Why You Should Engage One-Time Donors Sooner

7 min
Will Schmidt

The State of Modern Philanthropy 2019 examines trends in return donor behavior, specifically around supporter groups like peer-to-peer fundraisers, one-time donors, and recurring givers. With regard to one-time donors and recurring givers, our report finds that:

  • Typical return donors will make a second donation 349 days after making their first donation
  • Nineteen percent of return donors re-engage with nonprofits within the first three months after making their gift
  • One-time donors who become recurring givers activate their subscription 214 days after their first donation
  • Of all one-time donors who return to start a recurring gift, 25% go on to make another one-time gift as a future interaction

These data points prove that there’s an opportunity to engage one-time donors well before their one-year anniversary.

Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at these statistics as well as a NextAfter case study that shows the value of engaging donors sooner rather than later. Then, we’ll share tips on how to make sure you’re efficiently engaging both new and existing recurring givers.

Looking At the Numbers

Typical return donors will make their second donation to a nonprofit 349 days after their first donation. This implies that nonprofits may be waiting until just before a donor’s one-year anniversary to re-engage them with another appeal.

While that may be a common timeframe, 19% of return donors are re-engaging with nonprofits within the first three months after their first one-time gift. This may be a small group, but it’s a large opportunity for your nonprofit.

Instead of waiting for almost a year to re-engage donors, reach out sooner. Better yet, give them the opportunity to become recurring givers.

Our data shows that typical one-time donors who become recurring givers activate their recurring plan 214 days after giving their first donation. This is four and a half months sooner than when we see typical return donors give again at the 349-day mark.

What’s more, the chances of a return donor subscribing as a monthly giver after their one-year anniversary decrease as time goes on. We know from The State of Modern Philanthropy 2018 that recurring givers are over five times more valuable than a one-time donor, but the 2019 report showed that there’s even more potential value in these donors.

Of all one-time donors who become recurring givers, 25% give another one-time gift on top of their still-active subscription plan. This signifies deep engagement and dedication to a nonprofit’s mission.

Recurring givers are individuals who actively give on top of their subscriptions. At this point recurring giving isn’t just a “nice-to-have” for your nonprofit, it’s a necessity.

Examining How to Encourage Monthly Gifts

NextAfter is an organization that researches why donors give to nonprofits and then uses those learnings to help nonprofits fund their mission. NextAfter conducted a case study around recurring giving signups with the nonprofit Focus on the Family. Specifically, they examined how presenting an opportunity to become a recurring giver at the moment of a one-time gift affects recurring gift conversion rates.

This case study is a fantastic example that unites a lot of the points outlined in the previous section. It shows us how your nonprofit can be successful by engaging one-time donors, at the moment of their gift, to sign on as a recurring giver.

For their experiment, NextAfter created a pop-up that would appear right after a person clicked the donate button. Before the gift was processed, the message asked if they wanted to make their gift a recurring gift or continue with their original one-time donation.

engage one-time donors

NextAfter found that including this pop-up increased recurring gifts by 64% which means that asking donors to engage at a level beyond a one-time gift immediately paid off with immediate signups.

Tips for Your Recurring Giving Efforts

Beyond adding a pop-up ad like Focus on the Family did with NextAfter, there are many ways you can encourage your supporters to sign on as monthly recurring givers. We met with Megan Fett, Classy customer success manager, to provide a few best practices to get you started.

Have a Dedicated Recurring Giving Program

It might seem obvious but having a dedicated recurring giving program that engages, stewards, and retains monthly givers is an important first step. A successful program that is well-designed and communicates impact should include the following elements:

  • Clear and consistent branding
  • Bold calls-to-action to sign up
  • Exclusive incentives for monthly givers
  • Powerful imagery that evokes emotion
  • Defined impact

For example, you can show your supporters what kind of impact their one-time gift will have, with a call-to-action to “Donate.” Next to that, you can show how much further a monthly gift will go, with a customized call-to-action such as: “Go the extra mile.”

If you’re unable to build out a full recurring giving program, you can still create a separate campaign page for monthly givers. This will make it easier to pull data for your separate campaigns and can help mitigate confusion for donors.

For example, if you send an email with two buttons at the bottom: “Give Once” and “Start a Monthly Gift” and both links take you to a donation page with the suggested one-time donation levels of $1,000, $500, $250, and $100, people might be thrown off and bounce off the page.

Most people probably can’t commit to $1,000 a month, but without a dedicated recurring giving page, you leave room for confusion. Instead, create a recurring giving page where you can send all potential monthly givers with specific language and more comfortable levels like: $100, $50, $25, or $10.

Read Next: The 5 Must-Haves of a Monthly Recurring Program

Reach Out to Annual One-Time Donors

Run a report to pull all of your annual, one-time donors and filter by gift level. For example, let’s say you drill down to find all donors who give $100 once a year. You can then reach out to this group with targeted, personalized communications and ask them to re-commit this year, but as a monthly recurring giver.

Instead of giving $100 once per year, you can ask for $10 a month. This seems like a manageable request and if they sign up as a recurring giver, they’re now giving $120 a year. Be sure to explain why monthly gifts are so important to the sustainability and health of your organization. You can also share the specific impact from your existing recurring giving program.

Show your newfound recurring givers how much you appreciate their commitment to your cause by touching base with them frequently. Consider including them in a special quarterly impact newsletter that chronicles the progress of your work and keeps them engaged throughout the year.

Use Prominent Calls to Action

If you want to secure monthly recurring gifts, you have to ask for them. And if you want people to act, then you have to make your calls-to-action (CTAs) highly visible and engaging.

Consider including a CTA to become a recurring giver in the following places:

  • Main donation page
  • Website banner
  • Email messages
  • Direct mail fliers
  • Campaign pages

Put yourself in the shoes of a potential supporter as they engage with your messages, land on your website, or scroll through campaign pages. You can also check out some of your favorite nonprofits to see how they promote their monthly giving program.

Ask yourself questions that keep you in the mindset of a potential new monthly giver:

  • How does this experience make you feel?
  • Is the call-to-action easy to find?
  • Are you overwhelmed with how many times you’re asked to sign up?
  • What’s the benefit to signing up as a monthly giver over being a one-time donor?

Monthly recurring givers have a higher financial value for your nonprofit, but we know it can be tough to attract and retain them. If you need more guidance, make sure to read through our other resources on recurring giving:

Then, download The State of Modern Philanthropy 2019 to read more about the insights in this post, and many others.


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