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Donor Participation Project Resources

Monthly Giving: All or Nothing

Nicole Stern, membership director at WDSE WRPT Public Television joined the Donor Participation Project to share her knowledge of monthly giving fundraising.

Monthly Giving with Nicole Stern, membership director at WDSE WRPT Public Television

What is monthly giving?

Monthly giving, also called sustainer giving or recurring giving, consists of setting up an automatically renewing monthly gift to a nonprofit. It is the equivalent of a subscription.

What are the benefits of monthly giving for nonprofits?

Monthly donors have both a higher retention rate as well as a higher lifetime value. Over time, these two facts compound to create important positive effects on the revenue available to fulfill your mission as well as your donor engagement efforts.

How can I start a monthly giving program?

You must embrace monthly giving as a new of doing business for your annual fund.

Simply adding a checkbox under an existing online form is not enough. You must make it clear in all your outreach efforts (digital, mail, phone) that monthly giving is the default and best way to make a gift to your organization.

Won’t monthly giving preclude me from requesting higher gifts from loyal donors?

On the contrary, monthly donors are especially receptive to upgrade asks as well as to planned giving conversations. An established monthly giving program also frees up resources that you can invest in improved stewardship and more donor engagement.

How hard is it to start a monthly giving program?

These are the areas you need to pay attention to if you want to start a monthly giving program:

  • Executive buy-in. Use the data in the presentation above to make your case. A full re-orientation of your annual fund to monthly giving will require changes in all your operations and in your cash flow.
  • Gift processing. Monthly gifts turn one gift processing transaction into twelve. Fields may need to be added to code the gifts. For example, storing the credit card expiration date in your CRM can help you get ahead of credit card renewals.
  • Digital communications. Your main gift form will need to make it clear that monthly giving is the default and most convenient way to give.
  • Branding the program. Many organizations give a name to their monthly giving program (Sustainer Circle, Evergreen, etc.) to make it clear that this is something special.

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Donor Participation Project Resources

Growing Donor Engagement Among Underrepresented Groups

Our second Donor Participation Project meeting was about increasing representation and diversity in our donor populations.

Guided by Patrick Powell, CFRE, MBA, we had a lively conversation and learned a lot.

You can read and contribute to the session notes in this Google Doc.

Additional insights:

There was a common preconception in the industry: “It is going to take you so much longer to get a gift from a non-white donor.”

As soon as I made it my intention to build relationships with Black donors, in that same year I raised close to $250k from 2-3 donors.

It was about: 1) Getting in front of them to let them know that they were important to the institution, regardless of race or color, and that we recognize that they are making an impact and are making a difference as graduates; 2) Letting them know that we want to connect them and get them involved in whatever way is important to them; and 3) Asking them how do they want to put their stamp on an institution where, if they didn’t feel connected, we have a whole group of students who we don’t want to go through the same experience. Tell them, “You have the ability to change that.”

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Dealing with Conflict

Situations of conflict with our donors and community members can lead to positive outcomes as long as appropriate conflict resolution skills are utilized. And yet, fundraisers and nonprofit organizations tend to avoid them.

As an experienced fundraiser once told me:

I’ll take a strong reaction, even if it is negative, over apathy any day.

Major Gifts Fundraiser

Lead with Active Listening and Empathy

Who are the experts in de-escalating highly agitated situations and lead them to constructive and safe outcomes? Even if your community members are probably not going to be physically violent, the techniques and research generated by the FBI can be helpful.

The Behavior Change Stairway Model was developed by the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit. This model offers five steps to get other people to see your point of view and change their behavior.

You can read the full paper here:

From Stanford’s Game Design Thinking blog

Behavioral Change Stairway Model

  1. Active Listening: Truly listen and make the other party aware that you’re listening.
  2. Empathy: Understand their position not only intellectually, but also emotionally. What are they feeling?
  3. Rapport: One the other party starts to feel that you understand them. Trust starts to build here.
  4. Influence: At this point, you can start to work on problem-solving with them. They may listen to your recommended course of action.
  5. Behavioral Change: They act.

Common Errors

Typically, people try to start directly with #4 (Influence) and expect #5 (Behavioral Change) to happen. This often leads to failure.

Going into a conflict-laden conversation saying “these are the reasons why your position is wrong” is unlikely to cause any behavioral change because human beings are primarily emotional.

Pretending that most people are completely rational will, more often than not, make your conversation fail.

Active Listening Techniques

General tips from Eric Barker’s blog:

  1. Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”
  2. Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”
  3. Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.
  4. Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.

Additional techniques used by FBI negotiators:

  1. Ask open-ended questions
    You don’t want yes-no answers, you want them to open up.
  1. Effective pauses
    Pausing is powerful. Use it for emphasis, to encourage someone to keep talking or to defuse things when people get emotional.
  1. Minimal encouragers
    Brief statements to let the person know you’re listening and to keep them talking.
  1. Mirroring
    Repeating the last word or phrase the person said to show you’re listening and engaged. Yes, it’s that simple — just repeat the last word or two:
  1. Paraphrasing
    Repeating what the other person is saying back to them in your own words. This powerfully shows you really do understand and aren’t merely parroting.
  1. Emotional labeling
    Give their feelings a name. It shows you’re identifying with how they feel. Don’t comment on the validity of the feelings — they could be totally crazy — but show them you understand.

