Recurring donors have become an increasingly important part of nonprofit fundraising programs, but what does this mean for end of year (EOY)?


There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about the importance of recurring donors to a healthy fundraising program. As nonprofits have successfully grown their recurring donor pools, an unexpected question has emerged: how should organizations account for these valuable donors during EOY?

Recurring donors are a special breed and are often an organization’s most loyal supporters. While transitioning a one-time donor to a recurring donor is almost always a good thing, EOY revenue goals are unlikely to shift because of increased recurring revenue — at least in the short term. This means organizations are trying to raise more money from a group that excludes more and more of their most valuable supporters (assuming you are suppressing your recurring donors from EOY fundraising). That’s a tough equation to balance.

So, should you just include recurring donors in all of your email fundraising sends? No! While including recurring donors in your full email program may drive some short-term revenue gains, the medium-term revenue from recurring donors will most likely drop off. Supporters who feel underappreciated and overburdened will unsubscribe or, even worse, cancel their recurring gift. 

Acknowledging that there are tradeoffs on either side of this equation, what should you do with your recurring donors during the end of year fundraising period?

1. Start with a reduced email cadence

The easiest solution to dealing with recurring donors during major fundraising moments is simple: just email them less! Exactly how much less depends on a number of factors, including:

  • How frequently you email recurring donors during the rest of the year
  • How engaged your recurring donors are with your email program generally
  • How many emails you plan to send to the full active list during EOY
  • The level of urgency around your issue or mission

A good rule of thumb for most email programs is to send recurring donors 1/5th of the content you plan to send to the full active list. While this is not a hard and fast rule, it is a level that we have seen success with. We always advise sending recurring donors the final ‘deadline’ email of your campaign. As you look to expand from there use historical data from past campaigns to see which sends performed the best. Use this information to determine which send time and email content are likely to drive the greatest revenue lift from recurring donors. As always, optimize your strategy each year.

We recently employed this strategy with a large international relief organization over Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. Sending recurring donors exactly 20% of the email volume that the full list saw generated revenue at a rate of $253 per 1,000 emails sent.    

This represented a 272% increase over the $68 per 1,000 emails sent we saw from fundraising appeals to the full active list. Additionally, the unsubscribe rate for recurring donors was less than 0.01% and no recurring donor on our email list canceled their gift during the three days we were actively fundraising. 

2. Acknowledge their contribution and express gratitude

Recurring donors are special and they should be treated as such. While we would always recommend a unique email template just for recurring donors, paying special attention to these valuable supporters can be even easier than that. 

Start your fundraising appeal by acknowledging what you’re doing. Take a softer approach that thanks supporters for their recurring contributions. Highlight for them the positive impact their generous gifts have made and, if possible, quantify their giving history in terms of real-world impact (e.g. “your generous donations have enabled us to feed 20 hungry children”). Only then transition to the fundraising ask.

And when you are asking for money, explain why you need more. These donors are already giving you money every month, so give them a compelling reason for why they should give you even more. You might find that the most compelling reason is totally different than what works with your active list. 

3. Rather than asking for a one-time gift, ask supporters to increase their recurring donation

Depending on your goals, you may not be under as much pressure to drive immediate revenue. When this is the case, you can stay committed to your long-term strategy. 

The vast majority of donors expect to hear from nonprofit organizations at EOY. Use this opportunity to ask recurring donors to increase their monthly gift. Again, begin by acknowledging just how valuable their support is and transition into making the case for what a larger recurring gift will allow you to achieve.

Consider suggesting an amount to increase their gift and, if possible, use conditional content to make that amount a percentage of their existing gift. And don’t forget to thank them again! 

Regardless of how you approach your recurring donors during EOY, always remember to follow up after your campaign. Whether a donor made an additional one-off gift, increased their existing gift, or didn’t react to your appeal at all, it is always worth starting the new year off with a thank you. Confirm your appreciation for all that these supporters have done (and will do) for your organization and let them know what’s in store for the new year. 

Oh, and also don’t forget to turn all those recent EOY one-time donors into recurring donors at the start of the new year. If all goes well, you’ll be navigating an even bigger pool of recurring donors next EOY!


Want to know more about how to manage your recurring donor program during end of year? Let’s chat about it. 

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