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Podcast | On a Mission to Save Giving with philanthropist and fundraising coach Lisa Greer

In this episode of Fundraising Today and the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast, we talk with philanthropist and fundraising coach Lisa Greer. Author of the bestseller Fundraising Revolution, Greer is on a mission to save giving by helping nonprofits move away from the impersonal interactions and scripted outreach that have dominated the sector for so long.

In 2012, Greer and her husband became part of the 1% practically overnight and wanted to share their new wealth. In our conversation, she discusses the strange practices and frustrations they experienced for years with traditional fundraisers. Today, with her background as a successful businesswoman as a foundation, she promotes fundamental change in how fundraising works by teaching nonprofits how to do better.

Greer says one of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make is not offering a recurring giving program, especially when a subscription business model is so popular among consumers. We break down ways charities can start or boost recurring giving programs to create loyal supporters, such as surprise gifts and exclusive webinars.

Want to hear more? Listen to the full episode:

Connect with Lisa Greer

Read the blog post Can Recurring Giving Save Nonprofits?

Get more Go Beyond Fundraising Podcasts



Leah Davenport Fadling: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Fundraising Today and the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast. Today, I am joined by a guest that I’ve been wanting to have on our show for a very long time, and that is Lisa Greer. Lisa is the author of Philanthropy Revolution, and I’m excited to have her with us today. Lisa, welcome to the show!


Lisa Greer: Thank you, nice to be here.


Leah Davenport Fadling: I’d love for you to share a little bit about yourself with our listeners and our viewers who may be unfamiliar with Philanthropy Revolution and your background, because it’s really fascinating. And I remember hearing so many amazing things about you and your book before I got to meet you, and so I would love to hear your story.


Lisa Greer: Thank you so much. Hello to everybody out there who’s listening. I will tell you the brief version — the longer version is in my book, Philanthropy Revolution. It was written because I had some experiences in the last 10 to 12 years that were very surprising. I was raised in Los Angeles in a very middle-class background. The word “philanthropy” wasn’t used in our household. If the word “philanthropy” was ever used by anybody else, we would just say, “Oh, that’s for somebody else.” We did give, but we gave to more local kinds of things — Girl Scouts, PTA, that kind of thing.


My husband was raised in Toronto, also from a middle-class family. Same thing, very same kind of viewpoint that you help other people but it’s all pretty much local. And so, we weren’t on any of what I call “the lists,” which are these people who are multigenerational families where … they’ve been to a million galas and know about how you’re supposed to be at those and how you give. We didn’t know any of that.


So, both of us came from business, and both of us are serial entrepreneurs. We both spent some time at corporations, and then we also spent time with startups. What we didn’t spend time with were nonprofits at any high level because we just didn’t have the money to be on boards. Occasionally, I would be on the board of something if I could give them a little bit of money. But most of the time, I was relegated to, “Oh that’s nice, but this is for a different kind of person. You can volunteer.” I would volunteer, and that was great.


And then, about 12 years ago now, my husband’s startup had done well, called RealD — which, if you’ve been to 3D movies, you’ve seen “RealD” written on things. He created that technology. And I, at that point, was running a business in the fertility sector, helping people create families. I sold my company, his company went public, and overnight, we were in the position of being the 1 percent or the half percent or whatever that is.


And, we knew it was coming, we thought it was coming — you never know that it’s real until it’s real. So, about 10 days before the IPO was going to happen, he was traveling all over the world getting ready for this IPO and talking to the different investment banks. We had one day in between. So, it was a little bit nerve-wracking, a lot nerve-wracking, and so I said, “Gosh, what can we do to calm ourselves?” And I said, “I know, let’s pretend that this has happened, and it’s worked out, and it’s 10 days from now. And let’s each figure out a place that we want to give a really big gift to. We want to give a big gift to something that’s really important.” He said, “Okay, fine, that sounds great.”


And I was the incoming president of our synagogue. We had $1 million left on our capital campaign to raise. And I said, “Why don’t we give that final $1 million to close the capital campaign?” And he looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to do that?” Because sometimes faith-based institutions can get weird, and people can get strange, and your name is going to have to be on a building and all that. And I said, “Yeah, I’d really like to do that.” Because my father, when I was really young, had taken me to his synagogue … and showed me where his father, my grandfather, had a plaque on the wall, that he had been the head of the board. And I thought my dad would have really liked that — he died when I was really young.  So, Josh says, “Okay great, let’s do that.”


