How To Write Bad Direct Response Fundraising Copy

As predictive analysts and veteran direct marketers will tell you, there’s no crystal ball for really knowing whether your next direct response effort will be stellar or just so-so. But there is a remarkably accurate trick for telling whether your copy is any good before you hit send and, in turn, predicting where you might land on the marvelous-to-mediocre scale.

It’s pretty simple. After you’ve written your copy, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does the copy thoroughly explain who your organization is?
  2. Has it been carefully reviewed and edited by a minimum of four people in your organization?
  3. Do you like it?

Did you answer yes to any of these questions? Then I’m afraid your copy probably stinks.

Of course I say this with nothing but affection and respect for all the great organizations that deserve equally great fundraising communications. But let me tell you why your copy isn’t working on these fronts so that you can hit the ball out of the park, as you deserve to, with your next draft:

1. Effective direct response fundraising isn’t about your nonprofit’s interests. It’s about your donors’ interests. No one wants to have a conversation with the person at the party who only wants to talk about himself. Instead of being that “let’s talk about me” bore (i.e. the painstaking explanations of who you are and what you do), take a “let’s talk about you” approach toward your donors and talk about your mission from their perspective. You may be pleasantly surprised by how they respond.

2. Multiple editors drain the life out of copy. They strip personality, spontaneity and risk (the good kind) out of copy, leaving a truly awful string of weird clauses and bland institutional messaging behind. They also make you slow. An organization that can’t respond rapidly to breaking news because of unwieldy routing and approval processes can’t leverage current events in its fundraising efforts. If you want your direct response fundraising to be as strong and as timely as it can be, put your foot down and radically limit the number of people with editorial authority over your direct response copy. I assure you, you will find it liberating both in terms of process and your results.

3. It’s not important to write copy that you like; you need to write copy that your donors will respond to. If you can accomplish both, that’s great. But you should worry about your donors’ interests first (see #1 again), and check your personal likes at the door. In short, write for your donors, not for yourself.

So what now? If you find that you have strayed into the territory of bad direct response copy for any of these reasons, let me assure you, you will find it well traveled by pretty much everyone, actually. It’s just evidence that you are a human living in the real world.

But be brave! Consider it a reminder that GOOD direct response fundraising copy is worth standing up for, because your organization’s mission is too.



What’s the Right Cost Per Donor for Your Organization?


Most nonprofits acquire new donors at an up-front loss. In direct marketing terms, this loss is measured as “cost per donor.”

It’s an important value that represents an organization’s investment in new donors – what each new donor “costs.” Once acquired, the expectation is that the organization’s new donors will yield some return that exceeds the initial investment.

So what’s a “good” cost per donor? And what should your organization’s be?

Unfortunately I can’t tell you … because there’s no one answer. Acceptable cost per donor rates vary widely among organizations. And believe it or not, the lowest possible cost per donor isn’t even necessarily the best cost.

But you can determine your organization’s acceptable cost for new donors – by looking at your existing ones. Here are the things you need to consider:

How much do your donors give after you acquire them? There are many ways to examine this question, and donor lifetime value analysis can quickly become a complicated, caveat-riddled exercise. But one simple place to start is to isolate all the new donors your organization acquired in a single year, look at what it cost to acquire them and then look at how much subsequent net revenue they’ve generated.

Here’s a checklist for the data you need to pull:

worksheetAfter you’ve pulled this data, step back and look at how much you spent per donor on acquisition, and how much you netted per donor subsequently. I’ll come back to interpreting your findings in a moment, but there are a few other things you also need to consider:

How many of your donors eventually turn into major donors, and how much do they give? Your organization may pull major donors out of its regular membership or donor development program, but don’t forget to include them in your evaluation. After all, if you spent money to acquire a donor that eventually turned into a major donor, then their giving as a major donor is an important element to consider when setting an appropriate cost per donor threshold.

