3 Steps to Set up your Monthly Giving Campaign

Mazarine Treyz: Erica Waasdorp, you’re an ambassador for the IFC. So you know about fundraising in other countries, not just the U.S. I’ve heard that the U.S. is far behind other countries in getting people to give monthly. Why do you think this is?

(Read the number one predictor of success in monthly giving here)

EW: Maybe not everybody is familiar with IFC. It’s International Fundraising Conference. It’s a conference being held every year in October in Holland in Noordwijk, which is like 20 minutes south of Amsterdam. I am Dutch originally. So I moved here 23 years ago, and in Europe, a lot of European countries, people are very comfortable giving out their bank account, believe it or not.

I would literally say, hey Mazarine, this is my bank account. Can you transfer some money? So it’s very, very open. People are very comfortable doing that, and that’s how a lot of the monthly giving programs started. The retention rates were huge because most people don’t change their bank accounts very often. It’s there. So a lot of people didn’t have credit cards for years. They just had their bank accounts.

So that’s how most European countries and organizations grew their monthly giving programs. The other piece, basically the infrastructure was there to do this through the bank account. This country, the U.S., most fundraising I would say has historically always focused on major gifts. That’s where resources were being put. That was where the growth tended to be, and the small donors were usually, well, that’s great. But we’re really looking at them as sort of like a feeder of the major donors, if you will. I think that has changed over the last probably five to ten years, where organizations say, look. I have a lot more of these small donors. How do I keep them? How do I improve that retention rate of these small donors, because I know that down the road, they’re going to leave me in their will.


They’re going to keep giving. They give a lot more often than some of these big donors. It’s a lot more labor intensive and resource intensive to go after the major donors. So there’s been a little bit of a shift in that regard, to say hey, no gift is too small as long as I get it on a regular basis. You know what I mean? So I think that’s been an issue, and I think the credit card, obviously. I think that’s been an issue too. People are just not as comfortable giving out their credit card information, and in this country, the electronic funds transfer, giving through your bank account, is still the least common way of giving monthly. It’s the hardest sell here. But it’s growing. It’s growing.

MT: Yeah, that’s what I’m hearing from my clients as well. It’s just hard to keep people because their credit card just changes. They get a new credit card number, and maybe their credit card number got stolen, which is really common here. So people just stop that way, and then they have to call and make sure they start again, which leads to a lot of attrition.

EW: Right, yeah. But there’s ways around that, and again in this toolkit, there is a template for you to send an email, to write a letter, to call these monthly donors. There is a system that you’re seeing implemented more and more often. It’s called account updater, account recycler, where – and it’s all tokenized. It’s all PCI compliant. It’s all encrypted. So you as the nonprofit don’t actually get to see the information, but the backend, the online processor, can tap into this database and then says, okay. Well, I know that this card was changed. The expiry date changed or the card was updated.

Because we all got these chip cards, right, in the last couple months? So you can tap into that and get that information on an automatic basis rather than having to reach out to the donor. Because the donor made that commitment to you to want to do this. They haven’t canceled it. It’s just that their card changed or their card expired.

MT: So with this system, you can get the new card number without having to bother the donor?

EW: Correct.

MT: What’s that called again?


EW: It’s called Account Updater, Account Recycler. Click the PDF icon or this link to download the PDF-> Monthly-Giving-Account-Updater-Resources to get you started.

MT: So we just talked about how to prevent attrition in monthly givers. What are the different steps in a monthly giving campaign?

EW: Well, the first part is really that you have to be able to accept monthly donations. The thing is, again, so much has changed in the last couple years, especially since I wrote my book. It’s become even easier. So there’s really no reason why anybody does not have a monthly giving program, because every online donation processor is now offering recurring donations. I don’t know anybody who’s not offering it right now.

Step One: Make sure that you set up that recurring only, that monthly giving only page. 

And in some cases, you have to work on your database. In other cases, it’s something online. Your merchant account has to be set up and authorize you to receive monthly donations. So that’s a little bit of a system issue.

Step Two: Set up your thank you letters, your thank you emails.

Step Three: Send a donor directly to that monthly donor only page.

So you do an email blast where you say, hey, I’d like to invite you to become a special donor. You become a member of a very special group of supporters who are supporting us on an ongoing basis. Click here to join, and you go directly to that page. So it can’t be any harder than that, right?

