Monthly Giving Programs Identify Your Most Loyal Donors

It is an old saying, to be sure, but what fundraisers don’t know can indeed hurt them. While they understand that a well-balanced revenue portfolio is a prerequisite for the financial health of their organization, many overlook three proven fundraising methods — monthly giving, peer-to-peer giving and face-to-face giving — because of misunderstandings about what they are best used for and how to manage them successfully. All three are effective ways of asking, but is your organization ready to benefit from them?

Over the next few blog posts, I’ll be looking at each of these three methods in detail. I’ll start with monthly giving.

What monthly giving is

As the name implies, it is the act of donating a fixed amount of money to a nonprofit, either automatically through direct debit or electronic funds transfer, by credit card or by check. Not only does monthly giving increase retention rates and the average gift size, but it also helps reduce revenue volatility and improve long-term planning. Research has found that the annual value of a monthly donor can be significantly greater than that of single-gift donors, and many monthly donors will give for 20 years or more.

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, small-gift 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. Today, more than 35,000 monthly donors give $8.8 million a year in monthly gifts ranging from $1 to $1,000, which accounts for 65 percent of its annual revenue. Furthermore, up to 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.”

What monthly giving does best

As Oliver’s experience suggests, a monthly giving program is an effective tool for identifying your most loyal donors for further stewardship. “People who give monthly really care about your mission deeply,” says Gail Perry, CFRE, founder of Fired-Up Fundraising in Raleigh, N.C. “They’re often prime major-gift prospects.” She recommends strengthening donor loyalty by recognizing them with thank-you calls and letters and singling them out in newsletters and on your website. Establishing a monthly giving club is an effective way to motivate board giving as well, Perry notes. Even so, it takes time to build a cadre of loyal monthly donors. “Organizations often lose heart because of the initial results,” she explains. “But if you keep promoting, it will gradually build. You need to make a long-term commitment.”

How to succeed with your monthly giving program

According to Harvey McKinnon, president of Harvey McKinnon Associates in Vancouver, British Columbia, the single largest obstacle to a successful monthly giving program is buy-in. 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.

“Assess how much you’re willing to risk in terms of money and organizational commitment,” McKinnon advises. “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 non-donors to monthly. The primary methods for this are face-to-face and direct response television [DRTV], both of which are very expensive to start.) McKinnon recalls a client that generated more than 50 percent of its revenue through monthly giving but stopped investing in single-gift donors and instead put money into high-attrition streams, such as DRTV. “If they had continued to build the single-gift channel as well, they’d have a higher net income and a larger pool of donors to convert to monthly giving,” McKinnon says. “Any organization can convert a percentage of its donors to monthly, but it does take leadership.”

Next week: Peer-to-peer giving

This post was adapted from “Power Tools: How Monthly Peer-to-Peer, and Face-to-Face Programs Can Be Powerful Tools in Your Fundraising Tool Kit,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2017 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

Reimagining the Computer Keyboard

© Sergey – Fotolia
At a special event in October announcing Apple’s latest MacBook Pro lineup, SVP Phil Schiller introduced the new Touch Bar feature by explaining that it was designed to provide a dynamic and adaptive replacement for the row of physical function keys that has accompanied computer keyboards since the early 1970s. Why, he asked, should interface design be constrained by the legacy of a 45-year-old technology?

Yet, just to the south of the new Touch Bar on this sleek, ultra-modern device sits a nearly 145-year-old technology that continues to artificially constrain computer interface design — one that I believe is way overdue for a radical reimagining:

The physical keyboard.

You’d probably think that, as a guy who makes his living herding words, I’d be the one yelling the loudest that you can have my keyboard when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. But before I can explain why I believe the future of writing absolutely demands the disappearance of the physical keyboard, first I need to go off on a highly pedantic tangent for just a moment.
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Steve Jobs on Creating a Culture of Excellence

In fundraising, a lot has been written about the importance of creating a culture of philanthropy in your organization. Along with that, it seems to me, nonprofits also need to create a culture of excellence that motivates and inspires people to set higher standards for themselves and their organization.

Here’s how Apple co-founder, chair, and CEO Steve Jobs described it:

“If [employees] are working in an environment where excellence is expected, then they will do excellent work without anything but self-motivation. I’m talking about an environment in which excellence is noticed and respected and is in the culture. If you have that, you don’t have to tell people to do excellent work. They understand it from their surroundings.”

Paula Whitacre Shares Digital File Management and E-mail Tips

Paula Whitacre of Full Circle Communications recently featured some of my tips and techniques for managing digital files and e-mail in her newsletter, Ease of Writing. The article, “Managing e-Files for Writing Success,” is a summary of my presentation at the 10th annual Communication Central this past September in Rochester, New York.

Take a look! As Paula says:

All of Paul’s ideas won’t work for you (or me), but they can get us thinking about the systems we can develop that will work for us.

I hope some of the ideas — which include steps to be followed before, during, and after a project, moving between devices, and backing up — are helpful. And please feel free to leave a comment with questions or suggestions for improving digital file and e-mail management.