How many new donors seem to appear out of no where, making a gift to your website or sending a check though you don’t recall asking them? It’s not all concrete cause-and-effect in direct marketing. The public awareness cultivated by your donor acquisition program, your organization’s presence in the public eye, and your organization’s programs themselves will all contribute in immeasurable ways to your new donor acquisition results.

When you tally new donors acquired and measure their post-acquisition performance, don’t only look at donors acquired through directly attributable sources. Also include your newly acquired “no source” donors in your analysis, because while it may appear as if you didn’t do any work to acquire them, or they were “free,” you actually did do something to acquire them; you just can’t trace it.

Remember how you calculated cost per donor earlier by dividing your total acquisition cost by total number of new donors? Don’t forget to include your “no source” donors in this equation. When you do, you’ll see that your real cost per donor is a little lower than you thought.

How long does it take you to recover your initial acquistion investment? Six months, twelve months, eighteen months, more? Again, I can’t tell you the “right” amount of time it should take your organization to recover its initial acquisition cost. But you can find out what your organization’s current cost recovery time is, and factor it into your determination of acceptable cost per donor. Your organization may, for example, be willing to carry a lower initial acquisition cost longer than a higher one.

How does donor value vary by source? After you’ve considered all of these things, you can dig deeper if you’d like and compare your initial cost per donor and subsequent value by source (for example names you acquire at an event compared to the names you acquire through a particular mailing list). This can be helpful because sometimes donors with a higher up front cost per donor turn out to be more valuable over the long term than donors with a lower initial cost per donor.

Now what? Now that you’ve examined all of these things, and maybe some other considerations that came up during your analysis as they often do, what do you think of your cost per donor?

If you like what you see, great! You can tell your Board with confidence that your cost per donor of $ (fill in the blank) is appropriate based on the revenue your donors are generating post acquisition.

On the other hand, if you don’t like your cost per donor relative to the subsequent revenue they produce, the good news is you can do something about it.

You can always work on lowering your up front cost per donor. But more importantly, there’s nothing like a cold hard look at cost per donor and subsequent revenue to really drive home your responsibility to actively engage your organization’s new donors immediately and often post acquisition.

If you acquire new donors at some cost and they only hear back from your organization once a year, you certainly won’t achieve your full fundraising potential. You may not even recover your initial cost per donor investment. But if you are in touch with your donors often, via multiple channels, and with varied messages that aren’t always strictly about fundraising, your organization will undoubtedly enjoy the support of donors that are more engaged, more generous, and much more worth the initial investment to acquire them.

So as you set out to define the right cost per donor for your organization, remember that the most important factor in determining donor value is you.

Editor’s Note 9/6/16: This article was originally posted in 2011, but is even more relevant today as increasing proportions of donors who are motivated by direct mail give online. Trace the origins of your new donors carefully and follow their tracks through both on- and offline universes after their initial gift. Not only will your detective work help you evaluate your organization’s  true cost of new donor acquisition, but it will also give you insights on the relative roles of your fundraising and communications channels.



Let’s Reach for the Peak at the Bridge Conference!


Bridge 15


It’s almost here! The 10th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference kicks off Wednesday July 8.

As Co-Chair of this year’s conference along with Deborah Peeples, and humble witness to the extraordinary talent of the committee volunteers and speakers that make Bridge possible, I can assure you there’s no end to the insights you’ll gain, connections you’ll make, and new ideas you will discover at Bridge.

To make sure you get the most out of your conference this year, be sure to peruse the schedule in advance to plan your Bridge expedition. Not sure where to begin? No sweat! Here are 10 things you can do with us to reach spectacular heights at Bridge.

1. Get the App! Simply search “BridgeConf” in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Download it on your iPhone or Droid, and you’ll unlock your own virtual Bridge Sherpa to help you plan and navigate your sessions and connect with other conference adventurers.

