Fri, August 21 2015

Master Monthly Giving (Part 2: Expert Interview)

Nancy Schwartz's avatar

Nonprofit Marketing Expert

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Filed under:   Recurring Giving •

Read Part 1 here

I’m thrilled to share more monthly giving mastery with you from my recent interview with leading monthly giving expert Erica Waasdorp.

Nancy: Once you have a new monthly donor in the door, what’s the best way to welcome him?

Erica: If donor signs up online, make sure you get a warm, appreciative email to him ASAP. Automate that via your donor management system.

In addition, I recommend that you always send a snail-mail thank you letter to new monthly donors. I’m a strong proponent of including a certificate in that mailing.

Skip the premium—thank yous are not the place—but make sure to include a personal contact at the organization, who signs the communication, and that person’s phone and email so its easy for donors to get in touch. You don’t have to send a monthly thank you letter in hard copy, but monthly emails are great. In both your email and thank you letter, include the fact that donors will receive a tax statement the following January.

Nancy: What are the best channels for monthly giving campaigns—email, direct mail, or something else?

Erica: Nothing works better than telemarketing. The response rate is simply higher than mail or email. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t have the budget for this. When that is the case, email and direct mail are the next best thing.

Most important, putting monthly giving front and center in your outreach is absolutely vital. Make it easy to find on your website and other appeals. Then ask and ask again via every main channel and piece that makes sense.

Nancy: I recently wrote a case study about Global Giving, which included a call to action for both monthly and one-time giving in its disaster-relief appeal for Nepalese earthquake survivors.

Have you seen that kind of dual call to action work? I am a huge believer in putting out a single, doable call to action to prospects and supporters, and then following up with a second step once the first has been completed.

Erica: Yes, it can work, and it ties in with the answer above—ask, ask, and ask some more.

The more you put monthly giving out there, the more donors will start giving that way. I see some of the “big guys” putting monthly giving front and center. For example, they offer monthly giving first and one-time donations second.

Nancy: What’s the greatest monthly donor recruitment case study you know?

Erica: Where do I start? I’ve done some huge monthly donor recruitment campaigns over the years, including one that raised $13 million. Most recently, I doubled the monthly donor base for a religious organization client, and those donors now generate 50% of the organization’s annual revenue.

But remember that these figures are relative, because your dollar total depends on the size of your existing donor base.

Consider another client I helped get started with monthly giving: a small animal shelter with 500 donor emails. The only mechanism they had for online giving was PayPal, so we customized the PayPal recurring giving options, put it on their donation page, and directed folks there from a three-part email series asking donors to join the “Champions” program.

We used a small board challenge of $5,000 with a clear deadline. Now the organization gets $2,500 a year from its monthly donors, and they also got the $5,000. We’re planning to do this again with the aim of doubling the monthly donor base every time. Cost is virtually nothing because it’s all done online. For this organization, starting monthly giving is huge.

Nancy: What’s the biggest monthly giving mistake you see fundraisers make again and again?

Erica: That’s an easy one—the biggest mistake is not starting and not asking. And the second-biggest mistake is asking too high.

If you want to start asking for monthly gifts of $50 per month, you’ll be disappointed if you see that the average gift is $23 per month for the first group of donors. Ask high and you’ll get a low response.

Instead, ask low and you’ll get a high response. In the case of monthly giving, you can absolutely upgrade monthly donors later. The key is to get them used to giving monthly first.

Nancy: What’s your most vital advice for fundraisers hoping to grow their organization’s monthly donor program?

Erica: We’re all overloaded. That’s why it’s vital to organize and systemize your monthly giving program before you promote it.

If you don’t set all steps up before you start recruiting, including assigning all roles and responsibilities, something’s going to fall through the cracks.

That’s why I’m so excited to have co-authored the ready-to-roll templates and tips in the no-charge Monthly Giving Starter Kit. It’s a great help in getting started and keeping your monthly giving strong.


To learn more about monthly giving, download our free eGuide! download recurring giving guide

About Erica Waasdorp

Erica Waasdorp is one of the leading experts on monthly (aka sustainer or recurring) giving. She is the author of Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant and co-author of the DonorPerfect Monthly Giving Starter Kit. As president of A Direct Solution, she serves nonprofit organizations in their fundraising and direct marketing needs with a focus on monthly giving, annual funds, and grant writing.


With refreshing practicality, Nancy Schwartz rolls up her sleeves to help nonprofits develop and implement strategies to build strong relationships that inspire key supporters to action. She shares her deep nonprofit marketing insights—and passion—through consulting, speaking, and her popular blog and e-news at GettingAttention.org.