If you can’t get enough of file management for publications professionals, then you’ll want to sign up for my online workshop “File Management and Version Control” on Thursday, January 21, 2016, at 11:00 am Eastern. The workshop is being offered by Copyediting, the online newsletter and resource for editors in the digital age.

2015 Communication Central Presentation Handout

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure and privilege of presenting at the tenth annual Communication Central conference in Rochester, New York. Communication Central is a low-key event wonderfully managed by Ruth Thaler-Carter, which attracts some of the big names in editing in the United States and Canada.

I gave an updated and expanded version of my presentation on electronic file and e-mail management, “Don’t Let Your E-Files Manage You.” Several people at the conference asked me for a digital copy of my handout; I have uploaded it to the Active Voice server for anyone who might be interested:

Feel free to download the file and use it for reference. And if you haven’t attended Communication Central before, you should seriousoy consider attending next year.

E-Newsletters: How Wide Do You Go?

I write e-newsletters and e-mail news blasts for several clients (see, for example, here). Like most e-newsletters, they’re designed to be read in an e-mail app (or, for people who use web-based e-mail, a browser) along with an identical web-based version for people whose e-mail apps can’t handle html.

Most use customized templates offered by the big mailing services (MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.) But one of my clients handles the mailing in-house, which requires me to use a custom html template that I prepared. Originally, the template had a fixed width of 600px (the width of the masthead graphic).

While working on the latest issue, I started thinking about the limitations of the fixed-width approach in today’s online-centric environment. In the old days, all you had to worry about was different monitor widths. Now, you also have to factor in web browsers and RSS readers, which is where more and more of us are reading our messages — not to mention the burgeoning mobile sphere, which has to fit everything into notecard-sized screens or thereabouts.

I see two problems with using a narrow fixed-width design for this particular newsletter:
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“Take the Time, Get it Right.”

The latest Nieman Foundation Speaker Series lecture features Chris Jones (“Roger Ebert: The Essential Man“) in conversation with Gay Talese (“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold“) about the art and craft of narrative nonfiction. The lessons that Talese offers are useful for writers of all kinds.

As we face pressure to produce more, and more quickly, in order to meet the incessant demands for novelty and immediacy, it’s worth remembering that what makes for great writing involves what Jones astutely characterizes as a process that is “designed to slow you down.” Things like:

  • Go there.
  • Hang around.
  • Look. Really look.
  • Make a good impression.
  • Don’t take notes.
  • Let them rephrase.
  • Notice minor characters.
  • Don’t over-describe.
  • Write multiple drafts.
  • Write in scenes.
  • Take your time.

As Talese says, “I don’t think you’re ever wasting your time when you think you’re wasting your time.”

You may not have the time or the budget to do all of these things for your next piece, but try to work one or two of them into your schedule. Tap the brakes a little, generate some friction, and see if any light comes from the heat.

The Perils of Style Guides

Style guides can be handy tools when used properly, but their application should always be informed by context.

Case in point: take this article abstract from MDLinx, a medical journal abstracting service, which I found while researching recent publications for one of my clients:

“The authors must be aware that acute encephalopathy is an important complication in children with Dravet syndrome, and associated with fulminant clinical manifestations and a poor outcome.”

Huh? Is the abstractor editorializing here? Is one of the authors of the article publicly chastising himself and his colleagues for overlooking something in their study?

A quick glance at the original abstract from Epilepsia magazine:

“We must be aware that acute encephalopathy is an important complication in children with Dravet syndrome, and associated with fulminant clinical manifestations and a poor outcome.”

Ah, that makes sense now. The authors are saying that pediatric neurologists in general should be aware of this potential complication. The MDLinx style guide — whether it’s applied by a human editor or an algorithm, I don’t know — must call for replacing “we” with “the authors,” presumably on the (not unreasonable) assumption that that’s what it typically refers to.

Editors: when applying a style guide, whether its your own or your client’s, don’t forget to take context into account. Otherwise, you risk causing a misunderstanding — or worse.

Tips for Writing a Gift Policy

TrustThe following post is adapted from “Put Your Money in Trust: How a Gift-Acceptance Policy Can Guide Your Fundraising, Reduce Your Risk, and Help Steward Your Donors,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v18n3, May-June 2011 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Developing a truly helpful gift acceptance policy involves more than simply downloading a template from the Web and filling in the name of your organization at the top, although an organization doesn’t have to begin from scratch, either. A tailored policy reflects a consensus among not only the executive leadership and board members with financial and tax expertise, but also the development staff and volunteers who will have to implement the policy, says Katherine Swank, J.D., a senior consultant for Blackbaud Analytics in Charleston, S.C. Because of the importance of achieving that consensus, it’s not uncommon for the policy-development process to take 18 months or longer.

Swank says the policy-development team should focus on answering some key questions up front:

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Tips for Tailoring Your Research

Blank NotepadThe following post is adapted from “More Than Data: How Prospect Research can Help You Fine-Tune Your Ask, Allowing You to Raise More Money More Cost-Effectively,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v18n1, January-February 2011 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Researchers today have access to more information, more quickly, than ever before. But are they looking for the right information in the right places? Are fundraisers making the best use of the information? Making sure that the wheat is being separated efficiently from the chaff has become a crucial management function for today’s fundraising executives.

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