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The Donor Who Keeps on Giving—How Often to Appeal to Your Monthly Givers

September 29, 2017

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Money Puzzle

At the recent Bridge Conference, I ran into a colleague who asked me the question that many nonprofits grapple with: How often should you ask your existing sustainers for more money?

We know that monthly donors are a good source of revenue, but if you aren’t asking for extra gifts during the year, your ‘single’ revenue could go down.

How often to appeal to this group, however, can be somewhat of a loaded question. Every organization is different in where they are with their monthly donor program—some have 2% of their donors giving monthly, while others are fortunate to have 20% or more monthly donors.

Unfortunately, other than individual organizations’ results, there are not that many statistics (yet) on monthly donors to begin with and certainly not on this question. So it comes down to testing what approach works best for you and your organization.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is the source of your sustainers? Did they come in through mail, phone, email, TV, Face-to-Face? That determines how to reach out to them next.
  2. How often do you appeal to your donors now? Is it twice a year? Is it four times a year? More often?
  3. What are you sending to your donors? Is the above a mix of newsletters, emails, appeals? Do you have any matching gift offers?

Organizations run the gamut and the answers to these questions will help you determine the best approach for monthly donors for your organization!

Over the 25+ years I’ve managed and run monthly donor programs, it has become very clear: Monthly donors care about your organization so much that they’re willing to give you their credit card or bank account information. They trust you, and they want to be kept up to date on what’s happening.

So don’t stop sending them something just because you think that’s what they may want. Just remember that many donors want to be the hero over and over again—and you sending them an appeal will help make that possible! To give you an example: For one organization that mailed at least 12 times a year, we sent a survey to every new monthly donor and asked them how often they’d like to receive updates from the nonprofit. We gave them the option of once a year, once a quarter and once a month. Guess what—90% of new monthly donors ticked the box wanting communication once a month!

(Note: it goes without saying that if someone tells you they’d like to hear from you less, you’ll mark your donor base and honor the donor’s wishes!)

As soon as a sustainer joins, flag him or her in your donor base and in your email program so that you can always include the reference to the fact that they’re already giving monthly and how much you appreciate that. So any time you send something in the mail or by email and even by phone, refer to them as a wonderful sustainer and show your gratitude first off.

Now, let’s look at the number of times you’re appealing to your donors. If you’re sending something twice to four times a year, then by all means, include your monthly donors in your appeals. You can then track their response and evaluate after a year.

But what if you’re sending appeals more than four times a year? In my experience, as long as you recognize that they’re a sustainer, you’ll be pleasantly surprised in their response to those appeals.

I see nonprofits that mail 8-12 times a year and still get a higher response rate from their monthly donors compared to other donors. I have seen similar results in monthly donors’ email open rates and click through rates. Monthly donors are also ideal candidates for legacy giving. Last year, one of the organizations I work with had 75% of its legacy revenue come from sustainers. And when we did a legacy appeal, 77% of the “Yes, I’ll leave you in my will” responses came from monthly donors.  But this is all anecdotal; you will never know what works best for your organization unless you try it.

The fact is that it’s absolutely key to continually engage with your sustainers. If you’re appealing to them multiple times a year, use your strongest appeals to optimize the chances of getting that extra gift. For example, strong appeals like sending out a calendar, a membership card or you have a match should go to every donor. Include a simple message, thanking them for giving monthly, and offer this as a special opportunity.

Try this sustainer communication approach for a year and only then determine what’s best for your organization. Your sustainers’ responses will tell you, and that’s the best research you can possibly do.


Erica Waasdorp is the president of A Direct Solution, author of Monthly Giving. The Sleeping Giant, co-author of The Monthly Giving Starter and Marketing Kits (Donor Perfect), blogger on #MonthlyDonorMonday, in-person and webinar presenter and AFP master trainer.  Contact Erica Waasdorp at (508) 428-4753 or via Erica@adirectsolution.com.

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