Donor Conflict Resources

Never Split the Difference, book by Chris Voss

Vecchi, Gregory M. “Conflict & crisis communication: a methodology for influencing and persuading behavioral change.” Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, vol. 12, no. 1, Spring 2009, p. 34+. Accessed 12 Sept. 2020.

Vecchi, G.M., Van Hasselt, V.B. and Romano, S.J., 2005. Crisis (hostage) negotiation: Current strategies and issues in high-risk conflict resolution. Aggression and Violent Behavior10(5), pp.533-551.

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Donor Participation Project Resources

Donor Participation Project Kickoff: How We Gather Report

Angie Thurston of Sacred Design joined a group of fundraisers as part of the Donor Participation Project to discuss the implications of the How We Gather report for nonprofit engagement and donor participation.

The document below summarizes the main points discussed:

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Resources

Should we have suggested donation amounts?

Question from a reader:

This discussion came up, and I was hoping you may be able to direct me to some resources I can share with her to make the internal case for ask amounts in appeals. Thanks for anything you can pass along!

I have a difficult time convincing that specific ask amounts work. Am I completely off base?

Including a suggested ask amount is considered a fundraising best practice. As such, it’s included in the fundraising letter checklist.

There is scientific research that shows that including a suggested donation amount gets more people to give. They also tend to give the amount you suggest.

References:

Edwards, J. T., & List, J. A. (2014). Toward an understanding of why suggestions work in charitable fundraising: Theory and evidence from a natural field experiment. Journal of Public Economics114, 1-13.

Goswami, I., & Urminsky, O. (2016). When should the ask be a nudge? The effect of default amounts on charitable donations. Journal of Marketing Research53(5), 829-846.

Reiley, D., & Samek, A. (2017). Round giving: A field experiment on suggested charitable donation amounts in public television. University of Southern California working paper.

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Donor Participation Project Resources

How to Grow Giving Participation

I recently shared a list of US higher ed institutions with a high growth rate. Specifically, alumni giving participation growth between 2009 and 2019.

My team and I have been interviewing the top 10 in the nation. This varied list includes Ellon University, Villanova University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Princeton University. Here is what we’re learning:

Donor growth is (one of) the VPs personal priorities

Growing organizations have the unit in charge of growing this metric (typically “Annual Giving” or “Annual Giving and Alumni Engagement”) reporting directly to them.

They act like “community incubators”

A “community incubator” is a term I created to describe organizations that are constantly generating different engagement opportunities for their donor base. “It’s a volume business,” one of the growing org VPs shared with us.

None of the schools told us that they had just grown and grown their existing engagement opportunities (i.e. reunion program, alumni board) to reach their ambitious growth goals.

Instead, they told us that they were constantly innovating and finding new segments and designing engagement opportunities for these constituencies: primary care physicians, alumni business owner marketplace, athletics-focused groups, the list goes on and on.

They do not shy away from transactional exchanges

All the growing schools embraced the fact that, at times, people will just “give to get.”

What they get can vary from access (“dinner with the president”) to simple incentives and promo items in the public radio-style, or simply satisfaction (“the 100th gift will unlock $10,000 to a specific program!”). Often, this is done to promote first, second, and third gifts.

Intensive use of incentives, challenges, and matches are an integral part of all of these programs.

They make recurring gifts easy and emphasize this way of giving wherever possible

They all have robust offerings and streamlined systems for monthly giving and multi-year pledges that you can make online, on the phone, or by mail.

They experiment and change their org chart based on priorities and team strengths

If they’re convinced that annual giving and engagement are two parts of the same coin, they will put them together in the same department. If they believe that a certain area needs more attention, they will have it report directly to the VP. If they believe that this is no longer the case, they will change the org chart again.

Stagnation and rigidity are not part of the vocabulary at any of these organizations.

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Emotion-Based Fundraising May Not Work In the Long Run

This article is not about fundraising and yet it answers some good fundraising questions.

An article on behavioralscientist.org on why behaviors based on emotions do not last.

Why giving days and other giving events work and why they sometimes struggle to retain the new donors they generate.

Why the design of your gift form (online or paper) is more important than you think.

Why we should think about defaulting to monthly giving.

Why we should consider the global effect on fundraising capacity of our decisions, not just how many dollars the next letter will raise.

Recommended read.

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Why Retain Donors?

Recently, I was asked to do some simple modeling on the effect of retention rates on revenue.

The results were surprising. You can read the post and resulting conversation here.

The post author’s goal was to show what that investing in donor retention is better than investing in donor acquisition (getting new donors) OR donor extraction (getting more major gifts from your existing pool of prospects).

The model is simplistic but the consequences for our engagement strategy are profound.

