One of the most challenging milestones for all new nonprofits is developing a reliable source of funding that can be easily maintained and relatively consistent from month to month. A recurring donor program boosts your nonprofit brand, makes budgeting easier and has a remarkable financial return on team member efforts -- if it’s designed and nurtured properly.
At our nonprofit, we launched “The Village” in 2012 as our sustainable giving program. What began as a handful of loyal friends has since grown to more than 150 members, with monthly gifts ranging from $10 to $1,000. As of today, these devoted donors have contributed over $295,000, enabling us to transform 30,000 more lives through our clean water projects. And we are approaching another milestone: earning enough in membership donations to cover our base monthly operating costs.
Since its inception, we have learned a lot about what goes into creating a monthly giving program that is sustainable and successful (and sometimes really fun).
Embody Your Brand
During initial program ideation, it is critical to invent a design that creatively integrates your brand personality. Make the name memorable, unique to your organization and something that evokes the values of your brand.
For example, we chose to call our program “The Village.” We build sustainable clean water systems in villages in East Africa, so we engineered our program to be reflective of the communities with which we work. The program name communicates where the donor dollar goes, is self-evident and illustrates our core brand value of community.
In addition to the program name, consider creating donation levels to further underscore your brand. Our supporters, for instance, can be a Village Chief, Healer, Elder, Council Member, Shepherd or Tribesman, based on their contributions. These levels enliven the program even more and give each member a unique talking point for their personal impact.
Profile And Target Strategically
By determining who your most loyal advocates are, you can create donor profiles. This allows you to identify factors that make people more likely to be interested in your program. Profiles can include many characteristics of the ideal donor, but we focus primarily on demographics, personality traits, income level and causes they care about. From there, your team can use these profiles to target new audiences that align with your support base.
We have been most successful in our member recruitment by targeting warm leads. This process begins with identifying supporters who have been highly engaged with your organization on social media and through email campaigns. From there, you can identify new prospects directly from the networks of those loyal donors.
You can also use advertising campaigns on Google (using their nonprofit grant) and Facebook to reach completely new, cold leads, though we found the conversion on these efforts is significantly lower.
Create A Community
In order for your program to be sustainable, it needs to be a place where donors can actively participate and feel supported. Fellowship should be inherent.
You want members to feel connected not only to the impact they facilitate but to their fellow supporters as well. This can be done both digitally and physically through Facebook groups, email campaigns and quarterly events that encourage networking and relationship-building.
Many of our members refer to this group as “family,” and our team is committed to making the experience as welcoming and supportive as possible.
Develop Special Benefits And Recognition
It’s very important to recognize recurring donors’ contributions. Publicly highlight the critical role they play in your success and impact as an organization. Whether through shoutouts on social media or at events, make sure each donor feels that their support is important and appreciated.
We refer to our recurring donors as “insiders” and “VIPs,” for example. Subscribed members receive exclusive updates from our organization on projects and are the first to hear of any big announcements. These members have information priority, and we use “I am a Village Member” stickers to set them apart from other attendees at general events. Surveys of our members reveal that recognition like this is one of the biggest factors in both retention and recruitment.
Empower Recurring Donors
You can save your team time and organically grow your program by empowering your existing donors. Provide them with toolkits to share about your organization and the donor community they are involved with.
Annually, we hold a “Village Membership Drive.” This is a designated two-week period in which we highlight current members and ask them to help us reach like-minded individuals within their circles of influence. We equip our members with sample social media posts, flyers, project stories and statistics about the group’s impact on our work. We have found that doing this extra legwork for our recurring donors encourages them to get more active in recruitment.
Show Gratitude, Always
Build gratitude into the essence of your program. Weave it throughout every communication and every step in your monthly donor’s journey.
Upon initial subscription to your program, consider sending a handwritten thank-you note and having a team member reach out to provide any individual attention needed. We also provide a special, branded piece of jewelry, which serves as both a token of our appreciation, as well as a great conversation piece for further recruitment.
Initial gratitude is key, but as you continue to develop relationships with each donor, ensure all touch points are reminders of how important the donors are and of the impact they are affecting. Personalize gratitude at any major milestone. And remember to vocalize your appreciation for more than simply the monetary impact they provide -- include mentions about their effect on project awareness and their achievements in recruitment.
By building these six components into the fabric of your sustainable giving program, not only will you enhance the donor experience, but also you'll create a reliable foundation of funds. This takes (some) pressure off of specific fundraising campaigns, elevates your brand and multiplies your impact.
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