How to Start a Monthly Recurring Giving Program for Nonprofits

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You’ve already researched how to optimize your donation page, and your nonprofit is using a powerful fundraising platform (like Snowball!). So while you might be wondering how or even whether it makes sense to be starting a monthly giving program, now is the perfect time for one. Giving is the lifeblood of nonprofits, especially when events have been canceled and things are uncertain in the grant world. 

Some organizations are reacting to uncertainty by shying away from asking for more donations. They justify not making fundraising appeals due to the state of a shaken-up economy where donors may have lost their jobs or might be ill. It could seem uncaring to prod for donations.

However, many fundraisers are still postponed to an unknown date. This eliminates an important source of revenue that came with events. The pandemic has forced many to look for alternative ways of staying afloat. For nonprofits, this means moving from dependence on one-off giving and fundraisers to recurring giving.

The Undeniable Benefits of Recurring Giving

Acquiring new donors has been hyped up for years by nonprofits–but 75% of new donors may never give again. Most nonprofits, unfortunately, realized this a year into the pandemic. 

Acquiring new donors has been hyped up for years by nonprofits–but 75% of new donors may never give again. Most nonprofits, unfortunately, realized this a year into the pandemic. 

Encouraging recurring giving offers a predictable flow of income, grows giving, and focuses your attention on retaining donors for the good of your nonprofit and its beneficiaries. We’ll look at how (and why) you should create a monthly recurring giving program with the following steps:

  1. Spend Time Planning
  2. Brand Your Monthly Giving
  3. Create an Online Hub for Your Program
  4. Think Small
  5. Make Updates Easy 
  6. Use Email Marketing to Show Appreciation
  7. Give Recurring Donors Special Membership
  8. Ask Your Biggest Fans for Help Before You Launch

With this time-tested method, you’re building a way to recognize your most loyal supporters, even if they aren’t major donors. You’re also providing an opportunity for people to deepen their connection with the work you do. Lastly, you’ll be well on your way to sustainable income that will ease fundraising pressure well into the future. Let’s dive in:

Steps to a Successful Monthly Giving Program

1. Spend Time Planning

A tremendous monthly giving program starts with a plan. Think about what you want to achieve with the program, including your KPIs. Your indicators can look like the following:

  • The number of donors you’re attempting to acquire.
  • How many existing donors you aim to turn into recurring donors.
  • How much you want to bring in overall.

The answers to these questions will help you to develop key performance indicators that will tell you what is working and what is not. If your team struggles to come up with a number, your board members and other shareholders can help you think through this phase. 

2. Brand Your Monthly Giving 

Brand your new program to differentiate it from your other campaigns. Consider choosing a name that’s closely related to your charity, and remember to align it with the nonprofit’s goals. 

To work out the details of branding, think about your target donors, the range of giving, and the marketing methods that would appeal most to this audience. The messaging tone should be the same across all platforms, including welcome emails and follow-up email newsletters. Consider enlisting nonprofit branding professionals to get the best results.

Pro Tip: If you already have monthly donors, use their testimonials to encourage others to join. Include their photos, names, and occupation. Testimonials leverage the power of storytelling to make audiences see the value they can get from something others have. 

3. Create a Hub of Information, Stories, and Recognition for Your Program

You can turn your one-off givers into lifetime donors by marketing your recurring giving. Promote recurring giving in all your donation requests as the more sustainable and preferred method of giving. Create an online hub that explains your program in more detail and allows people to sign up and update their information. Our preferred platform is WordPress because it is prevalent, cost-efficient, easy-to-use, and integrates widely.

Since most users leave or stay on a website because of how easy it is to navigate, spend time researching User Experience (UX).  This will help you increase online giving, as will investing in concise copy and eye-catching images that empower, not victimize, your beneficiaries. WordPress plugins can help provide an easy-to-use interface. They work across multiple devices, payment platforms and acknowledge receipt of payment. 

Whether or not you use WordPress, you’ll need a plugin or an iframe for people to sign up and donate. It is not preferable to send users away from your website and a third-party site (like your donor management or peer-2-peer platform), which hurts your perceived trustworthiness. 

