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Communicating With Monthly Donors: An Interview With Erica Waasdorp

Editor’s note: Check out the recent webinar that Erica presented with us: How to Create Sustainable Funding with Monthly Donors.

Last week, Erica Waasdorp of A Direct Solution answered questions about getting started with a monthly giving program. In this installment, Erica takes on communicating with monthly donors: what to say, how to thank them, and how often can you nudge them to upgrade (without driving them crazy).

Communicating with Monthly Donors

We have a few monthly donors, and we’re sort of unsure if there is something we should be doing to celebrate and acknowledge their gifts each month. Right now, we’re sending one initial thank you letter, and then each month they get a receipt. We think it’s boring, but we just haven’t made fixing it a priority. What do you think?

Erica Waasdorp (EW): If the receipt is automatically generated by your email system (some donation systems do that and you can’t suppress them), so be it. Just keep them as you have them.

If you can suppress the automatic receipts, think about replacing them with something a bit more warm and fuzzy that’s sent not quite as often. It may be something you’re already doing for your big donors. For example, you could create a video (done with your smart phone) of a client served and send that as a special thank you. Or, you could create a version of your email story with a thank you line aimed at monthly donors.

If you’re local, consider a special monthly donor coffee hour or a tour. You could also do a conference call with your executive director. Do something that’s not going to make you go crazy, and make sure it’s something that you’ll be able to keep up for a long time.

The thank you letter is indeed the first thing, that’s great. Tell them that they can expect a tax letter and those monthly receipts. And, you can always tell monthly donors that you’ll invite them to events. Some of these things totally fit in with what you’re already doing now, others do not.

What auto-responder would you recommend?

EW: Depending on the donation processor you’re using, there are lots of options. I recommend having an immediate, short automatic message in case donors have questions right away. Here’s an example:

“Thank you for your monthly donation of $__! You’ll receive an email message shortly. If you have any questions, please contact___ or send an email to___. Thank you again!”

Then, the next email message that goes out can be warmer and fuzzier. It can refer to the monthly donation, tell them what they can expect, include relevant tax information, and highlight how their monthly donations will make a difference.

Here’s an example, shared by one of the webinar participants:

“One thing I’ve done with monthly donors is send them updated stories. We work in animal welfare, so I share with them one animal that they saved that month. This ideally should be done via email. A phone call every three months or so just to say thank you goes a long way also.”

How often should we communicate to our monthly donors through email and direct mail? Should we include ask language?

EW: It depends. Whatever you send, you should always include thank you language first. Then, focus on making them feel special before diving into how they make a special gift today.

In terms of how often to ask, it depends on what you’re doing now. Look at your overall communication and cultivation schedule and see where the asks fit best. But an ask should most definitely be in your year-end appeal. If you only ask your other donors to give twice or four times a year, including your monthly donors is totally fine. If you’re asking more often than that, choose your most successful appeals. And whenever you send one of these appeals to a monthly donor, be sure to always include a thank you for their monthly donation.

Emails are less ‘invasive.’ You can make that special version and tell the story but still ask, and see what happens. If you don’t ask, you’re not going to get. Most of these donors used to give regularly when you asked, so do give them the opportunity to do so again. UNLESS of course they tell you not to.

How often can you ask monthly donors to upgrade without irritating them (since they are already supporting you)? Should we include ask language in our regular communication pieces to our monthly?

EW: As for upgrades of monthly donors, I recommend once a year. Asks for other donations depends on your current communication schedule. See the answer above..

Do monthly donors get one tax receipt for the entire year?

EW: Yes. You’ll send them just one tax letter in January that includes a total amount of donations given in the prior calendar year. Most donors will understand if you tell them that you’d like to save money on postage and send them just one tax letter in the mail. If they’re still totally bent on getting them monthly, you can ask them if they’d like to receive the thank yous electronically.

Coming soon: Erica answers questions about the technological nuts and bolts of running a monthly giving program in a small nonprofit. While you’re waiting, grab a copy of this free resource: Securing Monthly Gifts: A Quick-Start Guide to Sustainable Giving.

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