So that’s really it. You’ve got to have everything ready to go and then you start asking. So it really can be done in like three steps. One important thing, though, I want to mention is that if you have multiple people in charge, you have ONE person who takes ownership of monthly giving. You might have to work with an outside website company or a communications department or somebody else is doing the newsletter and somebody else is doing the email.

So as you’re growing as an organization, you want to make sure that whomever is in charge of the monthly giving program is totally in charge. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself, but you have to know all of the moving parts and make sure that you see the money coming in, that you see how many donors are not coming in because they dropped out, or because of that credit card issue. Then make sure that you set up the systems to follow up.

Make sure that nothing falls through the cracks, because I just did finish a project with a bigger organization. They had about 17,000 monthly donors, and we saw they were losing like 500 monthly donors a month. That’s big. When we looked at it, we said, well, hey, I looked at their processes. I mapped it out, and we saw that they were not sending out emails to ask for updated information. They were not doing certain things and there were some coding issues.

So we were able to put a stop to that and really fix the problem, and now they’re growing again. But because nobody was really in charge, it was really hard to get these things going because one person was doing this part and another person was doing that part, and they didn’t necessarily know that there was really a problem. So we fixed it. So you’ve got to look at that.

If you have one person in charge, then you can oversee everything. You know, oh, well, hey, the website was supposed to be here and this was supposed to happen. That’s really key, I find.

MT: That makes a lot of sense.

EW: Yeah, and I’m a weeds person. I love being in the weeds. So it’s kind of really neat to look at these processes and say, oh, yeah. What can we do to fix that? So a little bit of an interesting thing, and again, I think the other thing is because people – you know, I mean, because a lot of people don’t necessarily know the power of monthly donors. They’re like, oh, 500 monthly donors. That’s not a big deal. Well, you know, that’s like $85,000 a year. So it is a big deal, right? If you annualize it, it all of a sudden becomes much more powerful.

MT:  We’ve all been approached by charities like Greenpeace or Save the Children in the street, and asked to give a monthly donation. Is street funding the best way to get monthly givers?

EW: Well, it depends. I mean, a couple things. One is, in a smaller organization it’s harder to do face to face or door to door fundraising. I mean, I was at a face to face workshop last week, and the bigger organizations are able to afford it because it’s a pretty big investment. Now, some of these companies are able to focus on just one city, one area. So it has become a lot more affordable than it used to be.

It’s successful, but there are other ways that you can grow as well. So in other words, if you can’t do face to face fundraising or street fundraising, you can totally generate monthly donors by direct mail. You can do it in email.

If you can’t afford to do street fundraising,

Try Telemarketing.

What I see that is very successful is telemarketing. So you call up your donors. You thank them for their ongoing support, and then you say, hey. I want to invite you to this special group of supporters. It’s $5 or $10 or $20 a month, and can you join? We find that that’s very, very successful.

That’s something pretty much anybody can do, whether you have your in house people that you train, your volunteers, or your board members even. When you have that conversation, somebody might say, yeah. I love your organization, but I wish I could do more. I’m on a fixed income. Then you say, well, you know, have you heard about our monthly giving program? You could give us $10 a month. Would that work for you? So you can have that conversation with them. That works really, really well.

You can also try Television.

There’s bigger organizations that are using television. Now, television might sound like it’s out of the mix for most small to mid-sized organizations, but guess what? A lot of you may have local cable access and you can talk to them and say, hey.

Can we work on doing a little PSA talking about this monthly giving program that we have that would support this animal shelter right here? A lot of these local cable access channels, they have the capability to help you with that and it doesn’t cost you much at all in terms of production.

It might be a great way to reach some local folks and tell them about this monthly giving program that you have. So you can say, hey, I’m doing direct response television. Except you’re doing it through like local cable access.

MT: Wow, does that really work?

EW: Yeah. TV works really, really well. But again, most of us can’t afford it. So that’s a way around it, and again, ideally you want to have an integrated campaign where you might say, okay. Well, October is going to be my monthly giving month, right? So you take over the homepage and you highlight our champions. Whatever. If you have a name for your program, great. Use that. Then click right to your monthly giving page. Then you have an email blast that same month, talking about the same story, same message. Hey, will you join our monthly giving program?

Then you can do a direct mail campaign to support it as well, and you can even mention it on the phone. So integrated campaigns work extremely well. Again, it’s all about having the same message in the mix there.

Read Part Three of this interview tomorrow!

Erica will be teaching more about monthly giving at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit.

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