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Wed, August 19 2015

Master Monthly Giving: Q&A with Erica Waasdorp

Nancy Schwartz's avatar

Nonprofit Marketing Expert

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Filed under:   Recurring Giving •

I’m thrilled to share this monthly giving mastery with you, drawn from my fascinating interview with leading monthly giving expert Erica Waasdorp.

In her unequaled guidebook, Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, Erica walks you through recurring giving, step by clear-and-doable step. “Historically, U.S. fundraisers have focused on major gifts. I’m thrilled that organizations are widening their focus to include monthly giving and small to medium gifts. There’s huge potential there,” says Erica.

What do fundraisers need to know about how monthly giving has changed since the release of Sleeping Giant in 2013?

Erica Waasdorp: What’s changed most dramatically, especially in the past year, is that monthly giving has exploded.

I think the main reason for this growth is fundraisers’ laser focus on donor retention. That focus, already there for some, was further fueled by results of the 2013 AFP Fundraising Effectiveness study, which highlighted the fall of donor retention rates to 39%. That was a real wake-up call for all of us.

There are two more factors that I think have added to the monthly giving boom. First is the emergence of reliable, thorough monthly giving guidance—from me, Network for Good, and others. This abundance of content triggers interest and provides reliable results-based guidance for fundraisers. Fun features, such as Network for Good’s monthly giving challenge, reinforce interest and skills.

The second factor that’s boosted monthly giving is the ease of adding, processing, and managing monthly donors via many donor database and online donation systems. Despite these widespread improvements, automating this process remains one of the biggest hurdles for fundraisers.

Why should an organization convert its donors from annual to monthly? Is there any risk of losing existing donors?

EW: No, there’s absolutely nothing to lose—as long as you target the right group. In other words, I do not recommend you ask your $250-plus donors to join monthly giving. Unless a donor at that level requests to be a monthly donor, don’t ask. You risk decreasing her gift level.

But for those who make gifts of $100 and less annually, there’s no way not to gain by converting them to monthly donors. You’ll retain them as donors and increase their total gifts per year. Plus, monthly donors are six to seven times more likely to make your organization a beneficiary in their wills. Win-win all around, if you ask me.

What’s the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) for monthly donors?

EW: The WIIFM depends on which donor group you’re talking to. For example, monthly giving is a fantastic way for donors on a fixed income to make gifts to favorite organizations. It’s easy and convenient, and they can’t forget it.

That’s a perfect lead-in to my next question. Are all existing and new donors ripe for conversion for monthly donors, or is there a specific segment where fundraisers should start?

EW: Well, it depends on how many donors you have who give $100 and less annually. And it depends on how many times you ask your donors for money now—that is, how many times they can give.

Those donors who have given more than once are more likely to convert. But recent monthly giving stats indicate that even nondonor supporters, such as those who have signed a petition, can be converted. You do have to ask them, though.

If you have a robust email list, start there. Focus your first direct mail campaign to donors who give by credit card. Targeting is essential to boost monthly giving campaign results, just as for other types of fundraising campaigns.

What’s the most reliable way to convert one-time or annual donors to monthly donors?

EW: There are three components of a reliable monthly giving strategy:

  • To deliver the most cost-effective and effective monthly giving campaign, launch an email appeal series based on a deadline-driven challenge (matching gift or otherwise).
  • To generate the highest response from your monthly giving recruitment campaign, include calls to your media mix. Email, direct mail, and phone all work, but a combination of all three works even better.
  • To ensure monthly donors stay with you as long as possible, ask donors to give through electronic funds transfer (that is, via their bank accounts).

Thanks, Erica!

About Erica Waasdorp

Erica Waasdorp is one of the leading experts on monthly (aka sustainer or recurring) giving. She is the author of Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant and co-author of the DonorPerfect Monthly Giving Starter Kit. As president of A Direct Solution, she serves nonprofit organizations in their fundraising and direct marketing needs with a focus on monthly giving, annual funds, and grant writing.


With refreshing practicality, Nancy Schwartz rolls up her sleeves to help nonprofits develop and implement strategies to build strong relationships that inspire key supporters to action. She shares her deep nonprofit marketing insights—and passion—through consulting, speaking, and her popular blog and e-news at GettingAttention.org.

