Making the Case for Monthly Giving

We’re about halfway through with the course, and we’ve reached one of the most important parts: making the ask.

Luckily, if you’ve been paying attention, you already have all the things you need for a powerful appeal that inspires donors to join your monthly giving program.

If you’ve been a little distracted, or–heaven forbid–passing notes in class, I’ll go easy on you and walk you through crafting your fundraising email.

Right this way…In this lesson, we’ll cover:

  • The best way to frame your monthly giving ask
  • How to write an amazing appeal focused on recurring gifts
  • Segmenting your list for best results

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

Ok, what you say is important, but without a bit of framing, your appeal for monthly gifts might fall a little flat.

Once you’ve set up a monthly giving program that’s easy to understand and simple to join, there are many ways to ask supporters to join as sustaining donors.

But first, you gotta ask.

I know, I know. This is a given, but you’d be surprised how many nonprofits set up really smart monthly giving programs and then never send out appeals focused on recurring giving. The reality is that most donors aren’t going to wander in and sign up on their own, they need a little (or a lot of) encouragement.

I want to challenge you to get in the habit of inviting your community to become monthly donors. Whenever you ask for donations—on your website, in your email appeals, or a direct mail letter—ask first for a monthly gift, instead of just a single donation.

Look at your current fundraising appeals. How can you modify them to create a compelling case for monthly giving?

Now, check your marketing calendar and plot out when you can send those messages on a regular basis.

We’ll walk through launching and tracking your campaign in the next few lessons, but for now, promise me that you’ll make it a point to prioritize these appeals in the next few weeks.

Pinky swear?

It’s the little things, really.

Remember: small gifts add up, so think in terms of the annual contribution and not just the monthly installment.

Your job is to focus on getting your donors into your monthly giving program with a realistic and easy-to-swallow amount. My guess is most of your supporters won’t start off with a commitment of $100 each month.

Erica Waasdorp, author of Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, offers this advice on setting your monthly ask amount for entry-level or new donors:  start with your average onetime gift and start your ask at about a third of that. If your average single donation is $35, set your first monthly gift level at $10 (an ideal starting point), then bump up the ask to $15, $20, $35, etc.

(Note: be sure to tailor your gift strings and appeals for different segments of your list. Donors who are giving a larger average one-time gift should be presented with larger monthly gift options that reflect their level of support. We’ll dig into this a bit more in just a minute.)

Get specific.

Everyone wants to know where their money goes.

Describe the work you do in a way that relates to a recurring gift and show a tangible tie to the idea of giving every month. What is the recurring need? How do these gifts add up to a specific and tangible impact? Make it easy for donors to understand exactly what each monthly giving level will accomplish.

charity: water’s Pipeline program clearly ties an ongoing need to the solution the donor can provide through their monthly gift. Using language like “keep the water flowing” reinforces this concept and creates a strong visual that helps new and existing donors understand why ongoing support is so critical.

Everyone wants to feel important.

Not all monthly giving programs need special branding, but if you’re planning to give your program a unique name, it should reflect the impact of a donor’s commitment. This name should focus on the impact your donors make, not on your organization.

Why?

People respond best to messages that are centered around characteristics they identify with, or when they portray attributes they want to be known for.

Your fundraising letters should underscore the special status of monthly donors and help potential sustainers see they can be part of something important. If the name of your program accomplishes this, you’re going to want to include this in your appeals.

ASPCA dubs their monthly donors as Guardians, which perfectly fits the role of these sustainers in the work of saving and protecting animals. It also taps into the identity that these supporters likely want to achieve. What animal lover wouldn’t want to be seen as a Guardian? It’s no coincidence that they call this out in their appeal for monthly gifts:


Tip:  Review how you’re currently framing your organization’s monthly giving program to ensure that it touches on these concepts.


Segment your way to success

Segments matter. If you don’t segment your list, you are treating everybody like everybody, which means you are missing opportunities to connect with your supporters in a supporter-centric way.

You may be saying “Caryn, my list is too SMALL for me to mess around with that! Don’t you know I have other things to do?”

Yes, yes. I know.

But if you put the effort into sending a monthly giving appeal message to your donors, take the extra step of making sure it has the best chance of success by sending the right message to the right people. Not doing so is leaving donations behind.

At least distinguish between donors and prospects. Remember, these are two separate audiences. Your message to previous donors should play up this prior support and acknowledge their help.

If you can slice again, separate higher dollar from lower dollar.  Make sure these separate segments land on donation forms with corresponding gift strings.

Version the copy. If you don’t have the capacity to write separate appeals for your segments, consider writing a short introduction note that will help differentiate the content.

Make a quick list of the different segments of your list. You’ll likely want to group these segments by their relationship with your organization (are they volunteers? event attendees? newsletter readers only?) and level of support (non-donors, entry level, mid-tier, major donor, etc.).


To do: Look at your current donor segments and create appeals that focus on a tailored monthly giving message.


Write a rockin’ email appeal

Ready to bring on a steady stream of gifts all year long? Here’s a basic outline of an effective appeal that you can use for your monthly giving campaign.

