I Could Be Your Next Monthly Donor. So Call Me, Maybe?

Co-authors: Liz Ertner, M+R Strategic Services; Amanda Clayton, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); Annalise Briggs, Mercy Corps

Monthly sustaining donors…they’re the best! Stable, reliable, predictable, rain or shine. What’s not to freaking love? Of course, you want ’em. But how do you get ’em? How do you convince your one-time givers to take the plunge and make that long-term commitment?

Two great organizations, Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Corps, have spent years figuring out how to recruit, retain, and upgrade monthly donors. Here are a few quick tips for getting those donors to take your relationship to the next level by joining your monthly sustainer program:

  • Send several emails over one to two weeks. Just like most one-time giving campaigns, sending multiple messages in a short period of time with a clear campaign goal and deadline is the best bet for converting new sustainers from your online file.
  • Use the news. Not surprisingly, we found that leveraging news stories and topical appeals helped drastically increase the response rate for our email invite series. This can be applied to telemarketing scripts too – a strong institutional ask should be at the heart of it, but highlighting the (real and newsworthy) current crisis or issue works. It’s a good idea to review and update the scripts for every round of calling to make sure it’s timely.
  • Try offering a matching gift.  Matching gifts always lend urgency and a very real deadline to your email campaign. Try offering to match not only the first monthly gift, but also the first three months, or even the full year.
  • Experiment with audience size. Every organization has it’s “sweet spot” – that group of people who are most likely to convert to monthly donors. Try widening your net for your email and telemarketing appeals and then hone in on those with the best response rate. Likely targets include new and recent donors, recent online prospects, donors who give multiple gifts over multiple years and lapsed sustainers.
  • Don’t wait too long to call. Recency practically always matters! And, Doctors Without Borders found that recency is the key driver for sustainer conversion over the phone. They moved from calling people within 3-4 months of making their first one-time gift to calling them 0-2 months out.
  • Follow-up big one-time campaigns with sustainer asks on the phones. This works especially well when you’ve just had an influx of new one-time donors for an emergency campaign, but it should also be considered for a standard quarterly fundraising campaign.
  • Consider follow-up emails after your phone calls. So you get them on the phone, but they aren’t ready to commit? Mercy Corps found that sending a short and quick follow-up email can sometimes seal the deal. Not only does it help with conversion but those donors who “refused” by phone signed up through the follow-up email. Check with your telemarketing vendor to see if they can easily and quickly send out emails to all those who hedge, pledge, and refuse to help with conversion and cultivation. However, if getting the data and launching the follow-up emails will take a lot of time and effort on your end, it may not be worth the lift you’ll see.
  • Let your one-time donors upgrade themselves! Consider launching a monthly upsell lightbox. Once someone makes a one-time donation on your website, a box will pop up into their web browser and ask if they’d like to make a monthly gift instead. If they select “No thanks”, you still have their one-time gift, and if they go for it, you’ve just converted a brand new sustainer.

Don’t miss our session at the 2013 Nonprofit Technology Conference where pros at Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Corps, and M+R will provide advice for online and offline sustainer conversion, including:

  • More tips to grow your sustainer base;
  • Specifics on what target audiences worked, and who was a waste of time and money;
  • How to keep & upgrade the monthly donors you already have.

Co-authors: Liz Ertner, M+R Strategic Services; Amanda Clayton, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF); Annalise Briggs, Mercy Corps

Amanda Clayton
Integrated Marketing Manager
Doctors Without Borders