2. Attend the keynote sessions. I’ll be blunt: You will not hear more powerful, relevant, smart, thought-provoking speakers at any professional conference you’ll attend this year, and possibly ever. In fact, we went a little overboard this year to bring you three extraordinary industry thought leaders and doers—an unparalleled lineup in the history of Bridge.

3. Step outside your comfort zone. Bridge is the time and place to stretch and learn new things. Challenge yourself to:

• Meet 10 new people.
• Discover 10 new ideas.
• Take 10 minutes to explore a new product in the Solutions Showcase.

4. Sharpen your Excel skills. If you’ve ever found yourself swearing your way through pivot tables, conditional format formulas or data filters, then drop in to the Popup Excel Classroom in the Solutions Showcase. Sessions will run throughout the day, every hour on the hour, and there’s no need to pre-register.

5. Strike up a conversation in the Solutions Showcase Smorgasbord. That’s right, with over 100 specialists in essential nonprofit services, the exhibit hall offers a BOUNTY of expert solutions to your organization’s needs—plus ways to improve your marketing and fundraising efforts that you may not have even considered. Launch an expedition to the Solutions Showcase and you’ll be glad you did.

6. Beat a path to the sessions! This year’s conference features 77 breakout sessions from leaders in the field, expertly curated by Bridge Conference Education Co-Chairs Angela Struebing and Julie Carter, along with a dozen ridiculously talented track deans. The only downside of having so many amazing sessions is you can’t attend them all. But not to worry! You can download the presentations you missed by logging in at the Bridge Conference website.

7. Get lucky … at the lunchtime prize drawings. If a fabulous lunch and the company of your colleagues isn’t enough incentive already to be there, keep these six words in mind: you must be present to win. Geoff Peters took home a Jetpack in last year’s raffle.*

8. Tune in on Twitter. The Twitter feed at Bridge is a lively and, at times, irreverent pipeline to breakthrough tests, strategies that moved the dial, food for thought, and more. Hear what people are saying and join the conversation at #Bridge15 and by following @bridgeconf.

9. Pack a sweater. Our fantastic conference center works hard to keep 1,700+ Bridge adventurers comfortable at all times (no small task in DC in July!). But sometimes we are a little, shall we say, overzealous in the endeavor. Stash a light sweater in your conference tote and you’ll be equipped to reach for the peak no matter what climate conditions you encounter in your ascent.

10. Have fun! Most of all, enjoy yourself! Revel in the company of your tribe. Pick up a souvenir in the Solutions Showcase. Step out with friends to ride the Ferris wheel. Oh, and be sure to mark your calendar for July 13-15 2016 to take it to 11 with us!

Can’t wait to see you soon!


*Okay, Geoff did not really win a Jetpack at Bridge. But we do have a a very sharp looking Kindle Fire and half a dozen other excellent raffle prizes this year.



In Fundraising, Beauty is Results


Like “make it bigger” in graphic design, good direct response fundraisers are well served by a refrain of our own:

“Make it plainer.”

It’s counterintuitive like so much of direct response fundraising, but it couldn’t be truer. In head-to-head tests, the simplest, least “fancy” email/direct mail/web campaigns almost always win.

Like this envelope, for example …


… which drove better results than this one:


Or this email …



… which generated 4 times the results of its more visually attractive counterparts.

Susan Paine of Human Rights Campaign hit the nail on the head a few years ago when she said, “If you love it, it will fail.” If your direct response creation is exceptionally pretty and colorful … if you find yourself dismissing possible strategic changes to it because they might sully the perfect design symmetry or a poetic turn of phrase … if you’re really in to how radically “different” it is … then you have probably veered into dangerous territory, and your results are at risk.

Keep your eyes wide open and see those ugly direct response ducklings for what they really are: imminent beauty, imminent results.



