12 times the generosity, 12 times the gratitude

My spiel in support of monthly giving is well honed, but new ideas are always welcome. So when the Chronicle of Philanthropy advertised a webinar on the topic, I registered on the spot. Two weeks later, I wasn’t disappointed with the presentation.

2014_desk_calendar_pc_10367As anticipated, I picked up good stuff to share with clients, including reminders that

  • monthly giving is a sure-fire corrective to the horrendous donor attrition plaguing the nonprofit world – 105 donors going out for every 100 coming in, according to recent research. When donors commit to monthly giving, retention rates soar, including among hard-won first-time donors.
  • a monthly giving program can give a much-needed boost to your organization’s bottom line. Say that your average annual gift is $60. A casual supporter signs up at $10 a month – something just about anyone can do — and presto, change-o, you have a $120 annual donor. You don’t need a degree in math to recognize a significant increase.
  • monthly donors are more likely to advocate for the organizations they support than do less frequent givers. Monthly givers share their treasure, their hearts, and their voices. That’s a powerful combination.

It surprised me, however, that there wasn’t mention of what a monthly giving program can do for fundraising staff. In my experience, development staff gain more from a monthly giving program than bragging rights about increased giving.

First, a focus on monthly giving demands that staff take greater care in shaping requests for support. The work of growing a monthly giving program pushes development staff to think in new ways about what a donor’s giving helps do. A generic “we need your money to do our ministry” approach can do (although not well) in attracting a one-time gift. However, if you want people to show up 12 times a year, you need greater specificity in your case for support.

You have to talk convincingly about the difference a $10, $50, $100, or more a month will make for the beneficiaries of your organization’s work.

MINI-CASES FOR MONTHLY SUPPORT.

A ministry with which I work publishes a quarterly magazine and a monthly online newsletter. Without too much effort, the development officer calculated what monthly gifts in various amounts would “buy.” A $10 a month commitment ($120 for year) will provide gift subscriptions to the magazine to 4 college students; $25 a month ($400 a year) will pay a writer for a feature article; and $50 a month ($600) will cover production of one monthly newsletter.

Another of my clients provides a ministry of listening. Their case for support might link $10 a month to the cost of cell phones that ensure they are accessible, anywhere, anytime; $25 a month can be listed as underwriting the cost for two months’ work with clients at a local social service agency; and $50 a month makes possible three evenings at the local Ronald McDonald House in ministry to families of very sick children.

You get the idea. It’s about breaking the organization’s mission and programs into understandable, manageable chunks and then attaching gift amounts. The task is easier for some ministries than others, but with discipline and creativity, you can do it for yours.

1,000 REASONS FOR GRATITUDE (OKAY, 12)

In addition to upping the level of specificity in how you ask, a monthly giving program also encourages donor-centered, gift-linked thanking. That’s my second point.

Writing multiple thank you letters every month takes discipline. Thirty days fly by when you’re busy. But you’ve made a promise and it’s essential that every thank you letter link back to the purpose that piqued the donor’s interest.

Returning to the first of the mini-cases above, this ministry might let $10 a month donors know the number of subscriptions given to college students. Or if one of those students writes a note of appreciation his/her message could be included in the next thank you. The development staff can provide donors at $25 a month with a link to a recent feature article or pop in a short synopsis of articles in the works.  And $50 a month donors can be encouraged to send the monthly online newsletter to friends and co-workers.

As the year goes on, finding new ways to link the work to the donor’s gifts gets tougher. And that’s a good thing — especially when the goal is to grow hearts in generosity toward God. When you run out of easy/obvious reasons for gratitude, your eyes open to the not so obvious ministry outcomes made possible by monthly giving.

A cautionary note: Don’t overdo the suggested gift levels when seeking monthly gifts. I suggest no more than 4, plus the usual “other” line. And don’t start too low (e.g. $2 or $5 a month). The ROI of your time just isn’t there.

In short, fundraisers can grow as much through a monthly giving program (when done well) as do those who commit to 12 gifts in a year. As fundraisers nurture donors’ commitment to specific aspects of the ministry, hearts grow bigger and more generous. At the same time, the fundraiser becomes a more observant, grateful thanker. I like that – 12 times the generosity, matched by 12 times the gratitude. Both matter.

 

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