And I said, “Okay, your turn, what do you want to do?” And he has had Crohn’s disease most of his life, since he’s been about 11. And had many surgeries here in Los Angeles, and he said, “I want to find out how I can fund research so that nobody has to go through what I went through as a kid. Or we can better understand who’s going to get it, who’s not going to get it, on the genetics side of it.” So, I said, “Okay great, this is wonderful. So, while you’re away for the 10 days, I will call around and try to find somebody at Cedars-Sinai hospital who we can talk to in the fundraising office” — I probably called it, because I didn’t know development was a thing — “and I will see if we can find out what’s going on there in terms of research.” He wanted me to go to Stanford because he had heard a lot about their research, but I said, “You’ve had all your surgeries here at Cedars, we should really try that first. I’m guessing they do research.” And it turned out I was right. They do a lot of research; they just don’t publicize it because they publicize more community-type things. But they do probably, I’m sure, billions of dollars of research. Lots and lots of research has been done there.


So, I said, “I can’t really do anything with that right now.” I think it was a Sunday because he was leaving the next morning. And I said, “But what I can do is we can call the senior rabbi who runs the synagogue and tell her that, if this happens, we’re going to give this final $1 million.” So, I got on the phone — he’s maybe 10 feet away from me — and I called, and I said, “I just want to let you know. If this thing happens in 10 days, we’re going to give you the final $1 million so you can close the capital campaign. And I’m the incoming president, so I can come in with it being done.”


And I thought it was going to be like Publisher’s Clearing House commercials or something, where there would be balloons and marching bands or, at the very least, I figured she’d say, “Oh my gosh!” And nothing – she said absolutely nothing. And I thought that was really strange, I don’t understand. I was a little bit freaked out because I never thought those words would come out of my mouth — I’m going to give someone $1 million? But now I’m completely confused, because how can you say that to somebody and nothing? So, I said, “Hello?” Maybe we got disconnected. And she said, “Oh hi, I’m here.” And I said, “So, you heard what I said?” She said, “Yeah, but I don’t know what to say.” And I said, “I guess you can say thank you?” And she said, “I don’t know if I can because I haven’t made an ask.” And at that point, I thought my life was in some other weird parallel universe because who would say that? After that, we both hung up the phone, we didn’t know what to say. There was no thank you, no hysterical excitement, nothing.


And about 30 seconds later, the phone rings. And I picked it up and she said, “Can I talk to Josh?” Who, like I said, is about 10 feet away from me. So, I give the phone to Josh, and he’s looking at me like, “I don’t understand. What is happening?” And she says, “Do you have any idea what your wife is doing?” And that was really unbelievable because obviously it’s — I guess you would call it sexist in a nice way. But I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He couldn’t believe it either, and he said, “Of course I’m aware.” And that was that. The end result was we did give the money, we’re very happy that we did it. And it was just a weird experience.


Josh, on his end, was doing this thing with Cedars-Sinai, and with them, I found the right person. A lower-level person in the advancement department in the development office through a whole bunch of phone calls, nobody there knew me. They knew me as a patient, they didn’t know me as a funder, so the calls didn’t go through so quickly. We found the right person, and we said what we wanted to do, and it took seven months for them to accept $2 million from us, which we used to fund a chair to start a research lab into the genetic piece of Crohn’s disease, which still exists today and is very successful.


But why did it take seven months? Some people say, “Well it’s because it’s a major gift, you must have had a contract and everything.” Not that at all — we didn’t even know what to look for in an agreement. It was seven months because they kept ignoring us. So, we would have a meeting, they would say, “Here’s three different options that you can do. Here’s this for $1 million, this for $10 million.” Whatever it was, and I said, “Oh those all look good, let’s keep talking about those.” And then he would disappear. This happened about three times, and each time I had to wait and there was no response. I’d call and call and say, “Hello, I really want to give this money.” And I thought, “This is very strange, this place where you want to give money, and you can’t.” And the reason why this happened is because we weren’t on their list of donors, and therefore we didn’t exist. And they didn’t bother looking online because it was a public company, would have been a public company, it was about to be a public company and at that point, we’d already filed all the SEC stuff, so everything was online. And he just didn’t look! That’s what happened.


