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Can Recurring Giving Save Nonprofits?

When you consider how much the for-profit world has evolved over the years, nonprofits seem to be moving at a snail’s pace by comparison. Think about how easy it is to purchase nearly anything; now, think about the friction that exists when you try to make a donation.

Lisa Greer learned this first-hand when she and her husband became part of the 1% virtually overnight in 2012. They wanted to share their new wealth but found obstacles — and just plain odd behavior — at nearly every turn. Drawing on her experience as a successful businesswoman, Greer is now out to “save giving” by teaching nonprofits how to improve the ways they interact with donors.

She’s the author of the bestseller Philanthropy Revolution and is ready to guide charities to a new mindset that sees donors as people, not sources of revenue. 


Why Fundraising Needs a Revolution 

In the wake of their newfound wealth, Greer and her husband learned that, strangely enough, you can’t just give million-dollar gifts to nonprofits. In one instance, it took seven months of back-and-forth before a gift could be made. After sitting through one too many awkward lunches with borderline aggressive asks, Greer started comparing notes with other major donors and found that they’d also experienced weird behavior from fundraisers. It seemed that this was just how development was done.

Still, Greer didn’t give up. She got more involved with nonprofits and began serving on boards. And what she’s learned is concerning — namely, that many organizations rely on the same major donors to give more and more rather than embracing new donors and new trends. But as both donors and dollars continue to drop, it’s clear that things need to change.

For instance, donor-advised funds (DAFs) are growing in popularity, especially among younger generations. As of 2023, there were 1.79 million millionaires under 30, many of whom are tech millionaires. They don’t have a couple of hours for lunch; they don’t take long phone calls; they don’t write checks. Basically, they don’t have time to navigate the cumbersome development process. So, a DAF is an appealing option. They can park their charitable dollars there and delegate the responsibility of distributing them to someone else.

A subscription-based is one trend that nonprofits can take from the private sector. It has seen a meteoric rise, especially among millennials and Gen Z. The best part is that charities are fortunate to learn from for-profits’ mistakes and step straight into it.

Of course, in the nonprofit world, a subscription model is a recurring giving program. 


The Opportunities in Recurring Giving 

Recurring (or monthly) giving brings numerous benefits to nonprofits, but perhaps the most notable is donor loyalty. Two or three years after signing up for recurring giving, 90% of those donors are still with an organization, Greer says. By comparison, only about 18–20% of annual donors give again.

This means the lifetime value of a recurring donor could be more than that of an annual donor, which affects how you might steward a recurring donor. A monthly giving program is often a way for a donor to get started with an organization. They might want to test the waters and see how you treat them. So, don’t discount recurring gifts as too small.

Think of it this way: someone who gives $100 a month may seem like a small-gift donor. But their annual total of $1,200 puts them closer to a mid-level donor.

A recurring giving program can also be a good way to guide donors toward upgraded giving levels. Even though they give monthly, ask them to contribute to a special one-time campaign. You’ll be surprised by how many would be willing to make an additional gift, perhaps at the end of the year. It’s all about building the relationships that will keep their support coming.

Speaking of sustained support, a recurring giving program is an excellent source of predictable cash flow. Giving has lean months just as commerce does. When you enter the slow season of April, May, and June, your monthly giving program will keep your organization running. 


Tips for Recurring Giving 

Whether you want to kick-start or grow your recurring giving program, these tips can help you steward this special class of donor:

  • Put the Option Front and Center: Recurring giving should be a clear option on your giving page. If you ask for a one-time donation, give them the option right there to make the gift monthly instead. Or on the checkout page, ask if they’d like to join your recurring giving program.
  • Say Thank You: Not just after the first gift, but every time you process their card. It can be through a simple transactional email like a receipt, which tends to get an open rate of 80% or higher. Or you can send a text or simple video to say thanks. What matters is the thought behind the action.
  • Stay in Touch, but Don’t Ask for Money: All donors want to know what kind of impact they’re making. So, send them a quick update via text or email. Or if you have leftover branded swag lying around, send recurring donors a surprise gift. No matter how you reach out, the goal is to stay connected; this isn’t the time to ask them to give more.
  • Offer Exclusive Content: This might include regular webinars, newsletters, podcasts, or articles that are specially designed for your recurring donors. Be sure to include a note that lets them know this offer is just for them. 


It’s Time to Invest in Recurring Donors 

Recurring giving is an ideal source of predictable cash flow, which is especially important as we navigate declines in both dollars and donors. It’s also an opportunity to reach younger donors in a way that they’re comfortable with.

For-profit businesses have been using subscription-based models for years and know how to run them successfully. Fundraisers should take these lessons and adapt them to the nonprofit sector. With 90% of recurring donors still giving after two to three years, there’s no good reason not to.


Learn more about Lisa Greer at lisagreer.com.

This blog post is based on a podcast interview with Lisa Greer. Listen to the full episode of the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast now.