Guest Blog: O+A+C = Success in Monthly Giving

Howdy! I’m Philip. I’m a fundraiser working for an agency that is partnered with social service agencies from Victoria to Halifax and everywhere in between.

I’m grateful to Maeve for inviting to me post here on What Gives Philanthropy. I’ve written this post with homeless shelters and food banks in mind—mostly because that’s my space these days. Regardless of your vertical, I hope you find value in this post.

Everything is awesome!

Many of my partners are in the process of launching or revamping monthly giving programs. That’s awesome! I’m so pleased that nonprofits from coast to coast are looking to bolster revenue through monthly giving. But before you dive in head first, let’s look at the basic strategic underpinnings of successful monthly giving programs:

  • Offer
  • Audience
  • Creative (or approach)


Many nonprofits believe monthly donors are savvy, right-brained decision makers. This may be true of some donors, but certainly not for all donors. The fact is your top monthly giving prospects will be plucked from your single gift program. These donors feel a connection to your fundraising offers of food, meals, and shelter—they’ve demonstrated a desire to support basic needs.

The best monthly giving offers are those that are scalable, can be upsold, and inspire a deeper connection to your mission. At the core of an inspiring offer is the promise that donors will have greater impact in changing lives for the better.

Today, many nonprofits sell their monthly giving programs using two offers:

  1. Monthly giving is convenient. You (the donor) will never have to write another cheque, or
  2. Monthly giving will reduce (or eliminate) those annoying and frequent solicitations you get from us.

Here’s what’s problematic with those offers: the former is focused on payment frequency and the latter is focused on reducing intrusions. Neither offer is scalable or emotionally moving. Do they work? Yes, sometimes. Are they best practice? Absolutely not.

If your single gift donor file was built on offers to feed, shelter, and otherwise care for hurting, needy people, then you need to think about how your monthly giving program can extend those basic needs offers.

In Jeff Brooks’ latest book (a must read for all fundraisers… Seriously, read it. You can borrow my copy), he posits Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs should be flipped upside down for the purposes of fundraising. In other words, our most basic physiological needs make the best fundraising offers! These needs include: shelter, water, food, and sleep to name a few. Brooks says, “It’s no coincidence that the strongest performing fundraising offers are the most basic. Because our emotions, even though they feel complex, poetic, even spiritual, are tightly connected with survival things like food and shelter—and relationship issues, which are also about survival when you get down to it.”

How can this be applied to your nonprofit?

Test, test, test! Test two or three offers to determine the strongest resonance with donors. Use telephone outreach to get a gauge quickly. Here are three examples for a homeless shelter:

  • Provide hot, nutritious meals to the homeless: your gift of $29.70 each month will provide ten meals to our homeless neighbours in Toronto.
  • Provide hot, nutritious meals plus service X: your gift of $40 each month will provide ten meals and access to emergency shelter to our homeless neighbours in Toronto.
  • Respond to urgent needs: your gift of $X each month will help us respond to the needs of our homeless neighbours. Your gift will provide emergency shelter during extreme weather warnings, expanded drop-in hours, emergency food bank purchases for difficult-to-stock items like milk and peanut butter, etc.

In all three examples the offers can be scaled (e.g.: be it adding on to provide counseling, vocational training, addictions recovery, etc.) upsold (e.g.: for an additional $Y each month, you can help Z more people), and have an emotional resonance that will connect with donors en masse.

Successful monthly giving programs sell solutions that address basic needs because that’s what people relate to, that’s what they understand.


Donor segments

Traditionally, nonprofits with robust single gift programs seeking to grow monthly giving look to existing frequent single gift donors. These donors have:

  • Donated three or more times in the past 90 days
  • Donated four or more times in the past year
  • History of giving using their credit card or some other EFT like PayPal or through their online banking website

More nonprofits are looking to convert recently acquired single gift donors to monthly giving. Conversion of these donors, following a solid welcome strategy, solidifies second gift conversion and shortens the payback period for the single gift acquisition program.

Ask amount

There are two schools of thought…

  1. Look to past annual giving trends for each individual. If a donor’s annual giving exceeds $400, a $29.70 monthly ask amount would downgrade their giving. The offer to each donor should, at the very least, be a same grade. The challenge here is: conversion to monthly giving with an upgrade can yield fewer responses. Generally, fewer donors commit to a $50 per month ask versus a $15 or $20 per month ask.
  2. Ignore past annual giving trends temporarily to focus on conversion. In this approach nonprofits go the route of presenting a low initial ask (e.g.: $15 or $20 per month). Despite the downgrading of annual giving, the strategy here is to merely convert single gift donors to the monthly giving program. Many nonprofits have come to realize these donors can be easily and quickly upsold under the banner of increased impact. Critical to this strategy is a nonprofit’s commitment to upgrading these donors within six to eight months—this is, of course, in addition to the quarterly single gift appeals they should receive.

How can this be applied to your nonprofit?

Test, test, test! There I go again. Like most things in fundraising, the best way to learn what works with your unique donor file is to test. I recommend a beta test monthly giving conversion campaign over two to four weeks. The learning objectives of the test are:

  • What donor segment has the best conversion rate: existing donors or new donors?
  • Does payment type affect response? For example: would credit card preferred donors convert better than cheque preferred donors?
  • What offer and ask amount will yield the highest response?

You can ensure the growth of your monthly giving program through the lessons learned during the testing phase. It’s meant to help you avoid false starts and to quickly determine a winning strategy.


Oh boy, I may get in trouble for this, but here goes… Creative is important, but fancy creative alone doesn’t win hearts and wallets. Your creative strategy for monthly giving (frankly for everything in fundraising) needs to be centred on making your donors the heroes/heroines of change. Giving societies (circles, or groups) are not, in and of themselves, persuasive offers. Selling benefits, for example: reduced mail volume, invitations to special events, and premiums (e.g.: a t-shirt) are not inspiring.

The best creative tells an emotional story of one person’s need(s), spotlights a solution, and asks the donor to help right away.

How can this be applied to your nonprofit?

Your monthly giving program creative needs to:

  • Have a clear need (e.g.: homeless people are hungry)
  • Present a manageable and realistic solution (e.g.: you can help us provide meals to X people for $Y each month)
  • Feature a compelling call to action. Do this by communicating a degree of urgency, yet positioning the donor as powerful in addressing the need. Think of your organization as the conduit to change and donors’ financial sacrifices as the sparks of change.

Now, get cracking! There’s work to be done!


Written by Philip Tome


A direct marketer since 2002, Philip has worked in fundraising for the past 10 years. Philip Tomé is an Account Director with Russ Reid, North America’s leading direct response agency serving nonprofits. During the past four years, Philip has helped nonprofits across Canada raise more than $60M and acquire 200,000 high-value donors.

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