Managing an effective monthly giving program can be a difficult and tedious process, one that by its very nature is never ending. Getting a new program off the ground initially is a whole different ball game and can be even more complicated. However, the return on investment to your organization and the donor satisfaction from sustaining gifts can and should be off the charts.
If your organization already has a monthly giving program, you are off to a good start. If you do not currently have a monthly giving program, the best advice I have for you is to start one no matter how small or how large your organization may be.
Human Rights Campaign members often ask, “What's the most effective way I can help?” It's a good question. Like most organizations, each day brings news of another significant issue or urgent problem. Unfortunately, most organizations won't stay effective by surviving crisis to crisis. What's the best way to help? Join an ongoing monthly giving program.
Just imagine for a minute if just 10 percent of your membership base gave an average of $15.00 per month (and this is a realistic goal to shoot for). Organizations could do more to support program work and spend less on administrative and operating costs. Monthly giving provides a steady dependable base of support — a path toward long-term fiscal strength and stability. Best of all, it provides the donor with a deeper connection with the organization, which adds to a higher lifetime value.
Convincing members to join is the first and most difficult step. Have them think about how much they spend each month on cable TV, books and magazines or other things they enjoy. Then ask, “Is $10, $20 or even $100 per month too much to spend for your mission?”
The best tool for accomplishing this task is through a combination of direct mail and telemarketing. I have found that mail typically generates few responses (about a .05% response) but can provide a good jumping off point for the follow-up telephone call about a month later. Donors on the phone are generally receptive. I have always seen about a 10 percent conversion rate for those members you contact. If they are unable to or do not wish to join, don't forget to ask for a special lump-sum contribution. These single gifts can and often do pay for the entire sustainer invitation call. This allows the program to net money after the first month. By the way, be very careful not to downgrade these people in the process. Monthly giving programs generally work best with your average $10 t0 $99/year donors.
Your monthly giving program should only accept credit card payments or automatic checking withdrawals. Do not fall for the “bill me” option or the coupon book. These are much less effective, provide very low fulfillment and are more costly to manage. If you are using these options convert as many members as possible to electronic giving. The organization should be running the program, not the donor.
Once you have them onboard, recognize them as a member of their new group. HRC's program is Partners, so we always refer to them as Partners in all of our correspondence. At Greenpeace they are Friends of the Rainbow Warrior. You get my point. It will reiterate the importance of the program and make them feel special. Additionally, an additional newsletter, certificate of appreciation, lapel pin, etc. can really add to their experience and lifetime value at a relatively low cost. Strategically send something after the first three months — this is typically when people begin to fall off.
Attempt to upgrade your monthly donors at least once per year. Keep moving them up the pyramid. At HRC, we consistently upgrade 5 percent of a monthly givers per year at an average upgrade of $8.00. Last year, that translated into $24,000.
Occasionally solicit additional contributions. Remember, these are your best and most frequent donors — don't artificially hold them back. They will give an extra gift once in a while, especially when there is a need present. Missing this opportunity is often a common mistake.
Dane Grams is deputy director for annual giving at the Human Rights Campaign, Washington.