How Monthly Giving Programs for Nonprofits Build Long-term Success

Ryan Jones • Nov 28, 2020
monthly giving program

Every nonprofit loves new donors. Reaching a new audience and convincing them to support your cause always feels amazing. But the truth is, one-time donations are just the first step toward building a relationship with your supporters. If you want to spend less money securing donations and more time creating a real community around your cause, there’s one way to do it: a monthly giving program.

Table of content:

  1. What is a monthly giving program?
  2. Why set up a monthly giving program?
  3. 4 steps to create a successful monthly giving program
  4. 5 ideas to boost monthly donations

What is a monthly giving program

Also called recurring giving programs, monthly giving allows supporters to commit to giving every month, automatically and without any hassle. It’s a great way for donors to make a significant impact on your cause without putting a significant divot in their bank accounts. And according to this study, donors are on board with the idea: 45% of donors around the world make recurring gifts, and they’re increasingly making online donations, with 2020 seeing a 40% increase in revenue from monthly gifts.

If you don’t already have a way for your donor base to make regular donations, it’s a great time to get started. Let’s take a look at the benefits, then we’ll dig into how to start a successful monthly giving program.

Why Set Up a Monthly Giving Program?

It isn’t hard to convince people to commit to recurring giving programs. One-time gifts demonstrate a belief in your mission, so asking donors to keep supporting something they already believe in isn’t a huge stretch. 

These types of programs are also mutually beneficial. Donors don’t have to think about making positive contributions each month; it happens automatically and conveniently, and at the end of the year they get to look back at their accumulated goodwill and the associated tax breaks that come with it. Plus, it’s more satisfying to give frequently, even if the amount is smaller. And for lower-income donors, it’s a way to support something they believe in without hurting their household bottom line. So what does it do for your nonprofit organization?

1. Stable income

Recurring donations help to increase value in three important donor metrics:

Increased Donor Lifetime Value (LTV) – Measures the revenue that donors will generate over the course of their journey with your organization. Recurring donors have higher LTV scores than one-time donations, even when giving smaller amounts; a donor who gives for five months is worth much more than five donors, since it costs you less to get recurring donations. Recurring donors are worth up to four times more than one-time donors over the life of their giving. And for small organizations, this number jumps to 11 times more value.

Higher Annual Donation Amount – The average recurring donor gives 42% more in a year than one-time donors. This is attributable to belief in your cause, as well as to financial factors like reduced sticker shock ($10/month looks like a lot less money than $120/year) and easier upgrades (bumping a monthly donation up from $5 to $10 is much easier than trying to double a one-time donation).

Increased Donor Retention – 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.

2. 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.

3. More Opportunities for Engagement

One of the necessities of managing a recurring donor program is more communication. Receipts, confirmation emails, thank you messages, etc. are happening all year long, rather than just once. And each of those touchpoints is an opportunity to engage your supporters. Better engagement creates a feedback loop of positivity, as donors become more enamored with your brand, give more and more often, receive more communication, and so on into the sunset.

4 Steps to Create a Successful Monthly Giving Program

It’s surprisingly easy to get started on a monthly giving program, and you might already have some of the elements set up. Check out these four straightforward steps and you’ll be racking up recurring gifts in no time.

1. Accept recurring donations

Absolutely essential to your monthly giving program is the ability to automate these types of donations. There are two options for collecting recurring donations on your website, and both are super easy to build using Keela.

  • Donation Page – Create a standalone page on your website that focuses on recurring donations exclusively, giving you the freedom to write as much as you like and add photos or videos that illustrate the benefits of recurring donations. This is a great strategy because it allows you to tailor your form specifically to meet the needs of potential recurring donors.
  • Donation Form – Embed a form in an existing page that allows donors to sign up to give monthly. This is an excellent option if you want to put the monthly giving option front and center by adding it to a prominent page on your site, such as the homepage, or to a robust, campaign-specific landing page.

For both of these options, be sure to follow these best practices:

  • Communicate Value – More than just adding a checkbox to give monthly, you’ll need to give donors a good reason why they should give to you on a recurring basis. This post is a great discussion of communicating value propositions.
  • Pre-select Monthly Giving – Setting up monthly giving as the default on your donation page or form can increase conversions of monthly donations by up to 35%
  • Offer the Right Options – Suggest dollar amounts for recurring gifts in order to encourage potential donors to commit. To determine the amount to suggest, look at how much your existing recurring donors give and calculate a mode average; use that number as your suggested donation.

Keela’s Smart Ask tool will also perform this task 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. 

2. Brand your program

It’s worth your time to give your recurring donor program its own unique look and feel so that it is recognizable across your channels. Try an easy to remember name that gets across the idea that recurring donors are in an exclusive club. 

