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Making History with Monthly Giving

by Stephen Godbout

At DMAW’s historic first ever Wake Up and Learn Edvent, Sarah Birnie with the Human Rights Campaign, and Karin Kirchoff of MINDset direct woke everyone up with invaluable insights on building monthly giving campaigns through email and telemarketing.

First: Hyperlinks and PowerPoint Don’t Play Well Together, so don’t mix the two.

Yes, this has nothing to do with monthly giving, but it’s an invaluable lesson nonetheless if you want your presentations to start smoothly, as we all saw.

Here are six real takeaways of the day:

1)       Start at the Beginning.

From the moment a new donor walks into your organization they are the most important person in the world, a bundle of potential, and you’d do well to cultivate a relationship immediately. With monthly givers, it’s crucial to get their first charge processed fast and just as quickly, acknowledge them as members in the upper echelons of giving for your organization.

2)      Remember What You Learned in Kindergarten.

Say please and thank you. And show you’re appreciation. If appropriate, send your monthly donor’s tax receipts for their records, as well as newsletters, magazines, member cards, calendars and any other cultivation material that will help them feel a genuine part of your mission.

3)      Pay attention

Keep a close watch on whose fulfilling their monthly pledges and whose not.

Then, create a rolling plan for reactivating donors. With credit card declines, test to see which dates work best for you to recharge credit cards, and don’t be shy about making more than one attempt. Try at least one more time in the month due and again the following month.

Be courteous.  On the phones remind them their card has expired and that they might want to let other people like their cable and phone companies know as well. And while they’re updating their information slip in a upgrade ask.

With emails, test your subject lines, as well as content. Make your landing page as simple as possible.

Keep scripts and text simple, conversational and tweak copy for various segments, e.g. inactive, cancelled, declines, etc. And of course, never call your donors names like saying they’re “delinquent.” More appropriate language would be “Perhaps your information changed, and would you like me to update it for you now?”

4)      Recruiting “All the cool kids are doing it, why not you?”

The distance between a donor’s first action with your organization and your requests for monthly gifts is more important in recruiting sustainers than the distance from their most recent action.

So, like voting in Chicago, recruit early and often.


Your online activists are a great source for monthly giving recruitment calls.  You could even add a monthly giving ask to your renewal calls. Play with your scripts. For example, “You can renew your membership in small $x monthly amounts or a onetime gift of $xx.”

Or one of my favorites, “Many of our supporters are now using monthly gifts to contribute to our organization, would you like to do that as well?” A.k.a. “All the cool kids are doing it …”

And of course, “monthly giving helps saves time, money and the environment …”


Again. Online activists are a great recruiting source. Test subject lines. Include monthly giving asks in renewal emails. Integrate your online efforts. Put an asks in every appropriate space on your website like the “donation,” “become a member” or “join” pages.

Use rolling recruitment efforts around events indigenous to your organization’s mission. Make up special reasons to give. HRC’s sustainers are called “Partners,” so they created a “Partners’ Appreciation Day” to help remind donors how special they are as well as recruit new Partners and upgrade existing ones.

A good upgrade strategy for sustainers is rounding up. It makes sense. People like things simple, and rounded up numbers are simple. Use causal language, “Would you like to just make that an even $xx?”  And rounding up by small amounts can have enormous impacts on your annual budgets when you multiply that small number x 12 x #of upgrades.

5)      Be Ready When Opportunity Knocks

HRC has spent years steadily increasing their monthly giving program and cultivating relationships with monthly supporters. So when marriage equality hit the headlines, HRC had the programs and tools in place to immediately make the most of their time in the spotlight to grow their sustainer file and recruit a whole new segment of donors known as “Straight Allies” into their program.

6)       Borrow Brilliantly

I like to think of this as the more socially acceptable form of “stealing smart.”

If you see an effort from another organization or business and it looks good to you, it will likely look good to your donors as well. Adapt what you see that works for you to your organization’s efforts – legally, of course.


???????????????????????????????Stephen Godbout is a freelance copywriter. You can contact Stephen via email, or call 301-535-3772.