This may come as a surprise, but one of the most financially significant things any nonprofit activist organization can do is have a monthly giving program.
Monthly giving programs are the lifeblood of many of the biggest activist organizations. Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and Oxfam all have more than a million monthly donors around the world. But many smaller organizations also are sustained by regular $20 a month donations from hundreds or thousands of people.
Just to make it extra clear what I’m talking about: Monthly giving is the act of regularly donating a fixed amount of money to a nonprofit, usually automatically through direct debit or electronic funds transfer, or by credit card — but in some cases by check. Moving a donor to monthly giving increases their annual value by a factor of three to five times or more. More important, it improves donor annual retention rates usually to better than 90%.
On top of that many monthly donors will give for 20 years or more. I am giving to seven monthly giving programs, some of them for more than 35 years. I will continue to donate as long as I live. It is a real source of satisfaction for me as a donor … and of dependable, lasting revenue for those organizations.
Monthly giving not only improves revenue well into the future, it also helps reduce revenue volatility and can improve your organizational long-term planning.
What monthly giving is not
Despite the recurring nature of the gifts, a monthly program is not time-consuming to maintain, says Rosemary Oliver, fundraising director at Amnesty International Canada in Toronto. “It doesn’t take a lot of additional resources,” she explains. “Just a little time up front to strategize.” If your nonprofit is able to process credit card gifts, you already have everything you need to handle monthly gifts. The process is automatic, requiring only occasional attention, such as when a donor’s credit card expires.
To find what works best for your organization, Oliver recommends testing the waters with a few hundred monthly, smallgift donors to build confidence. “Your organization may need to learn to walk before it runs,” she says. “That’s fine. It’s about finding your own level of efficiency.”
Oliver points to her organization’s success with monthly giving as an indicator of what can be done when starting from a humble beginning. Twenty years ago, Amnesty International Canada had a modest monthly giving program with 7,000 donors that generated less than $1 million a year. Today, more than 35,000 monthly donors give $8.8 million a year in monthly gifts ranging from $1 to $1,000.
The program accounts for 65% of its annual revenue. And if that doesn’t grab your interest, consider this: nearly three-quarters of Amnesty International Canada’s legacy gifts come from monthly donors. “As you can see, it is worth taking the time to steward those $10-a-month donors,” Oliver says. “They really add up in the long run.”
How to succeed with your monthly giving program
The single largest obstacle to a successful monthly giving program is buy-in within your organization. Because it is a long-term strategy, a monthly giving program does not always compare favorably with fundraising methods that provide more immediate revenue, such as direct mail and online giving.
A successful monthly giving program requires leadership and staff to take the long view, nurturing and growing the program slowly but steadily. It is a clear “hare and tortoise” situation … and the tortoise wins every time.
Assess how much short-term money you’re willing to risk. And be realistic about organizational commitment — after all, without commitment, your effort to build a monthly program will fizzle out, which is really almost a betrayal of those loyal donors who signed on in the first place. Look at how many donors you have and what the likelihood is of converting them to monthly donors.
Successful conversion requires a balanced suite of revenue channels that identify prospective monthly donors and feed them into the monthly giving program. (The two exceptions to this are direct recruitment of new donors into monthly giving. The primary methods for this are face-to-face and direct response television [DRTV], both of which are very expensive to start.)
I once had a client that was generating more than 50% of their revenue through monthly giving. They were so happy with this that they thought it would be a smart move to stop investing in single gift donors and instead put all their money into monthly giving, using focused but high-attribution streams like DRTV. It did not go well. If they had continued to build their single gift program, they’d have a higher net income and a larger pool of donors to convert to monthly giving. Any organization can convert a percentage of its donors to monthly, but it does take leadership and commitment.
Monthly giving can be especially important for activist organizations. And it’s one of the things I’ll tell you more about in my Moceanic course, How to Raise Millions and Change the World: 40 years of secrets that will get you more donors, bigger gifts and win your campaigns! You will be able to access this course and more when you join The Fundraisingology Lab. I hope you can join me because there is so much we need to do to make the world a better place for everyone … and so many ways to improve our fundraising to make it happen!