We’re smack in the middle of the busiest month for fundraising, but there’s still time to invest a bit of incremental stewardship energy, and we suggest you spend some of it on your monthly donors, to help lock them in for another year.

Monthly donors, as you may know from your annual budget, contribute disproportionately to your bottom line. It takes less work to generate their ongoing financial support, they tend to stay active longer, and they’re often the sort of people who give your mission an advocacy boost among the people they know, which — if done with feeling — can be worth more than money. And how nice is it to know, as the ground shifts under our feet, that there is a cohort of supporters who are there for you month after month?!

Giving this group of passionate sustaining donors extra love year-round goes a long way to build and maintain relationships and support. This is especially true during the year-end giving season. The minor friction involved in ending a monthly donor relationship (even if your systems make it painless, which it should be) does act to psychically bind donors to you, but that bond can be strained if you take them for granted. Here are some strategies to consider to ensure your monthly donors remain engaged during peak campaign moments, so that they’ll stay around and continue to contribute to your cause. We’ll also highlight some things you can do to convert more monthly donors all year long.

(Obviously, during December, when wallets are open and people are inclined to give, we also encourage you to consider recruiting new monthly donors if you find it profitable to do so. It especially makes sense during a year-end season like this one when early indications are that donors will be particularly generous.)

Make monthly donors feel special – here’s how:

Monthly donors don’t need a lot of special attention during heavy giving periods, but they do need some, both at tentpole moments and all year round.

During holiday giving and other big moments, work to build the relationship and make the case for additional support. 

Tentpole moments are opportunities to evoke a spirit of community amongst your supporters, monthly donors very much included. But messaging to monthly donors needs to acknowledge that they are already playing a uniquely valuable role in furthering your mission.

So during end of year, and other times when you’re asking intensively for money, don’t just throw monthly donors in with everyone else. Instead, carve out specific messaging and experiences that will resonate. We’ve found the following content strategy works well:

  • Say Thanks. In communications to this group at the end of the year, start by expressing gratitude for their ongoing support. Thank those donors who give an additional gift, and do it promptly and emphatically, to reinforce that they are key participants in carrying your mission forward. Which they are!
  • Create a Bespoke Experience. Pull them out of the regular year-end stream, and frame the case for giving differently based on their unique motivations for support. Validate their importance to mission and highlight how much you value the relationship. Often this means incorporating language that assumes a higher degree of familiarity with your work. Additionally, rather than focusing solely on immediate impact, content written for recurring donors can take a longer view, e.g. updates on big-picture developments in your sector and long-term programs or initiatives. 
  • Respect the Relationship. Tentpole moments like Giving Tuesday and December Final Stretch are natural times to ask recurring donors for additional gifts. It’s important to ensure that when you ask, you’re doing so tactfully and at the right frequency.  If you don’t have the capacity to create a dedicated experience for them, use the content you have and version it for this audience. Even tactics as simple as reworking the first sentence of an email to mention their ongoing support, or sending an additional SMS message of thanks before asking for an additional gift, help ensure they know how much you value them. 

Meet supporters where they’re at by aligning with consumer sentiment and seasonal trends.

In general, we don’t recommend asking monthly donors for an upgrade to their gift amount during tentpole campaigns, simply because campaigns like these are usually focused on activating donors to give an additional gift. (That said, every donor audience is different, so you should look for giving patterns to guide your program!) Save your upgrade messaging for January and February, when people are in the mood to establish new habits, and you’re already probably delivering forward-looking messaging about the year to come. You can use that as a departure point for a conversation about increasing their commitment. You may also be publishing an Annual Report at this time of year – some supporters just want the tl;dr (too long, don’t read), but your monthly donors may have an appetite for a deep read, and there are fun ways to turn that 30-page document into a compelling immersive digital experience. That’s also a huge asset for your mid-level and major donor audiences. 

Make monthly donors feel valued all year long. 

During the rest of the year, don’t take monthly donors for granted. Report back to this group often with communications about the impactful role they play in advancing your collective mission. Share emotional stories of change, and be transparent about where their support is going and what it’s helped achieve. 

Improving monthly donor conversion

Monthly giving is more prevalent in the United States now than it used to be, and that’s due in part to broader changes in consumer behavior, driven by both demographics and technology. Most younger people have lived their whole lives in a world in which recurring credit card charges (e.g. for subscription and entertainment and lifestyle services – hello, Netflix and Spotify) are extremely common.

For monthly donor conversion, this means a few things: 

First of all, it means you should probably be more aggressive in your upgrade program than you’re being now, especially with donors under 65 who have shown a propensity or capacity to give. (You might test segmenting prospective upgrade donors by age, and turn up the heat on younger donors who are accustomed to managing online accounts and don’t need to be convinced that monthly payments are safe.)

Secondly, it means that recurring giving can be marketed as a way of having a greater impact than an individual gift. There’s evidence that younger consumers (55 and younger) are more explicitly concerned with impact and transparency — making decisions based on a personal understanding of what, specifically, their money will do — than older donors. Especially if you can promise your recurring donors more frequent and complete impact updates, monthly giving becomes an attractive proposition for donors who are inclined to increase their mission leverage. 

More and more organizations are successfully taking a “monthly first” approach to their fundraising programs. That requires a longer-term view of your budget and a commitment by leadership to invest in the five-year plan, whereby you may need to sacrifice some cash revenue upfront for a robust recurring program down the road. You won’t regret it!

But before you make those big and impactful investments…make sure you’re doing the stewardship right! Acquiring those monthly donors isn’t worth much in the long run if they don’t stick with you.