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How to develop a successful monthly giving program

July 01, 2022
This team of nonprofit professionals is developing a monthly giving program for their organization.

As a nonprofit professional, you know that a successful monthly giving program can help you achieve fundraising success and pursue your purpose. But how do you go about creating one?

Setting up a new monthly giving program or optimizing an existing one can take time, but cultivating relationships with recurring donors will be well worth it in the long run. In this article, we’ll explore what your nonprofit organization should do to create a successful monthly giving program. But first, let’s answer the most important questions about monthly giving programs: what are they and why does having one matter?

What is a monthly giving program?

A monthly giving program refers to a nonprofit’s efforts to attract and cultivate relationships with recurring donors. Maintaining a monthly giving program involves conducting initial outreach, ensuring donors have the tools to smoothly give on a monthly basis, and continuing stewardship efforts to retain monthly donors. 

Monthly giving programs are a reliable source of revenue for nonprofits, and organizations with these programs can more accurately project their expected revenue each month based on the number of donors enrolled. This makes budgeting and financial planning easier as the organization is not relying solely on attracting new donors. While bringing in new supporters is important, it can also be expensive when compared to the low costs of retaining existing donors who are enrolled in your monthly giving program. 

Establish your monthly giving program’s goals

The first step of establishing a monthly giving program is to settle on your goals. With established goals in mind, you’ll know what you need to do to reach your target and help donors understand how their efforts allow you to further your purpose.

Just like your other fundraising and marketing efforts, you should define a specific goal that will help you align your tactics and measure your progress. But before you toss out a dollar amount or donor acquisition target, go one level higher to get to the root of what you want to accomplish.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and other stakeholders in your organization:

  • What do we want to accomplish through monthly giving?
  • What would that mean for our programs and purpose?
  • What would happen as a result of achieving our goal?

Thinking about your goal in this way will make it easier for you to connect with your donors when you ask them to become monthly sustainers. 

From here, you can turn your ideas into a SMART goal. Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). SMART goals ensure everyone knows what you’re working to accomplish and when it should be accomplished by. This goal will also help you craft clear calls to action and allow you to see how your efforts stack up.

Let’s walk through an example:

Say you want to create a monthly sustainer program to fund more kennel space for elderly rescue dogs. Based on the number of dogs you typically rescue in a year, you’ve calculated that you’ll need a certain amount of building space to make this happen. You plan to fund half of it through recurring giving and half through a corporate partnership with the local pet supply company.

Your SMART goal might sound something like this:

We need to recruit 30 recurring donors at an average monthly donation of $20 by April 10 to fund half the annual cost of our Senior Kennel Sanctuary space.

This is a goal you can easily measure and create a plan to achieve with an organized marketing strategy. You can also create a proposed donor pyramid that will document how many donors at each level you’ll need to meet your target.

Identify your monthly giving program donors

Building a monthly giving program starts by understanding who your prospective donors are. Identifying a target audience will allow you to better tailor your outreach materials to supporters’ preferences and create a better giving experience for your current monthly donors. 

Here are a few ways you can learn what your donors have in common, what compels them to give, and how your monthly giving program can interest them:

  • Contact your current monthly donors. If you already have a group of steady monthly donors, they will have insight into which parts of your program work and what needs improvement. Take a look at their giving patterns, and get in touch to thank them for their sustaining gifts and let them know how important they are. From there, ask them to share a little bit about why they support your cause.
  • Target prospective donor segments. Many of your current donors are likely strong monthly giving candidates. Consider which supporters have the greatest affinity for your cause and have already shown a commitment to your success. These supporters often include donors who give multiple times per year on an irregular basis, annual donors who give a significant amount each year, volunteers, former program participants, and former board members.
  • Get your board involved. Your board can be one of your strongest assets for attracting new donors. For example, you can create a simple call script board members can use to get in touch with your current monthly donors. Or, you might consider challenging your board to be monthly giving advocates by setting a goal for your board to recruit a certain number of monthly donors to help you reach your program goals. 

After collecting data and determining who your donor prospects are, it’s time to market your monthly giving program. 

Market your monthly giving program

Now that you have your goals set and donors identified, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of creating your monthly giving program. Before moving forward with your campaign to recruit more recurring donors, consider your program’s outreach approach by determining how you will: 

Define your value proposition. 

Why should a donor enroll in your monthly giving program? Your answer to this question will be your value proposition, and it will guide the rest of your marketing outreach. 

Take some time to draft a few short statements about what your monthly donors can be a part of. Will these sustaining gifts be applied to a particular program or purpose? What is the specific and tangible result of a monthly donor’s generosity? Think back to the goal we worked on above. Also, consider the monthly impact of each donation as well as the cumulative impact of a donor over one year.

Your job is not just to convince a donor to give, but to convince them why it’s important that they give by setting up a monthly gift. Your case for monthly giving may be similar to your organization’s other fundraising appeals, but there is a subtle, yet important, difference.

Determine request amounts. 

It can be tempting to ask all potential monthly donors to pledge the same amount, but understanding the right giving range for each donor can lead to far more engagement. 

It’s important to ask for the right specific monthly giving amount when reaching out to unique segments of your audience. A standard $15 per month ask will probably work well for entry-level donors, but that same appeal is going to cost you if it’s sent to donors already giving you $500 each year.

Brand your program.

When it ties back to your purpose or campaign, a unique brand can help your monthly giving program stand out and lend an added air of community to this group of donors. A special logo or name can unify all your communications about the program. A carefully crafted name can also reinforce all of the wonderful results your monthly donors make possible.

That said, there are many successful sustainer programs that don’t rely on a special name or brand. Instead, your nonprofit can focus on creating a solid campaign plan and donor-centric communications. From there, donors will begin to naturally think positively of your nonprofit’s brand. 

Launch your monthly giving program

When getting started with monthly giving, set a clear and specific goal just for your new program. This goal should tie into your larger fundraising strategy and be specific, measurable, and have an established timeline. From there, identify prospective recurring donors and get in touch with personalized messages asking them to join your monthly giving program. 

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