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Tue, August 11 2015

An Inside Look at The 4 Pillars of Donor Relations: Q&A with Author Lynne Wester

Liz Ragland's avatar

Senior Content and Marketing Associate, Network for Good

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Filed under:   Fundraising essentials • Recurring Giving •

Today, donor relations expert Lynne Wester will join us for a free Nonprofit911 webinar: Donor Retention Isn’t Speed Dating. You don't want to miss it! Register now!

Lynne is not only an expert on donor retention; she has spent her career in donor relations and is known as the Donor Relations Guru. Earlier this year I published a Q&A with Lynne about her new book, The Four Pillars of Donor Relations. Enjoy this encore blog post and don’t forget to register for Lynne’s webinar!


Lynne Wester

If you aren’t familiar with Lynne Wester’s work in donor relations, you are missing out. Last year she presented an amazing webinar (one of our highest attended!) on donor relations and ever since then I’ve been hooked on the topic of donor relations and Lynne’s wise words on this important work that many fundraisers don’t (unfortunately) know much about.

Since the webinar, Lynne has published a book, The 4 Pillars of Donor Relations. It’s a great resource for any fundraiser who wants to increase their donor retention rate (aka everyone).

I did a quick Q&A with Lynne so you could understand what the book is all about.

BONUS: She shared the names of a few organizations who are excelling at donor relations. If you want to see what a great donor experience looks like, consider giving a small gift to one of the organizations she mentions.

How did you first get interested in donor relations?

Lynne Wester: I guess you could say I’ve been in donor relations since I was a child and my mom made me write thank you notes before I could play with my Christmas and birthday presents. But in reality, as a career, it came at Rollins College where I got my start writing thank you notes for leadership and my career blossomed from there. I am so blessed to be able to spend a lifetime helping others express gratitude.

Of the four pillars of donor relations (acknowledgement, stewardship and impact reporting, recognition, and engagement) where do you see nonprofits struggle the most?

LW: By far, it’s in stewardship and impact reporting. Nonprofits don’t take the time to tell the donor the impact and power of their gift, where the money went, and how it was spent. Instead, they’re too eager to obtain the next gift which leads to horrific retention rates.

We have to make the donor the hero and tell a story, not overwhelm them with news and information about the organization or ask them for more money. First we have to thank them, and then tell them the impact their money had. It’s a simple formula, really.

We get this question all the time and I think you’re the right person to weigh in: what is a GOOD donor retention rate?

LW: If the average first-time donor retention rate is 27%, and that’s the average, I would want to keep at least HALF of my first-time donors. It has nothing to do with the size of the organization, but rather the mindset and the attitude of gratitude that one possesses. Large or small, holding onto half of the people that invest in us shouldn’t be too high of a goal.

If your “team” that is responsible for donor relations is just one person, or 50% of one person’s workload,  what do you recommend they focus on first? What has the potential to have a big impact in a short amount of time?

The past has no power over the present

LW: The first thing is thanking without an ask. There is NO such thing as a soft ASK, that’s like being partially pregnant. So, sincerely thank your donor in a timely manner and then, once you’ve spent their funds, tell them the story of the impact their funds had on the people your organization serves.

I always tell my clients the amount of the gift is the LEAST important thing. The behavior is the MOST important thing. To have bottom line ROI impact focus on two groups first:

  1. first-time donors
  2. loyal or consecutive donors

This will really move your needle. You have to hold onto your first-time donors, otherwise they will never become loyal donors.

What is the most meaningful message you’ve received from an organization after a gift was made?

LW: I would have to say that the most meaningful messages I receive in a consistent manner come from the folks at charity:water. They make me feel important, they show me the impact of my donations, no matter how large or small and they make me feel very valuable and essential to the process.

Do you have any good examples of monthly giving programs that were branded as a “society” or “member” vs. a monthly giving program that had no separate branding? Do you know of any research that shows this works well or not?

LW: I give monthly to two organizations that do a great job of this. I’m a member of charity:water’s Pipeline, their monthly giving program, and I think this does a great job of keeping me informed, telling me why my support is important, and making me feel inextricable to their mission. Also Make-a-Wish does a great job with their monthly program and it has a brand. They call it the “wishmaker” club.

But honestly, being a part of a club is not why I give monthly. Just as powerful is my monthly gift to Livestrong, as a cancer survivor, they don’t need to brand me with a moniker or anything like that. They do a great job ensuring I have a sense of belonging and importance to them. Their donor relations and impact communications are spot on and I’m so proud to support them.

If we want to see what a great donor relations experience looks like in reality, who should we make a small donation to and experience it ourselves?

