Elizabeth Chung

Approaching Your Most Dedicated Supporters Doesn’t Have to be Taboo

In the pursuit of support, nonprofit organizations continuously seek, engage, and call upon donors in their community to take action. However, there are two types of donors they are slightly more cautious about approaching:

1. Large one-time donors
2. Already recurring donors

Why is that? It seems almost counterintuitive, but because these donors already contribute a lot to the organization – they’re committed to the cause – nonprofits often hesitate to ask them for more help. Well, it’s time to close the door on that concern. In this post, we will talk about why it’s worth it to ask these donors to increase their support, and how you can:

1. Turn your large one-time donors into recurring donors
2. Encourage recurring donors to support your major campaigns

Part I: Approaching Your Large One-Time Donors

Given that gifts from individuals comprise 72% of total giving, organizations work hard to nurture strong relationships with their supporters. They specially make sure to engage donors who make large gifts a few times a year. But, it would be shortsighted to limit these donors’ giving potential to a few donations. While these people are making significant contributions, there’s still a way to ask them to become monthly givers without appearing ungrateful for the support they already offer.

Why you should ask them:

A steadier revenue stream is worth the ask: While large, one-time contributions are great, a more robust recurring giving program should still demand your attention. Many organizations receive a bulk of their revenue, including large gifts, during a couple months throughout the year. A big portion comes from major fundraising campaigns, and another arrives at the end of the year (around 33% of gifts are made during the holiday season). Because these spikes in donations are scattered throughout the year, organizations are left with an imbalanced revenue stream that makes it harder to operate during down months.

But by turning your larger one-time donors into recurring donors, you can translate their investment in your organization into a steadier, more predictable stream of revenue. This stable commitment can help build a lasting relationship with your donor, which you can count on when making long-term decisions and budgeting plans.

It can increase their lifetime value: One-off gifts can be hefty in size, but recurring donations can increase the lifetime value of your donors. Although monthly donors might give smaller amounts per gift, their retention rate is generally much higher over time. (Organizations generally retain 30-45% of their annual donors, versus 70% of their monthly recurring givers.)

Your donors may also be able to give more and more over time. Smaller-scale monthly gifts make it more feasible to boost a total donation amount year-over-year. By converting your one-time donors into recurring donors, you can boost your chances of keeping them around, as well as increasing revenue, each year.

How you should ask them:

So the question remains: how can you try asking your big contributors to join your recurring giving program? Well, here’s the twist. Rather than asking them for more money, simply ask them to break up their contributions.

To try this method, first:

Segment your communications: Define what a “large donor” means to your organization. Is it someone who gives an average $300 per gift? $400? $600? After you identify your audience, use your CRM system to pull a list of these donors. Make sure to exclude any donors that you’re targeting for capital campaigns (efforts to raise sizeable funds for a specific project), to prevent an overload of asks.

Ask them to break down their gifts: Next, reach out to these contacts in a personalized way, whether through a tailored email or phone call. Express how their gifts have greatly impacted your organization’s work, and the important role they play in your organization. Then ask them to consider breaking up their annual contributions into smaller monthly gifts.

One way to do this is through an end-of-year message. For instance, let’s say you’re targeting a donor who has given two $300 donations this past year. At the end of the year, reach out to them, and give a summary of the total amount they donated throughout the year ($600 in this case). Demonstrate all the amazing things their support has made possible.

Then, pitch the idea of breaking up their big donations into $50 monthly installments instead. Communicate how these regular gifts will allow them to stretch the financial impact of their giving across the entire year. Convey that by creating a steadier, more predictable flow of support, they can help your organization improve its long-term vision, planning and execution for the programs they are passionate about.

Tip: To create some extra value for the switch, you can even present a recurring gift as a way to gain entry to a “special, honorary group.” Let your donors know that you’re inviting them to be a part of a special community, set aside for recurring donors who play an important role in your organization’s development.

This approach simply offers a different way to think about monthly giving. You’re not asking this audience for more donations; you’re just asking them to distribute theirs differently. But as an organization, you still get the perks of a more mature recurring donations program.

Part II: Approaching Your Already Recurring Donors

Now let’s consider the opposite case of approaching recurring donors. Organizations hesitate to send fundraising appeals to their monthly givers, precisely because they’re already giving on a regular basis. On some level, this makes sense – you don’t want to annoy or fatigue your already committed donors with too many asks. However, if you’re hesitating to ask anything of them at all, it’s time to reconsider your strategy.

Why you should ask them:

They are your most loyal supporters: Remember that your recurring donors are some of your most loyal supporters. They care enough about your programs to invest in them monthly. Although you should be mindful of how many appeals you send them, don’t be afraid to send a donation/fundraising appeal for your bigger campaigns (of course, they should be well-crafted and personalized). Give these donors a chance to lend an extra hand; they might be happy to do so.

Your year-end campaign is worth the ask: One campaign you should definitely include recurring donors in is your end-of-year campaign. Not only do organizations receive a third of all donations in December, but people also give 80% larger gifts. Simply put, donors are very active – and more generous – during this time of year. Don’t be afraid to ask your recurring donors for an extra gift this season.

How you should ask them:

To start, first:

Segment your communications: (Notice a trend?) Because you’ll be trying out two different approaches, it’s important to segment your donor lists so you can personalize your emails. Use your CRM to pull a list of recurring donors who have been giving for a significant amount of time. Pull another group of newer recurring donors for your second list.

Split up your asks: To the first list of long-term donors, send an email and thank them for their support, express their distinctive role in your organization, and show what their donations have achieved. Then, ask them to consider upgrading their monthly amount, explaining what their larger contributions can achieve this next year. Make sure to suggest certain donation amounts.

For your second list of recurring donors, express your gratitude for their support, and also remind them of their impact on your work. Make sure your language sets them apart from other annual donors. But instead of asking them to upgrade, ask them to consider making an extra, special gift this holiday season.

Just Try It

Here’s a roundup of the main points we covered:

– A mature recurring giving program can improve cash flow and increase the lifetime value of your donors

– Communicate effectively with your donors by segmenting different groups for specific asks

– Turn large one-time donors into recurring donors by asking them to break up their contributions into monthly gifts

– Don’t be afraid to ask recurring donors to either upgrade their monthly amount, or give additional one-time gifts during big campaigns (especially your holiday fundraising efforts)

Don’t be held back by your fears of asking for “too much” from supporters who are “already giving a ton.” The main point is to just try asking. You can even experiment with these approaches on smaller donor pools first to test supporters’ responses. A little trial and error can result in a healthier monthly donations program!

Donors Give 80% Larger Gifts in December

Image Credit: Flickr User Oberazzi

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