Inspiration, Bloody Marys and other Takeaways from the 2014 Bridge Conference


Hats off to the DMAW and AFP-DC for another stellar Bridge Conference. Kicking off with pre-conference workshops and the Maxi Awards on Wednesday July 9, through 70+ presentations Thursday and Friday, through the powerful closing session from the founder of Free the Children, #Bridge14 delivered 3 days of nonstop information and inspiration.

What happens when you get 1,700 nonprofit do-gooder marketing types together?

1. Steve Nardizzi from the Wounded Warrior Project tears into charity ratings watchdogs calling them out as “ineffective and misinformed” at best and at worst “outright misleading to the public.”

2.We soak up everything we can on on the how and why of monthly giving from Erica Waasdorp, the Red Cross, Defenders of Wildlife and others.

3. Paralyzed Veterans of America shares compelling case studies in giving their program a digital facelift.

4. Catholic Relief Services and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation boldly share their “Oh %@*#***!” direct marketing mishap moments, and how they turned those occasional lemons into lemonade.

5. We get Bloody Marys from Madeline Stanionis! And a song from Marc Ruben! Plus a wealth of digital testing data and their online expertise.

6. The Nature Conservancy and Lambda Legal fill us in on the vast, and still largely untapped potential of face-to-face fundraising, including pretty compelling stats on acquisition costs and retention.

7. Over 100 Bridge Conference volunteers see to the quality of the educational content, help us find Baltimore 3, give us advice on sessions to attend, and take care of approximately 1,000 other things to help us get the most out of the conference.

8. American Farmland Trust along with John Graves and Alia McKee, remind us that donors aren’t ATM’s and show us how to really care for and cultivate our contributors.

9. Scores of talented, passionate, dedicated fundraisers generously share case studies and expertise in their organizations’ development programs for the benefit of all of us attending, and the work of our nonprofits.

10. And at the end of the whole thing, Craig Keilburger of Free the Children makes us cry, think about what the heck WE were all doing at age 12 (he was fighting to free children from poverty and exploitation internationally), and re-inspires us to go back to our desks on Monday and work harder than ever to change the world.

I have always wished the excitement and inspiration of Bridge didn’t have to end after 3 days. Turns out, I’ve found a way to make it last year round: as Co-Chair of the 2015 Bridge Conference.

Along with Deborah Peeples of the Alliance for Justice, we’re already getting started on #Bridge15. If you’d like to get involved, sign up to volunteer. If you’ve got expertise and case studies to share, keep an eye out for our Call for Papers next month. And if you have ideas for the conference or just want to shoot the breeze about Bridge, drop me a line. I can’t wait to see you at #Bridge15!




Habits of Nonprofits with Highly Successful Direct Response Fundraising Programs


Having a relevant mission that people want to support is the #1 prerequisite for direct response fundraising success. But it’s not the only one. In fact, it’s not even the most important one when it comes to dollars raised. So why do some nonprofits sail to success in their direct response fundraising efforts when others with equally compelling causes struggle just to leave the dock?

Simple: culture.

How a nonprofit thinks, acts and operates has everything to do with the ultimate effectiveness of its direct response fundraising efforts. What can your nonprofit do to be more effective? Consider these habits of nonprofits with highly successful direct response programs:

  1. Nonprofits with highly successful direct response programs have rapid and uncomplicated approval processes.
  2. They have experienced staff and they empower them with meaningful decision-making authority.
  3. Their leadership is accessible and supportive of their direct response program.
  4. They stay abreast of industry trends and invest in ongoing professional education for their direct response team.
  5. Their development, communications and program departments actually like one another and work well together.
  6. They keep a close rein on their budget.
  7. They test. A lot.
  8. They have strong database management and analytics capacity.
  9. They hire good consultants or in-house direct response teams and they listen to them. Most of the time.
  10. They have informed expectations for their direct response programs.
  11. They are also ambitious. They take calculated risks and they never stop challenging themselves to do better.
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10 Ways to Improve Your Email Fundraising NOW

