overlay Recurring Donors

Successful Management of Recurring Donors

According to the 2019 M&R Nonprofit Benchmarks Study, recurring monthly gifts increased by 17% in 2018. If you work in nonprofit development, you know this is great news. The more predictable your monthly fundraising income is, the better able you are to run the programs that can help you reach your goals. Unlike migrating birds who naturally return to their nests, monthly giving doesn’t just happen on its own. To increase recurring gifts to your nonprofit you need to make it simple, highlight the impact, create tailored communications, and find the right way to track expiring credit cards.

Form Defaults

One very easy way to encourage monthly donations is to highlight the option on your donation forms. You should design your forms to include both a one-time and monthly option, with the monthly option pre-selected. When supporters toggle between monthly or one-time gifts, the suggested donation levels should change, so you are asking for appropriate amounts for each giving type. A one-time gift form might highlight $100 as the ideal option, while a recurring form would highlight $20/month. The specific amounts you choose should be based on your donor metrics. Base the smallest amount you suggest on your average donation, and make it slightly higher ($120 if your average is $100, for example). Don’t make the upsell so large as to scare people away—you don’t want to give donors the impression that smaller donations don’t matter.

Another effective approach is to encourage donors who have selected a one-time gift to change their gift to monthly, either through a dynamic content block below the gift levels or through a light box that is triggered when a user submits the form.

Monthly donor upsell

This approach takes the gift level chosen and then uses predetermined logic to suggest a monthly amount as an alternative gift. For example, if a donor has selected to give a $75 gift, the monthly message will suggest a $10 a month gift as an alternative.

Related post: Donation form design

Impact Statements

All your forms and fundraising emails should explain the importance of recurring giving for your organization and exactly what the impact is of a given amount of money each month. The best approach is to connect specific amounts to tangible outcomes. Some organizations struggle to quantify their work in this way, but there are other approaches that can work.

One alternative strategy is to feature testimonials from people or communities that your organization has helped. While you might not be able to say exactly what $20 will do each month, you can share a story or two that will make that emotional connection. You can also highlight an annual goal and talk about the power of each donation in getting you there.

Related post: Donor retention


Your monthly donors want to know you are paying attention. At a minimum they should get an email receipt and thank you after each donation is processed. If you have the staff capacity, you might consider sending mailed thank you cards as well.  This could be for a donor’s first gift, on their anniversary, or as a thank you for the cumulative donor amount at the end of the calendar year. You also need to think critically about the right ways to engage with these supporters throughout the year. Definitely tell them about program successes, invite them to events, and ask them to share their love of your mission with an email share tool or via social media.

In terms of asking for additional money, we think the best strategy is to connect with them ahead of the anniversary of their first gift, tell them how meaningful their total giving has been so far, and ask them to increase their recurring amount slightly. At the same time, don’t forget that one-time donors are all potential recurring donors—think about a moves management strategy to guide them in that direction. If it feels overwhelming to create dozens of donor segments, don’t fret. You can start by segmenting your donors into the top 10% and bottom 90% by annual giving amount. Then you can create different email automations that focus these two groups. One for stewarding the top 10% into continued and increased major gifts, and the other to get as many of the bottom 90% converted to recurring monthly donors as possible.

Related post: Email automations for donors

Information Management

Expired, stolen, or lost credit cards, or a change in the personal information associated with a card (such as name or address), can lead to monthly donations lapsing. A number of nonprofit fundraising tools and credit card payment processors can now automatically update expired credit cards with no need for an organization to reach out. Other marketing tools can trigger an automated email that gets sent to supporters when their credit cards can’t be processed, or even ahead of their next donation date, giving them the ability to sign into a supporter center and update their information on their own. These supporter centers are also great for allowing users to manage their gifts before they lapse. If this functionality is available in your tool you should include a link to the portal in all messages sent to your donors.

If this isn’t a built-in feature with your tool, there are manual ways to handle this as well. You can export a list of donations that could not be processed, which gives your team the ability to reach out individually. Phone calls are best, since people can give you their new information right then and there. This also can be a good time to ask for a small monthly donation increase as well. Personal emails asking them to renew via a different form, or to call you, can also work. If one-on-one isn’t an option, you can create a lapsed donor re-engagement series and target former recurring donors with an email solicitation asking them to renew their contributions online.

Related post: Re-engagement series

Recurring Gifts Matter

Investing time into cultivating, managing, and deepening your relationships with recurring donors is essential for nonprofit fundraising success. Start by making sure your tools, your messages, and your long-term strategies are working together toward this goal. If you’re looking for guidance on designing forms, setting up email journeys, or customizing your fundraising tool, let us know. Additionally, something organizations often overlook is that migrating recurring donors from one tool to another tool is a big challenge. There are privacy concerns related to stored credit card information, and some tools require special bank authorization. A migration may even require that you manually contact each donor to get them to re-engage through a new tool. If your organization is thinking about a recurring donor campaign you should first consider if you’ll be making a tool migration in the near future. We can advise you on both processes and work with your team to take them on in the right order. 

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