LW: charity:water, Whitworth University, Livestrong, and Kalamazoo College

Thanks to Lynne for giving us a peek into the topics covered in her book and for sharing her recommendations with us. For more of Lynne’s thoughts on donor relations, follow her on Twitter.

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Mon, August 10 2015

Dig Into Your Donor Database

Barbara O'Reilly's avatar

Founder, Windmill Hill Consulting

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Filed under:   Fundraising essentials • Recurring Giving •

Editor’s Note: This post comes from Barbara O’Reilly, founder of Windmill Hill Consulting. We’re excited to partner with Barbara so she can share her extensive knowledge of strategic development planning and donor-focused fundraising with the Network for Good community!

The Giving USA 2015 Annual Report on Philanthropy, released in July, announced that charitable giving, while growing steadily over the past five years, has reached its highest level since the Great Recession—an increase of 7.1% over 2013 totals. Donors of all kinds—individuals, foundations, and corporations—are back, baby! They have recovered from the economic setback of 2008 and are feeling more confident than ever to invest in charitable causes across the country.

The future has never looked better for the nonprofit sector, right? After all, the study shows that more donors than ever are making gifts. You may be wondering how to start building your donor base to welcome these new donors to your mission. “If only more donors knew about us, just think how much more money we would be raising” may very well be crossing your mind right now. As tempting a thought as this may be, the truth is that the grass is not greener with a whole new set of donors. It’s greener exactly wherever you are watering it.

Renewing Donors Chart

Let’s drill this down a little bit further: 43%. That’s the median donor retention rate that the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) calculated from the 2012–13 fundraising results of its survey respondents. This means that, on average, many organizations are losing almost 60% of their donors each year. Why? Many reasons. Some, like changes in personal circumstances, are out of the control of any organization. On the other hand, according to the 2014 Burk Donor Survey, nearly 50% of respondents cited reasons like over solicitation, overhead costs, and the lack of demonstrated impact as influencing their decision to stop giving. These lie squarely in the hands of how organizations communicate with and to their donors.

The solution to this attrition issue isn’t getting new donors. Quite the contrary. Getting new donors is:

  • Expensive: Raising $1 costs anywhere from $.25 to $1.50.
  • Inefficient: It has a very low ROI ($1).*
  • A short-term solution: Only 23% of first-time donors ever give a second gift.

That seems like an awful lot of work to nearly break even or incur a slight loss each year. On the other hand, it is worth looking at how to grow and retain the 64% of loyal donors who have been supporting you over multiple years. After all, fundraising costs to raise $1 from renewals are very low ($.20 to $.25), and these donors offer the highest ROI ($4).*

First, identify your donors’ behaviors.

What are the past giving levels of your donors’ gifts? By comparing gifts over the past few years within levels such as $1 to $499, $500 to $999, $1,000 to $2,499, and so forth, you’ll be able to see where you’ve had the greatest growth and losses. What is your own donor retention rate, both generally and for first-time donors? What is the average gift rate for each of the years you are comparing? Knowing these data points can ground how you solicit your donors in a way that will encourage growth. For example, you may want to focus on donors within a certain gift range to tailor higher asks. You might also segment a group of lapsed donors or higher-level donors and personalize outreach to them by phone, mail, and in-person communications.

Second, understand who your donors are.

Which donors have given for multiple years? Who previously supported you but has lapsed? Identify the top 50 to 100 of your longest donors, your largest donors over their lifetime, and newest donors (with a particular eye to those who made large first-time gifts) last year and this year. If you have the resources, it’s helpful to run capacity screening of these three groups to understand where there is greater gift potential. In starting or expanding your major gifts program, these are the donors who will comprise your major gift pipeline. They rarely bounce around from organization to organization. Your next major gift will likely come from one of these donors who has capacity and has supported you for a long time (and not giving at particularly high levels) and may also have been a volunteer. It’s important to get to know this group to understand what motivates their giving and interest in your organization.

Third, consider how you communicate with your donors.

These current and lapsed donors already know you and are more likely to give more generously if you ask and demonstrate your impact. If we think back to Penelope Burk’s survey results, two of the three top reasons donors stop giving are tied to an organization’s impact and effectiveness. More than ever, donors want to understand how their gift is making a difference in your work. They are giving through you to address a societal need that has meaning for them. Is their gift helping you make a difference? Bring them closer to your work by sharing a personal story of a beneficiary, a measurable accomplishment, or a plan to solve a seemingly intractable problem. As you qualify the major gift potential for those top 50 to100 donors you identified earlier, your ultimate goal is to build meaningful relationships so it naturally leads to sustained and increased support. Get to know their motivations, interests, and philanthropic goals. Use this information to lead your discussions about investments in your work. Remember, it’s not about you.

