Retaining Monthly Donors | npENGAGE

Retaining Monthly Donors

By on Jan 11, 2013


Congratulations! You’ve made it past the flurry of year-end fundraising and digging out of all the responses to your solicitation letters and online appeals!

Before January ends, take some time to re-examine your systems. Particularly the way your nonprofit communicates with monthly donors.

Thanking monthly donors

Earlier, Frank Barry posted on why you need a recurring giving program. But once you have sustaining or monthly givers, how does your nonprofit currently thank monthly donors?

If you’re like many, you send them a gift acknowledgement every single time a gift is processed.

For normal gifts, that responsive acknowledgement makes sense. But for sustaining donors, it could be the worst way to thank them.

Killing trees and saving money

Most people attracted to monthly giving, are attracted to saving your nonprofit money. They assume that their monthly gift will make it so you don’t need to send them as much mail.

Thanking them less seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? One easy way to ease into fewer acknowledgements is to email or mail them a survey. Tell them how important and valued they are by your nonprofit. Let them know that you know they are making your nonprofit’s impact possible. And let them know you want to thank them in the way that best helps them both personally and for their tax reporting. Then ask them to let you know if they’d prefer

  • __ letters of acknowledgement with every gift processed,
  • __ quarterly summaries of gifts, or
  • __ an annual summary after the end of the calendar year.

Ask more than once

As with anything in fundraising, most people may need to see this question more than once. So consider putting these three options at the bottom of every gift acknowledgement letter. If they’ve responded, perhaps you can have that option indicated.

Or, instead of risking offending donors by having those questions on the acknowledgement letters even if people have responded, perhaps you could send out the survey every quarter for people who haven’t responded.

Do something different

One of the odd things about monthly donors is that, despite their being so important to the cash flow of our nonprofits, we don’t get to know them. The “communication” amounts to little more than letters around the processing of their gifts.

Studies show one of the best way to retain donors is to let them see the impact of their giving. So why not do something special once or twice a year for sustaining donors? Here are some ideas you can use:

  • Throw a party: You could throw a party and exclusively invite sustaining donors. Let them know on the invitation that this is exclusive to people like them who are in your sustaining donor group. Use the party or cocktail reception to introduce them to key leaders in your organization. This doesn’t need to be an overwhelming logistical nightmare. Just a nice function space and some simple appetizers will do. Keep the program tight and succinct.
  • Hangout with them: If geography is an issue, consider holding a video chat like a Google Hangout or a Skype video chat. In fact, you may want to hold quarterly Hangouts with the CEO so monthly donors can learn what impact their giving is having. You could even invite a person who’s been helped or a staff member who can give frontline details.
  • Host a work day: Seriously, in my interviews for the Donor Retention Project, experts are saying donors love getting physically involved with the organizations they give to. So use that. Host a work day, project, or some other on-location experience exclusively for sustaining donors. They’ll love it!

Part of the reason take the “thanks” beyond a letter, is social proof. People love seeing that others like them are doing the same they are doing. Events, in-person or online, help do just that.

And you can take pictures or grab screenshots to share in all your other communications to encourage others to become sustaining donors too!

How are you thanking sustaining givers?

What are you currently doing to thank sustaining donors? Did your review highlight any problems with your current process? Tell us in the comments.


Concord Leadership founder Marc A. Pitman is the author of “Ask Without Fear!,” the executive director of, and an Advisory Panel member of Rogare, a prestigious international fundraising think tank.

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