With online giving continuing to grow at a faster pace than giving overall according to the Blackbaud Index, it’s more important than ever for nonprofits to get serious about their online communications and fundraising strategies. And with one-third of online revenue being tracked to email according to the organizations represented in the newly released 2013 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, it’s absolutely essential for nonprofits to develop and sharpen their email strategies. Whether you’re just getting started or want to build on an established program, here are ten best practices in email fundraising that can help you improve your results right away:

1. Use deadlines. Deadlines and goals are very effective motivators for giving in general, and particularly in email fundraising. In the same way that public radio fundraising thrives on goals and the ability to convey on-the-air updates on those goals, email fundraising permits regular updates with increasing urgency and reminders that can be uniquely motivating to constituents.

2. Use NEAR-TERM deadlines. Email is the fruit fly of direct response fundraising. Everything is short-lived. While a direct mail appeal may continue to return over 6+ weeks, email drives giving for only about 24 hours. In the same vein, next to giving on the first day a deadline is announced via email, most donors will elect to give on the final day, even in the final hours, before a deadline when they are reminded via email. Thirty days is an eternity in email fundraising. Generally, you should plan to set deadlines for email campaigns in the 10- to 15-day range, and make sure you send at least one reminder on the final day of the campaign, if not several as the clock runs out.


3. Think multi-notice campaigns. No matter how great your emails are, an individual email message may generate a response rate that’s 10-20 times lower than a direct mail effort. Email fundraising works best when a campaign goal/message is conveyed through multiple email messages under a unified campaign umbrella over a concentrated period of time. Much like a direct mail membership renewal series, multi-part email campaigns make the case for support for a single theme or purpose via multiple varied messages and reminders. A single email fundraising campaign, for example, may be comprised of 3-10+ email messages depending on the time of year and the organization’s email communications program.

4. Don’t ask for money every time you email. In fact, don’t even consider launching an email fundraising program until you have a solid email communications program in place. Capture your constituents’ hearts and engage their brains with a steady stream of informative communications that share your organization’s issues and work BEFORE you ask. As a rule of thumb, for every one fundraising email you send, you should be sending at least three varied, program-related communications as part of a larger communications plan and strategy. Think trust and interest first; giving second.

5. A.B.T. (Always Be Testing). Email is incredibly fickle. A format or subject line style that works one month can’t necessarily be successfully replicated the next. “Hey,” may have been the breakout subject line for the Obama campaign this past fall, but that didn’t mean they could go out a week later with something like “Whoa” (hypothetically) and necessarily expect the same success. You can’t be sure of much in email – but fortunately you can test the waters easily. Always plan to test at least two (and usually more) elements of each email (subject line, header, callout box, sender, graphics, layout, etc.) among a small subset of your file, then roll out with the best email to the rest of the file once you have enough returns to pick a winner, usually in a couple of hours.

Barack Obama campaign subject lines

6. When it comes to subject lines, think personal and pithy (for now). Back to #5, what’s true today may not be true tomorrow, so testing is essential. But that said, colloquial, indirect subject lines generally command the strongest open rates and often the most revenue. For example, in head-to-head testing, a stiff subject line with leading caps such as “Campaign Deadline Tonight” will almost always lose to a simpler, more casual subject line approach such as “6 hours left.”

7. Write emails worth reading. Realize that yours are among many messages interrupting your constituents’ lives every time you email. Not just on their desktops at work or laptops at home, but also – even more intrusively – in their pockets when they’re out to dinner with friends, on the playground with their kids, out shopping for groceries, and so on. That’s not a reason to email less though. It’s a reason to make each and every email worth reading and relevant.