Tied closely with programmatic impact is how effectively your organization operates through costs for program delivery and administration. You don’t necessarily want to skimp on administrative expenses to seem “lean and mean” when it compromises—and even hinders—your ability to scale, deepen, or improve the quality of your work. Without unrestricted operating support, which includes enough funding for your fundraising efforts and staff, you can’t deliver and grow the services of your organization. Build that message about capacity into your donor outreach. Do your donors come away with a strong understanding of what you do, your plans for the future, and why their continued support (unrestricted and restricted) is important?

Finally, using the green grass analogy, after you’ve watered and fed your grass with your current donors, it’s still important to plant seeds for the next pipeline of donors. These aren’t the names you rent from mail houses. They can be, but as you saw from an earlier statistic, that’s not a cost-effective solution in the long run. The potential new donors I’m suggesting are people who self-identify in some way. Perhaps you find them through a sign-up on your website or a visitor book if prospective donors can visit your facilities. They can and should also be from the networks of your board and other volunteer leaders. Adding even 10 new names a month can yield up to 120 new donors—if you communicate with and engage them through a relationship model as described above.

How can you make the grass you’re standing on greener? By grounding your fundraising approaches on a good understanding of your donors’ giving patterns and interests, creating strategic communications that invite donors into your work, and planting seeds for new supporters in the future. This will strengthen all of your fundraising—annual fund, major gifts, planned giving, and events—and create opportunities for donors to partner with you in bigger and better ways.

*From the 2013 DMA’s Response Rate Report


Barbara O’Reilly, Principal and Founder of Windmill Hill Consulting, has more than twenty years of fundraising experience at major non-profit organizations including Harvard University, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Oxford University in England, and the American Red Cross.

Barbara helps non-profit organizations create impactful donor-focused relationships through strategic development planning and coordination of annual funds, capital campaigns, individual and institutional major gifts, and donor engagement.

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Thu, June 04 2015

Recurring Giving Challenge Lessons Learned: Named Monthly Giving Programs

Annika Pettitt's avatar

Customer Success Manager, Network for Good

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Filed under:   Recurring Giving •

Debates can stem from the most banal of subjects. Take, for example, the great debate around naming recurring giving programs. If you’ve had this discussion at your organization, you’ve undoubtedly been across the table from someone who’s a staunch advocate for starting a society, a circle, or a club for your monthly supporters. You’ve probably also heard complaints of exclusivity, problems categorizing donor levels, and the question of whether to give a thank you gift.

The truth is that both sides have valid points. Here at Network for Good, we come down firmly in the middle. Naming your recurring giving program can have a lot of benefits—and it can also distract from your mission. While poring over the results of our Recurring Giving Challenge, we noticed that our winners were also split down the middle.

Let’s take a look at some of the Recurring Giving Challenge winners that decided to name their monthly giving programs (and saw great success!):

  • FBFP logo

    Fort Bend Family Promise’s Coffee Club: Launched this year, the Coffee Club encourages donors to give up the cost of their daily coffee to support Family Promise’s mission of helping homeless children and families return to self-sufficiency. We love that membership levels are named after the now-familiar coffee sizes at Starbucks and appeals encourage supporters to host coffee hours in the vein of a Jeffersonian Dinner to discuss their support for Fort Bend Family Promise. What a great way to make the donor’s connection to the organization and their community even more tangible.

  • OLS logo

    Homes for Our Troops’ Operation Lasting Support: By asking donors to become charter members of a recurring giving club, appropriately named Operation Lasting Support, Homes for Our Troops accomplishes two important things: It makes the donor feel like an exclusive supporter and reinforces the importance of gifts, no matter the size. We love an organization with a deep sense of its unique brand, and Homes for Our Troops accomplishes that seamlessly with this named giving program by clearly defining it and powerfully describing its impact.

  • ACVIM logo

    American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Foundation’s Constant Companions: Who doesn’t love an alliterative name? ACVIM Foundation raises money in a lot of ways, including challenges between veterinary school alumni, memorial gifts, and general fund donations. However, we’re partial to its monthly giving program for Constant Companions. Evoking that sense of connection we all feel to the animals in our lives, the program is perfectly named, and the donation page does a great job of explaining the benefits of recurring gifts to both the donor and the organization.

What do you think? Does your organization have a named monthly giving program? Do you have a strong opinion on what’s best? Let us know in the comments.

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