Your monthly giving appeal (and really, any appeal you send) should answer these four key questions for a prospective donor:

  • Why me? Donors need to care about what you are doing. They need to connect to your work on a human level and understand how they are part of the solution. Use pictures, tell stories and do anything that can help your audience relate. This is a good way to use the concept of identity to get donors to see themselves in your cause.
  • Why now? Most donors want to give, but they have a lot of other things on their minds. If your appeal comes in the midst of other requests and messages (or if your appeal is too complicated), it’s easy for them to put off making the donation. And let’s face it, if they put this off, they’re not likely to come back and do it later. You need to show donors why it’s important that they give NOW. TODAY. The more specific you can be with how much you need and when you need it by the more credible, compelling and worthy you will seem. Create a sense of urgency and immediacy with the gravity of the need, a deadline, or even a matching gift.
  • What for? Again, show what specific and tangible result will come from a donation — for the donor and for your programs. People give because they want to do something good, so give assurances that good things will happen due to their donations. And be specific.
  • Who says? In fundraising appeals, and most other communications, the messenger is often as important as the message. Use trustworthy messengers — people you’ve actually helped or other donors instead of just you. People say friends and family are the most influential in determining where they give money, so also think about how you can get your supporters to speak for you among their own circles of influence. For a monthly giving appeal, this messenger could be someone on your program staff, a beneficiary of your work, or even another monthly donor. Talk about a powerful testimonial. Plus you’ll get all kinds of social proof magic working for you.

Now that we’ve got our four questions, let’s review the key parts of an effective email appeal.

Subject line

Your subject line has a LOT of work to do. It’s like the corner bagel shop on Saturday morning.

Understand the email envelope: subject line, from name, from address, preview window.  Your subject line works in concert with a variety of other tools to get people to open your message. Those tools are the from name (who is the email from), the from address (what email address is this being sent from) and the preview pane window (for some users who enable this feature).

A good subject line stands out from the crowd. Consider making your subject line a question or include some sort of tease that your recipients will just have to open. And, don’t be afraid to get personal; use “you” and “your” to grab readers’ attention.

  • She’s not afraid anymore
  • Can you beat this?
  • Only good news

A good subject line is “just right”— not too cute, not too dull.

A good subject line is subjective. Test to make sure you know what works best with your audience.

Keep it short. Somewhere around 35 characters seems to be the ideal subject line length, but some argue that even shorter is better (closer to 20 characters). Play with your subject line length and see what seems to resonate with your subscribers, but try to keep it to fewer than 60 characters.

Compelling, emotional opening

Good fundraising creates an emotional exchange between your organization and your donor. A juicy opening is important because it gets people hooked on your story and keeps them reading. However, don’t go on and on before getting to your point! People have limitless options to spend their time and money. It is important to quickly and confidently create a powerful case for why people should donate to you. A few strong sentences will do.

The ask

You can make a difference all year long when you make a monthly gift to Otter Force. For just $10 a month, you will save an otter from habitat loss.

Give homeless children warm lunches every day with your monthly gift of $15. You will provide the nutrition and sense of security these kids need.

Your ask should explicitly outline a monthly gift as well as a starting ask amount. This is where that segmentation will come in handy.

You might be tempted to lay out your entire gift string in your appeal. Resist this urge!

To get donors to take action, don’t slow them down with too many decisions to make. By asking for a specific amount, you make the request a lot easier to process. Remember, you will have time to upgrade these donors later.
Call to Action

A good call to action is highly specific, feasible, free of barriers, filmable, and first priority.

What does THAT mean?

Think about your call to action as a script for your donor. Remember our destination postcard?

  1. Is it specific enough? Have you told your reader exactly what them to do and what will happen as a result?
  2. Is it feasible?  Is your call to action realistic?
  3. Is it filmable? Can your donors visualize exactly what they are supposed to do? Don’t be abstract, this should be something your donor can actually picture doing.
  4. Does it have a first priority? Will donors know what they need to do next?
  5. Is it easy to do? Have you removed all of the barriers to action?

Closing

Remind the donor of their potential impact and the ease of setting up their monthly gift. Now would be a good time to also reinforce that sense of urgency.

Signature

Who is your messenger? Sign your message from a real person and include contact information (phone and email address) so donors can contact you with any questions or to set up their gift using a different method. If your appeal will be signed by someone not on your staff, include the contact information before the closing or in the P.S.

The Post Script

Your P.S. can serve as a reminder for your donors and is a great place to, once again, reinforce the sense of urgency, or the special status monthly donors have in your organization. You can also include more information on how to contact you here.

Whatever you do in your P.S., don’t include a conflicting call to action. Keep your donors laser focused on clicking on over and setting up that monthly gift. You can tell them about your open house/gala/spaghetti dinner in a follow up email.


To do:  Draft a basic monthly giving appeal using the outline above. Then, create at least three variations based on different programs or giving levels you want your supporters to consider.


Key Takeaways:

  • Frame your monthly giving ask using these key concepts:  priority, feasibility, tangibility, and identity.
  • Answer the four key questions and tap into emotion for the most effective appeals.
  • Just as with your other campaigns, monthly giving initiatives work best when you segment your outreach and tailor your messages.
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