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Ask These 11 Questions to Evaluate and Up-Level Your Recurring Giving Program

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By Elizabeth Pun

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

Most nonprofits know that a recurring giving program is the key to predictable income and organizational growth, but they sometimes struggle to envision a proactive recurring giving strategy.

Many organizations believe they must either fall into the camp of having no recurring giving campaign or having a huge, robust program. This can paralyze you from actually working to take your recurring giving program to the next level, whatever that might look like for your unique organization.

The truth is that there are many stages of healthy growth between these two ends of the spectrum. A successful recurring giving program is the result of cumulative steps over time that build a truly sustainable effort.

It’s important to evaluate your current efforts and consider how you can reach that next step. Ask yourself these top questions to gain a better understanding of where your recurring giving program currently stands and identify areas for improvement.

Get the Lay of the Land

Consider the following questions to gauge the current state of your recurring giving program.

How many recurring donors do you have?

Have you checked this number recently? Some organizations enable the option to make a recurring gift on their donation forms, but don’t know how many recurring donors they’ve organically acquired this way. Maybe your nonprofit doesn’t think it has a recurring giving program, but you do—it’s just smaller, and you can take steps to grow.

No matter your number of existing recurring donors, there are steps you can take to increase it and build out your program. For instance, if you have more than you expected and you don’t already have a branded program, perhaps it’s time to create one for this special cohort of donors and move them all to one campaign and hub.

If you only have a handful of recurring donors, it might be premature to build a hub, but think about steps you can take to fire up your efforts, including:

  • Step 1: Enable recurring giving as an option on your donation forms. Make sure you’re surfacing this option to one-time donors.
  • Step 2: Incorporate asks for recurring gifts in your fundraising throughout the year. Consider dedicating one of your year-end appeals to sign up as a recurring donor, or go big and launch a dedicated, month-long campaign at another point in the year to spark interest.
  • Step 3: Eventually create a branded recurring giving campaign. Give your cohort of donors a special name, brand your program with its own look and feel, and segment communications to recurring donors to make them feel special.

How many of your recurring donors have cancelled?

It’s important to keep an eye on your retention rates. Let’s say you have 200 recurring donors, but 250 people have previously cancelled their plans. Donors are churning at a worrisome rate; what can you learn from that? How can you prevent donor attrition? How are you recognizing and thanking your recurring donors?

Nonprofits using Classy Pay experience the benefits of the automatic credit card updater to avoid losses due to expired or cancelled credit cards, as well as the ability to accept various payment options like ACH. Your communications plan should also strategically touch base with your recurring donors to keep them engaged and excited about your organization. Download our free 13 Donor Retention Email Templates to enhance your plan.

What’s the average length of your donors’ recurring plans?

Are your recurring donors all new, or have they been around for a long time? If many are new, evaluate how you are creating milestones to intentionally check in on them along the way.

Consider if staff turnover plays a role here for your organization too. Has there been a change in who manages your recurring donors? If you have a core group of long-time recurring donors who signed up under a former development director, make sure the new overseer has a current plan in place to engage and sustain this group into the future.

Outside of when your donors’ recurring plans started, continue to keep an eye on their length over time compared to industry benchmarks, so you can pulse-check your retention efforts. The median/average lengths of a recurring gift on Classy are 11 months/13 months, respectively.

Audit Your Communications

Get a hold on when you’re communicating with your recurring donors and identify other potential opportunities to elevate this level of engagement.

Do you have consistent appeals throughout the year?

Double-check that your recurring giving appeals aren’t lopsided to one specific season or period. Spread them out and balance out your calendar as you develop donor relationships throughout the year. Don’t miss the opportunity to include an ask in your Giving Tuesday or end-of-year communications, though.

Also make sure to offer different recurring giving frequencies to give your donors more options and flexibility to manage their regular donations.

Is there a special day or event that could serve as an opportunity to ask for recurring donations?

If you haven’t already, consider what important events or moments in your community could be a great time to attract recurring gifts:

  • Organizational or donor anniversaries
  • Cause awareness days/weeks/months
  • Major annual events hosted by your organization

Do you have a recurring donor prospect list?

Trigger communications based on when and how your supporters are taking action on your behalf. For instance, set up an alert when someone makes a repeat donation for the second or third time in the year, signalling they could be a prospect for a recurring donation. Nonprofits on the Classy platform can easily identify these candidates using the Returning One-Time Donors report.

Keep tabs on supporters who are taking repeated action on your behalf, such as repeat volunteers, fundraisers, event attendees, or a mixture of all of the above.

Do you have a goal for how many recurring donors you’re trying to acquire each year?

Just as you should keep a pulse on your retention efforts, establish your goals around recurring donor acquisition. Evaluate what your results have been to date, and then set your realistic goal for the next calendar year. This intentionality can give you something solid to track toward, plan your communications around, and measure against.

Retain and Steward Your Recurring Donors

Your retention and stewardship efforts directly impact how sustainable your recurring giving program will be over time.

How are you engaging your recurring donors?

Your recurring donors should receive tailored communications that help them feel set apart. Are you sending them a special welcome email or newsletter that acknowledges them as an integral, esteemed member of your community?

Consider how you can use different tools to level up that feeling of custom communication. For instance, your welcome message could be a custom video from your team that thanks and acknowledges them as a member of your branded community.

How often are you checking in with them?

After surveying over 1,000 recurring donors, Classy’s 2021 Recurring Donor Sentiment Report revealed that a significant number of recurring donors wanted to hear from the organizations more often. Evaluate the frequency of your communications and make sure you’re touching base enough times throughout the year.

Get more firsthand insights to learn exactly what motivates recurring donors to give and incentivizes them to stay with your organization.

How are you recognizing them?

A big way to help recurring donors feel special is to spotlight them in your communications. Consider highlighting recurring donors in your:

  • Newsletters
  • Annual report
  • Communications with your board
  • Social media posts

Not only does this public spotlight help them feel valued, but it also boosts social proof to the rest of your community that this recurring giving option exists, others are doing it, and they can be a part of this special community too.

How are you reinforcing what their dollars are doing?

Whether you email your donors quarterly, bi-annually, or another cadence that works for your community, your recurring donors should receive regular updates on the impact of their donations. They should also be the community that hears from you first whenever you make a big decision or have a significant program update.

Get Started

No matter the current state of your recurring giving program, you can take steps to level it up and continue to grow it over time. Perform a pulse-check on where your program currently stands, and draft up a plan on how you can incrementally improve your results.

In fact, bookmark this page and revisit these questions year after year—perhaps during your annual or quarterly review processes—to continue evaluating your progress.

These stepping stones will help you build a recurring giving campaign that is truly sustainable into the future.

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The Ultimate Guide to Recurring Giving

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