Monthly Giving: 4 Ways to Improve Donor Retention and Recruit Sustainers

June 15, 2017 Erica Waasdorp

In the second installment of the Blackbaud Institute’s Sustainers in Focus series—research-backed best practices for marketing, promoting, soliciting, and fulfilling a sustained giving program—Best Practice # 1 was to ask new donors to give on a monthly basis. Monthly giving almost sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Why on earth would a donor who has no relationship with you yet trust your organization enough to give you their credit card number or bank account information?

The answer is really short and simple: because you asked them!

As we all know, the key with improving donor retention rates is to get that important second gift as soon as possible, preferably within the first 3 months. That means you have to ask for money as soon as possible. Why not build in a monthly giving ask at the same time?

4 Ways to Improve Donor Retention Rates with Monthly Giving

There are different ways you can do this and I’ll describe the most responsive four ways here. You’ll have to see what works best for your organization, fits into your communication schedule, and test what generates the highest number of new sustainers (and thus improves your donor retention rate right away).

1. Include an Ask In Your Thank You Letter

If your organization already sends a thank you letter with a reply form and reply envelope right after the donor’s first donation, include an invitation right there to join as a sustainer (you’re special and you’ll join a very special group of supporters named xyz) and see what happens.

I realize that this is always one of the most controversial options and we can write multiple blogs about this with differing opinions, but it works! (It’s important to mention that this approach is used for those donors who give less than $100.)

One of the organizations I work with mails 15 times a year and they have a new donor welcome package with sustainer invitation (3 of the 4 pages of the letter talks about the ease and convenience for the donor and the many benefits it offers them) and they generate between 1.5% – 2% of sustainers every time.

What’s even better, they use this same welcome package to reactivate lapsed donors and they’re getting similar response percentages. In addition, they generate between 4% – 10% of additional donations from those who are not yet ready to give monthly.

For your organization, this is the most cost-effective and fastest way to grow your sustainers. And, their new donor retention rate is at 32% (compared to 19% nationally).

2. Send a Special Invitation to Give Monthly

If you’re not totally ready to go all the way with your sustainer in the first thank you letter, make it a two step approach. First, send your thank you for the initial donation. Then, within the first 4 weeks, send a special invitation to give monthly. This means an extra appeal, but it should pay for itself.

3. Include a Buck Slip

If you’re not willing to do a special appeal, consider a more passive approach by still using your first thank you letter, but including a little buck slip or small brochure about your sustainer program. It’s not a ‘hard ask’ (the donor can ‘take it or leave it’), but it will generate a few new sustainers at minimal cost. Options 1 and 2 of course will generate more, but this may fit better with your communication approach.

4. Call Your Donors

If you can add the phone to the mix, you ‘ll be able to maximize your results. Send out the sustainer invitation (option 1, 2 and 3 all apply). Then use the phone to say thank you for their first donation and then talk to the donor about the benefits of monthly giving.

The donor has most likely seen the initial information and you can have a conversation on the phone and negotiate the amount. It’s important to realize that the postal thank you goes out first as you’ll not able to reach everybody by phone.

By the way, it goes without saying that you should send the new donor a postal thank you letter, no matter how the donor’s first donation came in.

With all these approaches, you’ll be able to convert new donors to monthly donors within the first 3 months, thus improving your donor retention rate and generating more money from your sustainers over time, as soon as possible! So, choose what works for your organization, but most importantly, what works for your donors and you’ll grow your sustainer program.

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