8. Segment your audiences. To be relevant (N.B. #7), make sure you are able to segment your email audiences – at a minimum – by 1) state, city or region, 2) past email responses (opens, clicks, actions taken), and 3) giving (donor vs. non-donor). For example, if there are legislative/policy issues meaningful to your organization that are taking place in a specific state, you should be able to talk to your constituents in that state about those issues. Or at times you may want to tightly target messages that ask constituents to take action to those who have already taken action. And you certainly want to be able to adapt your messaging appropriately for donors vs. not-yet-donors. Your ability (or not) to segment your audience and tailor your messages accordingly has a direct effect on your fundraising potential.

9. Register, subscribe and give. One of the best ways to get email ideas is to get a lot of emails. Sign up for organizations’ email lists for inspiration and ideas – and be sure to convey your thanks and recognize their work by giving when you can.

10. Send emails, not “e-blasts.” I’ll never forget attending a copywriting workshop many years ago in which the direct mail fundraising pioneer Kay Lautman urged us to elevate the medium and not think of our work as “direct mail” but instead think of it as “writing letters.” Her point was that letters are real, considerate communications rooted in respect and trust between the sender and the reader – and that’s the way you should approach any letter, whether it’s to 1 person or 100,000. Direct mail, if you think of it as merely that, is junk. The same holds true with email. “E-blasts” are the junk mail of today – and is that really what you want to send to your very important donors and constituents? Besides, donors respond better to emails that are personal, carefully considered, and stem from a real foundation of trust and respect.

So, do you have any tips to add? I hope you’ll share them in the comments section below! And if you’re not in Minneapolis for the Nonprofit Technology Conference which kicks off Thursday April 11, you can still sign up to attend online and follow #13NTC on Twitter for great insights on online giving and digital donor communications.



A Common Sense Declaration … Or Why Thomas Paine Would Not Have Survived the Copy Approval Process

In January 1776, Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, was first published. It’s reported to have sold 500,000 copies in its first year. Considering that the population of the 13 colonies was around 3,000,000, a book would need to sell over 50,000,000 copies (or downloads) to reach the equivalent percentage of Americans today.

Commemorating the publication’s anniversary in The Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor recently wrote that Common Sense “explained why the American colonies should declare independence from Great Britain. It was easy to understand, it was popular, and it rallied a lot of people for the revolutionary cause who had not been involved before they read it.”

Mr. Paine had a talent for conveying complex ideas plainly and convincingly to people who were barely literate. In his introduction to another of Paine’s works, The Rights of Man, Howard Fast describes how: “[Thomas Paine] simplified by going directly to the heart of the matter, to the crux of the issue, not by writing in pidgin English.” (Emphasis mine.)

Common Sense certainly wasn’t edited by committee, as happens to so much of today’s fundraising copy. Brand consistency obscures the heart of the matter. Reviewer after review buries the crux of the issue under soulless organization-speak. In other words, there’s a lot of pidgin English out there.

With the pressure of deadlines and schedules, it’s tempting to give in to – rather than challenge – edits that weaken strong copy. I’ve been there. As a client, I’ve needed to have specific sentences approved by fellow staff members and volunteers. (Yes, volunteers.) As a consultant, I’ve dreaded the email with a word document attached, tracked-changed within an inch of its life, and sympathized with my frustrated client.

But by letting these edits through, we are doing a disservice to our causes. Every dollar lost from a watered-down appeal is less money for hungry children, abused animals, human rights, cultural institutions…. The list goes on.

Let’s make a Common Sense declaration. With Mr. Payne’s persuasive rallying cry as inspiration, let’s all resolve to fight for the appeals that we know will raise the most money. Of course, not every edit is worth going to the carpet for. So let’s pick our battles accordingly, pushing back on changes to leads, the ask, the P.S. and key transitional sections. We must defend powerful words and phrases that evoke, not tell, the story against dry language that could have been pulled from a foundation proposal.

Consultants: let’s be mindful of the challenges our clients face during the approval process, and arm them with facts and test results they can use to build bridges with their colleagues in programs, marketing, and other departments. No, none of this is easy. The conversations will be difficult; some even may be risky. But we owe it to the causes we are so passionate about.