Tale of Two Nonprofits

We compared two nonprofits, one with high retention and low acquisition and another with low retention and high acquisition. Unsurprisingly, the high retention nonprofit grows and grows…

image (1).png

…while the low retention nonprofit stays the same, barely recovering the number of donors they lose every year.  

image (2).png

(For those interesting in playing with the numbers, the spreadsheet is freely availably here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1SzstQEA8PrkHXKD_JS1mH_RvfMG7JzQ581j2RwLdixg)

To calculate revenue, I presumed that all donors start out as annual donors ($25/year) except for a small pool of donors who have been with the org for a while (5% of those who have given for three years or more) who then become major donors and make a $10,000 gift.

Here, the high retention nonprofit ends up making four times more per year…

image.png

…vs the low retention nonprofit:

image (3).png

Assumptions

Post-analysis, it was enlightening to think through the underlying assumptions. If this is so clearly a better strategy, why doesn’t everybody do it?

  • If you’re investing in retention, you’ll also need to invest in major gift capacity.

If you decide that a high-retention strategy is for you, after seven years you’ll have a major donor pool that is five times bigger. 
This means that you’ll also need to invest in gift officer, stewardship, and admin training/personnel to be able to proportionally maintain your ability to get major gifts from that engaged pool (the 5% rate in the model). 
It is a decision that requires at least a three-year commitment. How many orgs are operating on year-to-year plans?

  • Not Everyone Wants or Can Handle Growth

On the service delivery side, it takes vision to become the organization that is worthy of receiving this extra funding. Your service model might work at your current scale but will have trouble reaching more people. Maybe there is internal resistance to becoming so reliant on fundraising revenue.

Perhaps, despite all your current needs, additional revenue would create more problems than it would solve. Major gifts typically have some type of restriction in their use. Unless you have a crystal clear vision and are willing to walk away from certain gifts, an influx of restricted gifts could be problematic.

The people factor can also be important here. In this new world where you 4x your fundraising revenue, would you grow your people and make it a priority for them to stay?

  • With Great Engagement Comes Great Responsibility

More engaged constituents are people that expect a superior level of human communication with the organization. Many of us find this challenging enough as individuals, even more, when dealing with organizations. Some organizational leadership may actually prefer having less engaged, arms-length constituents. The disconnect happens when they also want those disconnected constituents to be audaciously generous.

  • The 5% “Extraction Rate” is a Big Assumption

In the model, I assumed that the “extraction rate” remains constant at 5%. In other words, your capacity to generate gifts from the pool of donors with high engagement and high capacity. It probably fluctuates more than this. As gift officers turn over, staff needs to be retrained, and donor relationships rebuilt. You would think it made sense to offer longevity bonuses at least for the time it takes for major gift relationships to mature.

  • Engagement == Annual Donor

Having annual donors is nice but, in this model, it isn’t only about the money. More generally, it is about having people engaged with the organization long and deeply enough so that the few with the capability to make a transformational gift are inspired and invited to do so. In the past, it may have been hard to measure other forms of engagement so making an annual gift was a good proxy. This is no longer the case and every org with a CRM can build an engagement score of some type.

The true goal is to maintain and increase engagement year over year. 

This engagement can express itself in multiple ways: making a gift, being an active member of your community, or visiting your website every week.

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Donor Participation Project Resources

8/19/20 (noon EST) Lunch Analysis

ANNOUNCEMENT: Research co-author Angie Thurston will be joining the discussion portion of the meeting!

Religious participation and giving is seeing the same decline as overall civic life participation.

The authors of this report study the “emerging landscape of Millennial communities that are fulfilling the functions that religious congregations used to fill.”

Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile discover and analyze successful communities with thousands of members (religious and non-religious, they include CrossFit for example) that bring meaning and purpose to its members, many of whom are Millenials.

As we struggle with how to involve people in general and Millenials in particular with our organizations, this is a surprising treasure-trove of ideas.

Brainstorm and Discuss this Report With Peers During our August 19 Lunch Analysis

Lunch Analysis is a 45-minute meeting that is a part book club, part scholarly discussion, part brainstorming session, and part support group. Participation is open to all who fundraise or have fundraised at a nonprofit.

Each Lunch Analysis covers a specific topic in donor participation and has required reading and discussion. This one will be on August 19, 2020 at noon EST.

To Take Part

  • Download and read the file above.
  • Choose one of the profiled communities and try it out: visit their website, sign up to their platform, join a newsletter.
  • Pick one element that you could apply to your own fundraising program right away. Prepare to share your thoughts!

Sign up here to get the Zoom details (I check that all participants are from legitimate fundraising organizations):

Join Us

James Barnard, Executive Director of Annual Giving and Integrated Marketing at University of Cincinnati Foundation

Tilghman Moyer, Vice President at Development at University of Arizona Foundation

Hawken Brackett, Executive Director of Strategic Engagement at The University of Alabama

Grant Kelly, Senior Director of Development at The Johns Hopkins University

Noah Maier, National Principal Gifts at OneforDemocracy.org

Michael Spicer, Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement at Pomona College

Colt Chambers, Director of Development at Georgia Ballet

Ivan Alekhin, Development Coordinator at National Parks Foundation

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Simple Guide to Fundraising Excellence

Best practices for nonprofit organizations with or without dedicated development staff.