It’s been about three months since I made the decision to go from enjoying NPR for free to becoming a monthly donor.

And, well, let’s just say the monthly donor experience has been underwhelming.

Yup, I said it.

When I made the decision to become a monthly donor, I was curious about the follow-up experience. I wondered if I’d receive special emails recognizing me as a monthly donor or sustaining member. Maybe they’d send a monthly or quarterly e-Newsletter with content created specifically for monthly donors.  Maybe they’d email me about special promotions. The possibilities for engagement are endless.

Are you wondering what I’ve received?

Three emails: one email a month alerting me that my credit card is going to be charged. That’s it: a receipt. No welcome series, no on-going communications, no enewsletter, no nothing, nada, zilch… Just a receipt. Let’s a take minute and set the record straight on receipts. Receipts serve a purpose; they acknowledge a transaction has taken place. They’re used for tax purposes. Receipts are not a thank you. They’re not a hello or welcome greeting—simply put, a receipt is a notification. Notifications aren’t very engaging.

It’s more than the lack of engagement that’s ruffled my feathers.

It really feels like my monthly donation doesn’t matter. During every pledge drive we’re begged to make a donation, to commit to being a monthly donor. But after a few months of giving, it doesn’t even feel like my donation matters. It feels like I don’t matter. Part of me is tempted to withdraw my monthly donations, but I enjoy the programming too much to do so. So, I’ll keep giving even though I’m completely disappointed in the experience.

Maybe my disappointment is because this is what I do for a living. I spend my days talking with nonprofit organizations about developing great communication plans for their supporters. Maybe I’m too close to have an unbiased view here.

But, I don’t think I am. Here’s why.

Time to learn from Hulu, Amazon and Netflix!

About a year ago I cut cable out of my life and became a full-time streamer. Since becoming a streamer, I receive regular email communications from streaming providers. They let me know when new shows have been added, showcase what’s popular and trending, provide staff picks and more. I love these emails. They’re thoughtful and helpful communications that keep me engaged and keep me streaming.

Their goal is to keep my business, and they’re succeeding by not only providing me with a service, but by engaging with me and giving me information that makes my experience better.

As these services continue to become more main stream, your supporters are going to expect the same level of service from your organization. So, what are you to do?

Audit your current monthly donor (sustainer) program.

  • Are you sending out regular communications to these important supporters?
  • Are you conditionalizing content in your communications for monthly donors?
  • Are you sending information monthly donors will appreciate and find valuable?

Here’s the skinny. If you want to grow your monthly donor program, you have to put in the work. If you want monthly donors to keep giving then you need to provide them with a reason. Don’t just be a taker of their donation, but be a giver. Provide them information they’ll find valuable, engaging and helpful.

Disclaimer: If you’re offering the option for monthly giving on your website and you don’t have a welcome series for monthly donors, stop what you’re doing and develop one immediately.

Here are few easy was to update your current email communications to engage monthly donors:

  • Change up the banner image. Create a banner image that indicates this email is for monthly donors. For example if your sending a patient story, use the same content swap out the banner image and boom you’ve created a special message for monthly donors.
  • Create Conditional e-Newsletters. Swap out an image and content block for monthly donors. You don’t need to make a completely separate e-Newsletter for monthly donors, use the conditionals in Luminate Online to do the work for you.
  • Send a quarterly email from the president or executive director to your monthly donors.  Provide an update on how they’re donations are supporting the mission.
  • Use conditionals to acknowledge monthly donors in your year end appeals and holiday cards.

The best advice I can give you:

Start small. Look at your current email communications and identify areas where you can change an image, swap a content block or add a special email for monthly donors. Cliche time: Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither is a great communication plan.


Amy Braiterman, principal strategy consultant at Blackbaud, supports customers with their peer-to-peer fundraising events with a process she refers to as “data-driven strategy.” Amy’s data driven strategy analyzes how effective event participants are using online fundraising tools and takes those results to develop an event fundraising plan. Prior to joining Blackbaud, Amy earned her fundraising stripes managing events for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Alzheimer’s Association and Share Our Strength. She shares her fundraising know how here on npENGAGE, by hosting educational webinars and speaking at customer conferences

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