Hey, Common Sense rallied a bunch of scrappy colonists to unite against – and beat – Great Britain. Surely we can fight against soul-numbing boilerplate and passive voice.

Bonnie CatenaOur guest blogger, Bonnie Catena, Principal, Catena Connects, provides integrated fundraising consulting services to nonprofit organizations, including direct response program management, copywriting, and program and creative audits. Follow Bonnie on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.



Branding + Direct Response Fundraising = Love, Actually

Jack Lemmon Pointing At Walter Matthau

Much has been said about the tension between good nonprofit marketing & communications and good direct response fundraising. Good nonprofit marcom thrives on brand consistency; good direct response thrives on brand inconsistency.

But when you get right down to it, good nonprofit branding/marcom is actually an essential prerequisite to good direct response fundraising.

That’s because an organization must have a clear sense of self to communicate effectively. A strong voice, confident look and feel, a structured communications program, clarity on priority messages, a personality…. These are all things that come out of good marcom – not direct response – and get better defined over time.

If they’re any good, your organization’s direct response staff or agency will lobby to break from all that at times for better direct response results. They’ll argue for less perfect and more human. But rest assured, they only want to depart from brand technically. Agents of good direct response are deeply loyal to true brand.

In fact, we are lost without it.

So if you want your direct response fundraising to thrive, begin with a well developed brand. Then break it, but not really.



4 Reasons Your Nonprofit Needs a Monthly Giving Program

At the DMA Washington Nonprofit Conference earlier this month, I got the chance to speak about one of our favorite things – monthly giving.

Yet from some corners, I still heard this:

How did you convince your [board / boss / staff ] to invest in monthly giving?

For sure, monthly giving isn’t always easy. It takes an additional investment of time to implement a monthly giving program, to ensure gifts are processed correctly, to report on and fully understand your program metrics. But despite the challenges, your organization can’t afford to ignore it. Here’s why …

1. This is the donor climate we’re all working in …


Source: Target Analytics donorCentrics™ Index of National Fundraising Performance.

For years now, the universe of donors has been shrinking, and the number of new donors has been declining even faster. Although this trend was certainly not improved by the recent recession, declines in donor numbers began as early as 2005 and there’s no strong evidence that we’ll soon see a dramatic turnaround in this trend.

2. At the same time, we’re seeing more and more donors acquired online. While there are some benefits to online donors – they’re often younger, richer and give bigger gifts – donors acquired online are harder to retain, even controlling for age and income level.


Source: 2011 donorCentrics™ Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report

Together, the picture that emerges is that it is harder than ever to get new donors … and harder than ever to hold on to those new donors.

As development professionals, our mandate is two-fold: to do whatever we can to retain donors, and focus on upgrading donors to higher levels of support, so that as we’re spending more on those ever-harder-to-acquire donors, we can be sure that our investment will pay off.

And this is exactly where monthly giving can help.

3. Monthly giving improves retention. Although rates vary by organization, retention for one-time donors is around 41%. In contrast, retention of monthly givers is 70% to 80%. Acquire a prospect as a monthly donor, or convert a new donor to a monthly donor, and you’ve immediately improved your long-term expectations.

4. Monthly giving will upgrade donors.  Consider the following example …

One-Time / Monthly Comparison

We’d all be thrilled to have the donor on the left on our file; she’s a dedicated supporter who makes nice gifts several times a year. Yet by accepting a far smaller monthly contribution, we can increase this donor’s value by $85 annually – a more than 48% increase.

So next time someone asks if you think your organization can afford to do monthly giving, ask the opposite – can you afford NOT to?

Stay tuned! Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sharing the seven steps your organization needs to consider to start – or improve – your monthly giving program. Many thanks once again to Matthew Rojas of Lambda Legal and Sanaya Kaufman of Friends of the High Line who joined me to talk about monthly giving at the 2013 Washington Nonprofit Conference and so generously shared their time and expertise!