And when those two things happened, it wasn’t like one strange thing happened with this world of high-net-worth people giving money; it was two. And we thought, like, how can this be? Where some people might have said, “I’m just not going to give to anybody, this is ridiculous,” we continued giving to a variety of different places, and we kept having strange things happen. Again, the thing of realizing we weren’t on this list — we didn’t even know there was a list before that — but realizing that “Oh you’re new to the party, and you should know certain things.”


And this went on for several years, and I kept being shocked by what I was seeing once people got the sense that we were giving. And it took about a year and a half for people to actually even find us, which was pretty strange. All the real estate companies found us; all the investment banks were calling us from day one. But the nonprofits, it was like we just didn’t exist. So that was pretty strange. And then we would give money and we would get something — like, I would go to a meeting about something, and then they would send an email to my husband. Or I would get an email that was “Please give to this organization,” and I could tell that it had been cut and pasted from somewhere because it would be all these different fonts, and some of them had all these different colors.


And some people would call me and say, “Hi, we’re from whatever” — basically saying, “You have money, we want it.” And it didn’t matter what it was that they were talking about. I had meetings with people, I would take lunches with people — which, after a while, I didn’t do as many of those — but I would have lunch with people. And one of the craziest things that happened — and this happened twice, two different people — I would go to have lunch with whoever it is, advancement people, development people at XYZ nonprofit. These were decent-sized nonprofits. We would talk for about an hour and a half. I would pay the bill — I always insisted on paying the bill. And they didn’t ask me for money during that. And I got to know the person, they got to know me, and I thought, “This is awesome. I’m going to go away without it, we’re really developing a relationship here.” Which seemed great, until I started to get up from the seat, and they leaned over and pushed my shoulders down so that I would sit down, and they’d say, “Wait, I have to ask you something!” And that’s how they’d ask for money.


And thought that was crazy! Things like that have happened a lot since, and so after a while, I started asking other people. And by now, I know a bunch of other donors, and I asked if things like this had happened to them. And they said, “Yes!” They’d all had weird things happen. And I thought, “Okay, but you still give, and these weird things are happening, why do they happen?” Nobody knew why. No one knew why it was done this way, they just said that’s just the way it’s done.  


I ended up having a life where I was giving to a lot of things. I started to be on some boards, and every morning, I would look at my emails, and there would be at least one or two things that were sent to me that were completely ridiculous or misspellings and things like that.


That is me, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10, 12 years. Because we were new to money and new to this whole sector, I am well aware that there are probably a million people, certainly hundreds of thousands of people who have made money quickly in a very short amount of time, who didn’t grow up with money. Sixty percent of major donors today are first-generation wealthy; they’re not people who inherited it. And now we have the big great wealth transfer coming, with trillions of dollars coming to these people, and a lot of them are going to be new and not on the list.


At the same time, we have nonprofits — many that I’m on the board of — saying, “Wait a minute, we need to raise more money, we need to raise more money, but we don’t have the time or resources to talk to these new people.” And I see that as a collision course and a real problem as the people that a lot of these nonprofits are relying on who are really a lot of the same donors for organization after organization — they’re now in their 80s and 90s. And so, we need to be realistic and prevent this ship from hitting the big giant iceberg, which I see happening.


So that’s what I do. Sorry for the very long story, and I still can’t believe I went through this. So, there you are.


Leah Davenport Fadling: Wow, so much to unpack there, Lisa, but thank you so much. And this is a theory of mine, but I think a lot of people get into fundraising from other backgrounds because they want to work for a nonprofit. Maybe they have a sales background, maybe they had some other kind of career before that, but they really don’t have the training to be able to sit down and have what can be very awkward, sensitive conversations with people like you, who want to make a big impact in their community, make a big impact in the world.


And yet, these well-meaning people on the other end who want to keep doing things the way that they’ve always done them because that’s what’s comfortable and that’s also what they have playbooks for.


Lisa Greer: There are a lot of people in the sector, a lot of fundraisers, who realize that it needs to change, and it needs to be more relationship-driven than transactionally driven. This sort of stickiness of doing it the same ways it’s always been done is really hard to break. And so, we have board members saying to fundraisers, “Just go out and get the money. Bring me back a check, I don’t want to talk about it.” And (then) we have heads of nonprofits saying — well again, not enough resources — “Just do it the same way it’s always been done, the money’s still coming in.”


