How to Grow Your Monthly Recurring Donor Program

A solid, growing monthly donor base is essential for the long-term sustainability of your nonprofit. But you already know that.

The question here isn’t why, but how.

The answer is actually quite simple: ask.

Ask your audience to give monthly. It’s easier said than done though. In my experience helping other nonprofits to grow their recurring revenue, the challenge I encounter is both mental and practical.

So in this article, I’ll go into both the mindset of asking for monthly donations along with some tangible steps on how to do it. We’ll cover:

  • How to ask
  • Who to ask
  • When/where to ask

How to Ask

There’s a lot of different ways to present an option to give monthly. You don’t have to stick with one. Experiment and see what works best for you. Here are a few common ways.

Special Name

Having a special name to identify monthly donors can help create a sense of unique community and commitment. Common names include partner, friend, advocate, or sustainer, paired with another word related to the mission.

Some examples are:

  • The Spring (Charity Water)
  • Partners for Justice (Human Rights Watch)
  • Guardian of Liberty (ACLU)

But, don’t stress out over a name. Most nonprofits don’t have a monthly giving program name, and simply ask people to give monthly. I worked with a nonprofit that wanted to come up with a perfect program name, and delayed launching a monthly giving campaign for over a year. Finally, we just launched it without a name, and simply asked people to give. We saw a 50% increase within months.

Comparative pricing

You’ve heard the phrase, “For the price of a cup of coffee, you can support…” It’s used and it works because it helps anchor the donation to something that people spend on without a second thought. It makes the donation amount seem less challenging.

This same strategy can be used to anchor monthly donations. Think of the common monthly subscriptions that people have. A streaming subscription, a meal subscription, or a software subscription.

Some common ones I’ve used in the past are:

  • For the price of a Netflix/Spotify subscription
  • For the price of a Costco/Amazon membership

Sponsorship

Child sponsorships are undoubtedly the most successful type of recurring donor program. But not every nonprofit serves children, and even if you do, you may not have the resources to manage a one-to-one child sponsorship.

Still, you can take the successful elements of a child sponsorship and transport that model to a sponsorship program of your own. This includes an attachment to a specific place, project, or group of people. It means the donor getting regular updates from that specific sponsorship, such as pictures. And it means the possibility of communication, even if it’s one-way from donor to project. But this opens the door for a more scalable many-to-one type of sponsorship, in which multiple donors can sponsor one thing, and all get the same updates on that thing.

For example, donors can sponsor a village, a neighborhood, a school, a water well, a rainforest, or an entire country. It all depends on how your nonprofit operates and how you can creatively break down the projects that you do.

Sustainability

This is the simplest and most authentic way to ask for monthly donations. Your more dedicated donors will get this. Programs need recurring donations to be sustainable. That’s where the real work happens. While new projects are exciting and rake in lots of single gifts, recurring gifts are needed to ensure those projects have an impact in the long run.

Monthly donors are the core of a nonprofit, and you should tell them that. Let them know – and make sure they really understand this – that without them, you could not continue doing the work you do day in and day out. You need them, and the people you serve need them.


Who to Ask

The answer is everyone, but we’ll go in progressive steps. Start with the people who are most likely to be monthly donors – those who already give frequently. Then branch out from there. Here are a few different ways to segment your donor groups and nuances in how you ask them.

Monthly donors

Increasing your recurring revenue doesn’t just mean getting more monthly donors, but also increasing the amount that your existing monthly donors give. This is probably the easiest ask, since you’re talking to people who are already committed to your organization.

You’ll have to approach this with tact and segmentation. If you have a small group, you can contact them individually. But if you have a larger group, you can filter and segment them. Only contact those who have given for a while, not someone who’s only recently become a monthly donor. From there, segment them by giving amount, and propose a reasonable upgrade. If they’re giving $25 a month, ask them to bump it up to $30 or $40. If they’re giving $100 a month, ask them to increase their donation to $125 or $150.

Almost monthly donors

There are donors who give so frequently, they might as well be monthly donors. Look at your donors who have given at least 6-8 months out of the year, or maybe more. Acknowledge they’ve given that much (they may not even realize it themselves). Then ask them to make it official by committing to monthly giving.

This helps add a couple more gifts during the year. But it also ensures longevity; they will give those amounts for years to come. You can also present this as a benefit to the donor – they already give frequently, so by becoming an automated monthly donor, they don’t have to worry about remembering.

Occasional donors

Next, go to your donors who have given a handful of times in the past year, maybe 2-4 times. Look at their total gift amount for the year, and divide it by 12. Round that number up a little bit and propose that they turn their regular donations into monthly donations for this next year.

For example, say you have a donor that gave 3 gifts last year totaling $225. Divided by 12, and that gives you $18.75. Contact that donor with this information, and suggest they turn this into an automated monthly donation of $20. This helps turn occasional donors who tend to drop off into committed donors for the long run.

Non-donors

Some subscribe to the methodology that you should lower the barrier of entry for new donors. Don’t ask for too large a gift or too much commitment. Invite them to give a small amount just to get their foot in the door.

I adhere to this model…sometimes.

But if my focus is on increasing monthly donors, I’ll ask for monthly donations from the start. People will always have the option to give a single gift, but asking a non-donor to become monthly donor gets them to that level of commitment from the start. And if monthly donations is your primary ask, when repeated enough, it becomes more normal for your first-time donor. Going back to child sponsorships, this is their primary method of fundraising. They don’t ask for single gifts. People become first-time donors of their organizations by becoming monthly child sponsors. Present a monthly model first for all your non-donors.


Where and When to Ask

Always and everywhere.

This will depend on what your campaign focus is. But if you’re in a season of monthly donor acquisition, or you want to become a monthly-donor-first type of organization, then present this ask everywhere and all the time.

On your website, make “Donate Monthly” the primary button everywhere, not just “Donate.” In your emails, present “Give monthly” as the first option. In your content marketing, tell stories that focus on the importance of monthly giving as it relates to your projects.

Don’t wait until you have all the right pieces, the perfect language, or the ideal setup to start asking for monthly donations. You have some ideas from this article – start right now and develop it along the way.

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