forms will do it for you. Smart Ask tells you how much you should be asking for from your donors by looking at their previous giving habits, then recommending an ideal donation amount to maximize their gift. 

We use everything from the weather to zip code to predict giving patterns to help you know how much to ask for, and when, then we help you send personalized, targeted donation forms to your Keela contacts.

Now you’re ready to get out there and get those donations! Again, and again, and again, and again…

Steal these 10 Email Templates to Boost Recurring Donations

Use these examples to create engaging stories and design beautiful emails.

10 Email Templates to Boost 
Recurring Donations

Use these templates to create compelling content that will inspire, excite, and re-engage readers with your purpose.

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