But then you have something that happened in the last year, where all of a sudden, the number of donors went down, and the number of dollars went down. And I noticed for a few months, people were saying, “Oh there must be some mistake in the numbers.” Or “It’s only because this happened or only because that happened.” And then the next quarter was the same and showed that this was a real thing, which I’d been seeing, and a lot of people I know thought this was going to happen and saw those trends. And all of a sudden now, people are saying, “Oh, maybe there’s something new we need to do.” Some of them, not all of them. But I’m starting to see real change, and it’s really exciting.


Leah Davenport Fadling: I was having a conversation the other week with a fellow from Chariot, which is a startup that is trying to help connect the dots between nonprofits and donor-advised funds. And he shared an interesting statistic in that conversation that, last year when both donors and dollars were down, donor-advised funds were the only area of philanthropy that actually grew.


And hearing your story makes me wonder if there are a lot more people like you out there who recently came into wealth, and they want to be able to give to charity, but they perhaps had bad experiences or got stuck somewhere. And so, they thought, “I know that I can make some good, and I can make an immediate donation, by parking this money in a donor-advised fund, and I know that it’s going to find its way to charity eventually.” And we’re not here to talk about donor-advised funds, but I’d be curious, since you sit in that seat, if that is something you’ve experienced or seen.


Lisa Greer: I think most of what you said was absolutely right on. In fact, right now, I just got a statistic that as of 2023, there were 1.79 million millionaires under the age of 30, which is a whole lot of people who have money who, my educated guess is that most of them probably have had bad experiences if they dip their toe in the water and try to give. And therefore, a donor-advised fund is really appealing because you can give. I hope that people, when they do that, are not saying, “Eventually it’ll find its way,” because it won’t happen by itself unless you die and you didn’t give them any names of people who inherited your money, and then they do something with it.


And I’m a big proponent of there being legislation to entice people through their pocketbook to make sure that money does get to charities in a reasonable amount of time. I do believe that most people who use donor-advised funds are doing it because they just don’t have the time to deal with it at the moment, and they want to educate themselves. They want to find the right organization. But I also think a lot of them have had bad experiences, and they’ve just said, “I can’t deal with these people anymore who are just calling me from nowhere and in the middle of the day.”


For example, a lot of these people are tech millionaires. And when you say to somebody, “Let’s go have lunch for a couple of hours,” they’re like, “Are you kidding me?” That’s just not part of the culture; they don’t do that. Or “Give me your phone number so I can call you.” That doesn’t happen. Or “Send me a check.” They don’t know what checks are — or they know what they are; they don’t use them. So, we’re even using terminology that is so out of date, it doesn’t make any sense. And so, it’s infuriating.


And that’s why I’m pushing this really hard — this wholesale change. And I don’t mean everything has to change, I just mean that we have to look at everything and say, “Why do we do it this way?” And then change the things that make sense. But if we don’t do this soon, I’m afraid those people are just going to leave all their money to their cat or something like that.


Leah Davenport Fadling: I’m sure as many of the cats would like it, that gets into our topic today because you have done a lot of amazing things with this knowledge that you’ve gained. You’ve written the Philanthropy Revolution. You’ve also started a community on Substack for folks with webinars at least once a month or Zoom calls once a month where you get together.


Lisa Greer: That’s right. It’s wonderful. There’s a free subscription, of which there are many thousand people with that, and then we have a paid subscription option. By being a premium subscriber, they’re then invited to a monthly meeting where we have a Zoom for about an hour with different fundraisers from all over the world, actually. We have a couple of people from England that come in and another person from Ireland who are regulars. And we discuss the topics of the week or the month and what challenges they’ve had at their institutions and their organizations. And then the group is able to help them, and it’s absolutely wonderful. So, we’ve been doing that for about, I don’t know, maybe four or five months, and it’s really terrific.


Leah Davenport Fadling: One of the articles you recently published on your Substack was — you shared this story about how last year, you attended a talk on recurring giving, and it wasn’t a particularly well-attended talk. And it was frustrating to you because you see recurring giving as this green field of opportunity. But there’s a lot of nonprofits that aren’t really sure how to get a recurring giving program off the ground or if it’s even valuable.


So, let’s just dive into recurring giving and how nonprofits can leverage this really valuable area of fundraising.


Lisa Greer: Sure, I think it’s a big mistake for any organization to not offer a recurring giving program. I think the big issue has been, A., it’s something that’s just not the norm. It’s not the same as we’ve done it forever. It’s an add-on; it’s, “Yeah, if everything else is going fine, we might add that in at some point.” And also, a general resistance to change. But I also think that a big reason is that there is this weird belief that if somebody gives a recurring amount, they’re going to give a smaller amount, which is probably true. But that it’s going to then get in the way of them giving a one-time gift or giving an annual gift. And that they’re then losing money by doing that. Does that make sense?


