INTERVIEW: Growing Your Monthly Giving Program with Erica Waasdorp

MT:Hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising and I am so pleased today to be interviewing Erica Waasdorp, who wrote Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, and who is also the president of A Direct Solution. She will be teaching at our Nonprofit Leadership Summit.

Erica, can you give some people an idea of the kind of monthly giving campaigns you’ve worked on and why they should listen to you about monthly gifts?

EW: I have worked on small and large monthly giving campaigns. I’ve been fundraising for more than 20 years, and I started fundraising for International Fund for Animal Welfare, where I took on their monthly giving program that was like 170,000 monthly donors a year. So that was $13 million. So that was huge. I really learned a lot of the advantages and also learned the pitfalls, what you should do and what not to do.

Since then, I’ve worked with organizations that have 30,000. The smallest one started with 15 monthly donors after the first campaign. So one other organization, it’s a rescue, they just broke through 100. Another one has like 325. So it’s all over the map, really, and the key with monthly giving is that you have so many small donors in your donor base, and a lot of them are not necessarily your big check writers. So giving monthly is a real big advantage for them. It’s a way for the donors to make a difference to your organization, and it’s just going to generate a lot of money.

For example, one of my clients that has 300 monthly donors, it generates $95,000 a year for them. Three hundred monthly donors generate $95,000. So when I present these numbers, people are like wow, that is huge. The average monthly gift, do you know what that is? It’s $24 a month. So that’s a mid-level donor. That’s $288 a year. So it’s really worth it, and I find so many organizations that are really – and again, I know the resources. You need to obviously look at what you can handle. But to have this kind of power with small donors is just really, really tremendous. It’s just even a small $5 or $10 a month makes a lot of difference to small to mid-sized organizations.

So I think once an organization understands the power of that, they see, wow. We can invest in it, and the reality is when I started monthly giving programs, it was only direct mail. It was only telemarketing because those were the tools that were out there. Well, since then, we’ve had email. We have web. We have face to face. I mean, there’s a lot of other tools out there that have actually made our lives as fundraisers a lot easier.

MT: Have you ever worked with a small nonprofit that’s never done monthly giving campaigns before?

EW: Yes. What I did is we looked at their online donation page and created a recurring only page. They have the tool. They had a database that they were able to create that in just a couple of minutes. We just created a recurring only page, and then we created an email only campaign that we sent to their volunteers, board members, staffers, and their donors.

They had set a really low expectation of 25 donors. This was a children’s organization. So they had 25 donors, and the first email blast we generated 39 monthly donors.

MT: Wow.

EW: That was terrific. So 39 monthly donors, well, that could be worth $10,000. So the key with this monthly giving is you have to start asking. You just have to start.

MT: So that was actually my next question. What are some of the most common mistakes that nonprofits make before they do a monthly giving campaign, or during it?

EW: Well, I mean, you do need to make sure that you have the tools set up so you make it easy for the donor to find and click into give monthly. So if you have an online donation page, that way you can create a recurring only page. Terrific. If that’s not possible, well, make sure that you add recurring to the one time donations. Be sure that you have thought through your processes of, okay, what’s going to happen if somebody joins my monthly giving program? Do I have the thank you letter set up? What’s the auto responder going to say? You know, the email that goes out when somebody clicks submit?

Just think through those processes. Have it all ready to go, and then you can start asking. So that’s really – and you can do a lot of this in maybe one or two afternoons, if you focus. It doesn’t have to be very complicated. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on coming up with brands and names and ideas. You don’t have to do 15 letters in committee, stuff like that. So it can be done pretty simply, as long as you have some of those basics in place.

Because what I see happens, especially with smaller organizations, because they’re so busy and because they have executive directors knocking on the door. Because they have donors and boards and volunteers that are knocking at their door, they need to think through the whole process first. Focus on it, and then it’s not this, like, oh. I’m going to launch it. I’m going to start, stop. Oh, now I’ve got to write the thank you letter. What do I do next? So it’s that start stop, start stop that actually takes a lot more time.

If you think it through, you don’t have to worry about that. It’s all done. Now you can just start asking. Any time you meet somebody, your board, your volunteers. So your low hanging fruit, if you will. You have everything in place. So that’s the biggest mistake, I think is that organizations are not focusing on it, just thinking through the first part of the process.

MT: Right, and realizing that it’s a process, a series of steps. It’s not just an email that you send or a letter that you send, is what I’m hearing.

EW: Right. Well, it’s the setting up of the back end, if you will.

4 crucial pieces of your monthly giving program:

  1. Create a monthly giving donate page
  2. Write the Thank you letter,
  3. Set up the Automated email when people sign up, and
  4. Make sure that your database can handle the process on a regular basis.

That’s why I actually created the monthly giving starter kit. It’s a free resource, that if you go to my website,, you can download that. But it’s just there to talk you through those five steps, really, to get going.

MT: What is the number one predictor of success in a monthly giving campaign? Let’s say the nonprofit is starting it and they’ve downloaded your kit and they know that they need to make it a process. How do they say, okay, if I do this, I will succeed?

EW: The number one predictor that you’re going to make a success of it is that you commit. You have to want to do it, and then it will flow from there. So you have to commit to it and then start asking. So I mean, and again, it’s kind of like anything. I mean, we have to commit first because we’re asking the donor to commit to us. So that’s really it. It’s not a set or forget thing. Once you’ve organized it all, it’s there. But then you have to also start asking.

So don’t think about this like, oh, yeah, I’ll do this once a year.

The more you ask, the more you’re going to grow.

You need to make sure that it fits in with your communication schedule. But it’s like, if you commit to it, if you really want to grow this, you’re going to grow it because you’re going to ask for it and you’re going to keep asking. Again, as you do this, you see the tremendous power. So you want to ask more often. You want to ask, because it’s a win win for you and the organization. For you as a donor, and the organization. It’s a win win for everybody.

Read Part two of the interview tomorrow!

Erica will be teaching you how to get monthly gifts at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit at the end of September, September 27th-29th. There’s still time to get your ticket!
Nonprofit Leadership Summit
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