new years eveThis post was first published on Third Sector Today.

As a fundraiser, you pour your heart and soul into preparing the year-end campaign, but by the time the champagne has popped, the new year is off to the races before you have time to catch your breath.

If this sounds all too familiar, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. You invest heavily in the planning phase, often (err, hopefully) as early as August, but by the time January arrives you want to count the dollars, share the stories, and congratulate donors on another successful year.

However, January is exactly the time to strike. That may sound cold, if not ruthless, but you’re a fundraiser first. And, as a fundraiser, you seize the opportunity to build donor loyalty.

Following the season of giving and the good will achieved, the best opportunity to build donor loyalty is by introducing your monthly giving program. Sure, it may be a tough pill to swallow, following up the holiday season with an additional ask is not easy, but every organization needs a Beginning-of-Year (BOY) strategy that focuses on smaller, one-time contributions.

A BOY strategy that focuses on the value of your monthly giving program demonstrates the impact a dedicated group of donors can have on your organization. Secondly, the donor and organizational benefits are critical to establishing a long-term relationship with your donors.

It’s no surprise that nonprofits are investing heavily in monthly giving programs. In fact, the 2013 Online Benchmark Report reported monthly giving revenue increased 27 percent in 2012 over 2011. Growth in the number of monthly donations as a percentage of total donations also increased from the previous year.

Simply put, if you want to increase the lifetime value of your supporters, create a recurring giving program. Joanne Fritz’s summary of Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant provides some great pointers to getting a recurring program off the ground.  However, the beginning of the year is the ideal time to take your established recurring giving program and capitalize on the year-end support.

Here are three steps to optimizing a BOY strategy utilizing your recurring giving program.

  • Define the audience. Prior to your launching your BOY campaign strategy, define your target audiences. Recommended audiences include one-time donors <$100, lapsed donors, and existing sustainers. For donors who gave >$100, consider a separate strategy that includes varying support levels.
  • Determine the ask. The right ask for the right audience is the crux of your BOY strategy; you don’t want to come in too low for your existing donors or too high for your lapsed donors. Monthly donors have a higher lifetime value, so consider what benefits or premiums to include when converting or upgrading one-time, lapsed, and existing sustainers.
  • Choose your channels. Time is of the essence, and different audiences require different touch points (read: Next Generation of American Giving), so choose your channels wisely. For offline and online donors, each channel should support one another. However, if time does not allow a direct mail piece, focus resources on crafting a dedicated email series.

FreedomPartners_UpgradeCampaignInternational Justice Mission is one organization who has successfully launched a sustainer campaign to upgrade Freedom Partner sustainers. Though its annual campaign occurs in September, the lessons can be applied to a BOY strategy to acquire and upgrade recurring donors.

There are three things that the campaign does exceptionally well, they include –

  • Hard stop to the campaign. The matching gift campaign is launched on September 1st and ends promptly on September 30th, which enables the organization to rally behind and create a sense of urgency as the deadline nears.
  • Easily to digest upgrade amounts. The upgrade amounts communicated to donors were broken down into everyday items, e.g. a cup of coffee, movie tickets, etc. The message to donors is that even a small, nominal increase can make a significant impact.
  • Channel coordination. A branded letter to a subset of donors connected the need to the ask, prompting a higher level of campaign participation. The targeted emails to those who received the letter told the larger story of the campaign.

The results were outstanding; open rates for the emails average approximately 30 percent while overall response rate for the campaign was greater than four percent. However, what was even more impressive was the Freedom Partner average monthly increase was $35.

Whether you’re BOY strategy focuses on converting one-time donors to sustainers and/ or upgrading existing monthly donors, don’t let January speed by – create a BOY strategy today to build loyalty with your supporters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chas  Offutt is a senior fundraising and marketing professional with more than 10 years experience in the nonprofit sector. He joined Convio, now Blackbaud, in 2008 and has worked with more than 75 clients across all verticals to develop and implement acquisition campaigns, fundraising strategies, and integrated marketing programs. Prior to his current position, Chas was the Director of Internet Strategy at American Rivers where he was responsible for the management and execution of all online programs.

Chas has spoken at the Association for Fundraising Professionals (Greater Atlanta Chapter), Convio Customer Summit, NTEN, Blackbaud Conference, Forum One Communication’s Web Executive Seminar, and other public speaking engagements on a variety of topics including mobile fundraising, generational giving, and online marketing strategies.

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