Best practices for recognizing, thanking and retaining monthly donors

Blog post by Erica Waasdorp

This is probably one of the most common questions I get whenever I’m presenting a webinar or an in-person session or workshop: “How do I best recognize, thank, cultivate and retain my monthly donors?” 

That’s why I’ve put together some common best practices. Of course, every organization is different, but most of these are very easy to implement. They don’t cost a lot of money and certainly they don’t take up a lot of your time. 

The more you can do and prepare before you launch your next monthly donor appeal, the better off you are. 

Here are three very important things to remember:  

  1. The more you do in the Recognition, Thanking and Cultivation stage, the higher your monthly donor Retention. They all play a major role in your monthly donor retention process. Sooner is always better. 
  2. Test your processes. If your ‘system’ generates thank you emails and a thank you landing page, make sure you test those first to verify that they look exactly the way you want them to look and it has the information on it the donor needs. You don’t want the donor to have questions when they get their first receipt. 
  3. Know what your ‘system’ does. Will it send out automatic receipts every month when the donor’s card is charged or will you be able to suppress those and send something else, warmer and fuzzier, instead? 

Now that we’ve established this…

Let’s look at some best practices when it comes to Recognition, Thanking and Cultivation. 

  1. No matter how the monthly donor joined your program, send a hard copy thank you letter right away. 

That means, even if the donor came in online, send a letter. Even if the donor called in with their monthly gift, send a letter. 

In this hard copy thank you letter, indicate the ‘promises’ you’re going to make to those monthly donors. Don’t overpromise. Only promise those things you’re certain you’ll be able to execute, no matter how busy it gets in your office or your organization. 

I recommend you let the donor know they can expect to receive updates from you about how their gifts are making a difference. You don’t need to be too specific here. I’d rather you keep it vague than that you promise they’ll get quarterly newsletters if you’re not sure you can pull that off.  

I also recommend you let the donor know they will NOT receive monthly thank you letters in the mail, but rather one tax letter in January with an overview of all their donations for the calendar year. 

Make it easy for the monthly donor to contact you if they have questions. They will but that’s totally fine. Include your name (or someone you’ve designated who will handle these letters and is committed to the program) and make sure to include a phone number and an email address. Monthly donors who are engaged stay! 

  1. Create a name for the program for further cultivation and recognition

…but don’t go ‘nuts’ over it. Don’t spend months worrying about it. Don’t use the words legacy, society, but pretty much everything else is fair game. 

If you don’t have a name yet, organize a little brainstorm session. Get together for half an hour with a few people, maybe you, a colleague, a donor, a volunteer, a client, brainstorm and write down some names for a loyal donor program. Then come up with a shortlist of 2 or 3, use the name in a sentence and make sure it flows and sounds well. Then choose one and move on. Don’t worry too much about making a fancy logo, just use something that’s easy to use on a lasered thank you letter and for future reference, in email thank yous, your web sites etc. 

  1. Keep the Monthly Giving benefits simple. 

You really don’t need a lot. Monthly donors give monthly because they want to support you and the clients/individuals/animals you serve. 

They don’t typically give monthly because they get something in return (unless you’ve trained them to do so). Don’t hold up the program because you feel you must have an extensive benefits package. As mentioned earlier, letting the donor know they’ll receive updates and a tax letter in January are already great benefits. You can always add things later as you develop the program further or if you see something a long-term monthly donor may wish to hear or see. 

  1. Call the monthly donor to say thank you, no matter the amount. 

If you can talk to the donor live, ask him or her why they’re giving monthly. If you like what you hear, ask the donor if you can use their message to reach out to other potential monthly donors. 

This is also a good time to find out the donor’s birthday or a special day. You can then update your donor base with that information. Trust me, you’ll use it!

  1. Create a special flagging or selection convention in your database

…so you can send customized emails with a special thank you for their monthly gifts at every opportunity. 

It’s important to let the donor know that you know that they are giving monthly. 

  1. Think of something surprising during the year. 

This can be something your major gift department is doing that could work well for this group of committed monthly donors. It could also be something as simple as a card for a special occasion. 

A birthday card is special, but you can certainly do a valentine’s day card, Easter, Passover and of course Thanksgiving, Christmas or Holiday card, depending upon what you know about your monthly donor.  And if your organization has a special meaningful day (for example for environmental organizations, this could be Earth Day), you can send a card to your donors with a special thank you for their ongoing monthly support. 

  1. If you have a print newsletter include your monthly donors.

 If you have an email newsletter, also include your monthly donors, with that special intro I just mentioned. 

  1. Do give monthly donors opportunities to make an extra gift. 

Look at your overall communication schedule and see which appeals make most sense. Then include your monthly donors in your personal note group or add a special lasered message with again that recognition of their ongoing support. 

If you’re sending one or two appeals a year to your other donors now, include your monthly donors.  If you’re sending four or more, pick the ones that you know are most successful. Most likely one in the spring and your year end. 

Absolutely continue to keep your monthly donors in your email list and do include them in your Giving Tuesday (or other giving day) messaging and include them in your year-end messaging. 

  1. Send a thank you video in an email. 

Video is always great so look at some of your footage. Maybe you already have some video from an event, or your executive director has created a thank you video for another purpose. Then send that in an email.  Just because you care. Just because we appreciate your support as a monthly donor. 

Depending upon your cause, there may be other things you can do and use. For example, if you’re an animal organization, you may have some video footage of cute animals. If you want ideas, I recommend signing up for the Best Friends Animal Society emails or the ASPCA and you’ll get lots of great ideas in your inbox. 

There are also some ways to make highly personalized (with the donor’s name) thank you videos now that use existing footage. Check out thankview or causevid. 

Simple changes make a big difference to your Monthly Donors

All the things you do should fit in with everything else you’re already doing. I’m not asking you to make major changes but rather just tweak or make a version to accommodate your monthly donors and make them feel special. 

It’s about realizing that your monthly donors are some of your best donors. If you start off your relationship right with your recognition for when they join, and throughout their lifetime, you can be guaranteed to keep more of your monthly donors. 

Click Here To View All Upcoming Webinars From Erica Waasdorp And Learn All The Ins And Outs Of Monthly Giving For Your Nonprofit!

About The Author

Building partnerships and trying to find the best solution for donors and her clients are what Erica Waasdorp does best.

Her multi-lingual skills and multi-cultural experience bring added value to those clients interested in raising money internationally. And her experience in monthly giving has given her an edge for those clients who are ready to embark on this way of giving.

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