Additionally, revisit fees for plugins and processors to make sure you’ve chosen one that won’t process donations on a monthly versus yearly basis. 

4. Think Small

When making recurring donation appeals, large amounts can deter people because it tells them that they will only make an impact if they can match that amount. Ask for minimal amounts to attract both average and wealthy donors. A five-dollar donation is hard to say no to, but adds up over time.

Encourage your existing donors to join the program. They are more likely to commit to a small amount, and you can grow this over time. 

Large donors are less likely to be interested in monthly giving. They prefer giving big sums once or a few times. However, those who give small amounts are more likely to enroll in monthly giving programs. Focus your campaign efforts more on the small donors. 

5. Make Updates Easy

Give your monthly donors options to update their information whenever they like. This includes contact information, email subscriptions, and most importantly, donation amount. WordPress plugins can make it easy for users to update this information themselves with just one or a few clicks, so that there is no added burden to your development or marketing people. 

While most donors won’t adjust their amounts often, they must know they have the option to cancel or downgrade at any time. Providing the option to downgrade (and upgrade!) is vital to growing donations over time and to re-engaging donors who otherwise might churn. 

You’ll also want to automate SMS (text) or email notifications to go out when a credit card expires or is cancelled. The majority of recurring donations are canceled this way unintentionally, so having this enabled can make a world of difference. Send your donors notifications 30 days before expiration, and again if their credit card expires, with links to the webpage where they can update payment information. 

This is a crucial step in enabling you to reconnect with and maintain these important donors.

6. Use Email Marketing to Show Appreciation for Recurring Donors

Typically, when people sign up for your email marketing, you send them engaging emails about programs they’d be interested in and solicit their continuing support. 

Emails will have to be different for your monthly givers. Focus the emails on informing them about program progress, cause achievements, and upcoming steps in your nonprofit’s journey. Regular communication gives donors a good idea of how they’re helping tangibly.  If your CRM enables it, you can use statements such as:

  • Your $12 a month puts a student through school.
  • 10 endangered animals are saved each month with your $30 donation.

People begin to be skeptical when you don’t tell them where their money is going. This is why remaining transparent about your spending and impact is so important. Periodically send your monthly supporters videos of your major initiatives’ work or news coverage.

7. Give Recurring Donors Special Membership

Remember to use the same tone with your recurring donors as you would with your teammates. Tell them more than you would tell new donors: you want them to feel in-the-know!

Monthly giving will become a lifelong commitment for some of your recurring donors. It’s important to recognize that they are investing in you. While they’re not buying a product, your supporters do get value from your nonprofit in the form of feeling identified with your cause and the gratification of knowing they are having a positive impact. 

Make sure they continue hearing about your successes and cultivate their identification with your mission through a special membership. 

8. Ask Your Biggest Fans for Help Before You Launch

Find people who believe the most in your nonprofit’s cause and ask them to help launch your new program. When they root for it, they will convert   other supporters. It will come naturally for your fans to be part of a campaign that provides you with regular income so you can keep up the good work.

When your biggest supporters get a chance to become founding members of your recurring program with you, it will also make them feel appreciated. By working with them to conduct a “soft rollout” and allowing them to provide feedback, you’ll gain crucial momentum for your official launch. 

For a great example of how to phrase this in emails and landing pages, see examples of the marketing material used by charity:water for their recurring giving program (originally Pipeline, now called The Spring).

Remember, the most important step to any monthly giving program is to express your appreciation for  your recurring donors. Say thank you and show them what their contributions have helped you to achieve!

About the Author

Emily Friedrichs is the Communications and Partnerships Manager at Elevation, a nonprofit marketing and web agency that provides digital solutions that appeal to nonprofits’ unique service models. Emily’s commitment to social justice and service began in zir youth in New Hampshire and has stayed with zir across the globe decades later. Emily has been both volunteer and activist for organizations working on human rights, poverty elimination, non-violence, and cultural exchange. Ze has taught in underprivileged communities in New York and Buenos Aires. Ze is passionate about community-building and behavioral psychology, and excited to be working at their crossroads in nonprofit technology.

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