For example, The Nature Conservancy calls its monthly donors “Conservation Champions.” If you’re feeling creative, choose an accent color for your program that works with your overall color scheme, write a tagline for monthly giving, and choose high-quality images to use in your recurring donation priming content. You can even create tiers and name them (gold, silver, bronze, etc.) to encourage donors to level up.

3. Market your program

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 identifying your ideal target audience. Outline what type of donor is the most likely to give on a regular basis by defining a donor persona and creating a donor profile.

Next, create marketing materials that emphasize and prioritize the benefits of recurring gifts, showcasing the increased impact that comes from monthly donations. 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.

Last, create an email to your target audience that makes a direct ask for monthly donations. If you’ve identified a significant percentage of your target audience that still prefers snail mail, it can be worth your time to send a direct mail appeal to them.

4. Set up Automatic Thank You Emails 

The most important thing you can do to ensure the ongoing success of your monthly giving program is to thank your donors.

Each and every time you receive a donation, make sure an automated thank you goes out; Keela makes this process a snap to execute, plus you can automate email tax receipts at the same time. Recurring donors need to be thanked differently than one-time donors. Remember that monthly donors are your organization’s lifeblood and they need to be thanked in a way that encourages their ongoing support.

If your organization can afford it, thank recurring donors via snail mail at least once per year. For especially large or frequent donors, a thank you phone call that does not include an ask can go a long way toward securing their support for years to come.

Perfect Thank You Letters: The Complete Guide

We know creating a thank you letter or email from scratch can be a challenge. We create a guide and 7 customizable templates to thanks donors, volunteers, sponsors, and more!

5 Ideas to Boost Monthly Donations

Once you’re all set up to receive and manage recurring donations, and you’ve made your initial ask to your target audience, there are some things you can do to make sure you have the best chance at long-term success for your monthly giving program.

1. Find opportunities in your donor database

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 before.

 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 are open to monthly giving, such as:

  • Always giving during holidays 
  • Always giving on specific dates, like the first of the month
  • Frequent small donations
  • Donations throughout the year

Reach out to these donors to give your program a boost. Target holidays, birthdays, the anniversary of their first donation, or other significant times of year as a way to break the ice.

Major donors who volunteer give more than they would if they weren’t involved. So, try to get these donor more engaged and involved in your organization. As they see the impact of their contributions, they’ll be motivate to give more often. Use Keela’s DonorSearch Integration to find more major donors who could likely become recurring donors.

2. Use Email drips campaigns to upgrade one-time donors 

It’s important to note that you won’t always successfully convert supporters into recurring donors on the first try, but it pays off to be persistent. 

Set up an email drip campaign that specifically targets potential recurring donors using strategic messaging and timing to help push them in the right direction. 

For example, if you are targeting one-time donors for conversion to monthly giving, start with a simple schedule:

  • 48 hours after their donation – Send an email thanking them profusely for their contribution. 
  • 1 week later – Send an email showing the impact of the work that your organization does and explain how they are so important to the cause. 
  • 1 month later – Offer the opportunity to set up a recurring donation. 

You can also follow up on special occasions, like the anniversary of their first gift, birthdays, holidays, etc. You may also want to expand your drip campaign to include more engagement strategies that help to build a meaningful relationship with your audience. And for a little help getting inspired, these email templates are a great place to start.

Steal these 10 Email Templates to Boost Recurring Donations

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

3. Create incentives

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. Event invites and exclusive, behind-the-scenes volunteer opportunities are also great incentives. 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.

4. Use storytelling

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. So get writing, then spread the word far and wide on your various media channels.

5. Upgrade monthly donors

Upgrading monthly donors is a lot easier than upgrading first-time or annual supporters. It’s a question of perception: asking an annual donor to go from $60 to $120 looks like a pretty big ask; asking a monthly donor to go from $5 to $10 per month is like asking them to buy one extra cup of coffee per month, no big deal. The key is to actually do it.

Write an email to recurring donors that offers compelling reasons to upgrade: how much more impact they will make, how easy it is to make the change, tell a story about other donors who have upgraded, or showcase some of the good your organization does for the world. And make it obvious that you are asking people to upgrade their current monthly donation, as opposed to making an additional one-time donation.

One Thing to Remember

A monthly commitment from your supporters requires monthly commitment from your organization as well. Asking for recurring donations, then abandoning those supporters in favor of seeking out new donors, is a great way to undo all the hard work you’ve put into your monthly donation program. Whether you send useful content, program updates, thank you messages, or impact stories, regular, sincere communication will go a long way toward keeping your monthly donors on board for months and years to come.

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.