So, all the research which has addressed this — and there’s a lot of it — says that’s absolutely false. The people that give monthly are more attached to your organization, and they end up being (stickier) over time. In fact, about 90% of them are still with you, I believe it was two or three years later. And, if you look at that on the one-time giver, annual giving piece, those people, about 18% are still there — and probably even less — two years later. But about 18% would give the second year. Some people say 20%, but that’s it. So, it’s a huge difference.


And one of the really exciting things that’s come up is that there are lots of donors who are willing to do both. So, I myself do both. I do regular giving and then, if somebody says, “We have this specific thing or specific need that we need,” I’ll give them that, so that would be one-time giving. And then if they say, “Wait, we need to even out our cash flow, we need to do an annual giving thing,” I don’t mind doing that too. I have no problem with that. I certainly wouldn’t say that I’m not going to give you this other money. I don’t think that’s logical.


But the nice thing — one of the nice things — about recurring giving is that it’s predictable cash flow. In the business world, it’s been done forever, and I don’t think any of us knows anybody who doesn’t have a credit card on file somewhere where it’s being billed every month. And it is unusual — you have to have a really good reason to take that credit card away while it’s being billed every month, as opposed to having a really good reason not to give someone your credit card in the first place. Once they have it, if they’re having any kind of communication with you, you’ll just keep going, you’ll just keep that there. And the organization then has the wonderful byproduct of … cash flow during the summer months, for example, or April, May, June, when those nonprofits have their dips, and this just keeps going. And like I said, it’s predictable. So, it’s a wonderful thing for every reason I can think of, and I can’t think of any good reason not to do it.


We also found out from some recent research that recurring givers are more likely to start giving in a recurring giving program in January. They’re more likely to give in January than in December, which is amazing because how many things do we have that start in January, where that’s the best time to do it? It’s also something that people can start at a low amount, and they can go higher; it’s not a problem. Some people, you can ask; if they say no, that’s okay. They usually won’t take their credit card away. If they’re giving you $5 a month or $50 a month or $500 a month, they’ll usually let it ride, I guess is the best way to say it.


I think nonprofits that don’t do this and don’t put it — when I say front and center, yeah, it should be. The way that I’ve seen it recently in the last few months by some forward-looking people in the industry — you ask somebody for the one-time donation, and then right below it, “Or would you like to give this monthly? Would you like to give it all at once or one-time only?” I’ve seen that. I’ve also seen people say, “Would you like to give us a one-time gift?” And you have your regular gift, you can even have numbers attached there if you want to. Right below it, in the same-size font, it says, “Would you also like to join our recurring giving program?” And then, really the responsibility of the organization in exchange is just to keep them posted periodically on what you’re doing.


If they’re giving you $100 a month, they’re not a $100 donor. They are 90% likely to be a $1,200 donor. Therefore, the person who is working with them during the year with whatever stewardship you have should have them in the thousand-plus category instead of the $100 category. And that’s something that very few people are doing, but I’m hoping that people will realize that really makes sense, and it’ll just get better and better from there.


Leah Davenport Fadling: The stewardship part of it is really fascinating because in so many ways, recurring givers really look a lot more like mid-level donors. And we get so many questions from nonprofits about how they can grow and improve their mid-level programs, and I think you’d agree with me that it starts with their recurring giving program. Because somebody who signs up even for a small amount monthly is testing the waters of what it’s like to give to you, what your stewardship program looks like. Because the way that someone treats you in the small things can be indicative of how they will treat you in the big things.


Lisa Greer: That’s an excellent point. I do a lot of research on millennials and Gen Z givers, and people who are new to this because I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through. I would love it if they started giving and had a wonderful experience and wanted to do more of it. And the research shows that people who are younger — I think it was done with millennials, but I think it applies to Gen Z as well — they are much more likely to volunteer for an organization before giving.


So, they’ll say, “Gee I’m thinking of giving $500 to this organization or $1,000.” They’ll say, “You know what, I’m going to volunteer first” — and this is a conscious choice they’re making, lots of them — “I’m going to volunteer with them because that’s where I’ll be able to see how they treat regular people. And that’s where I’m going to be able to see if it’s a functional or dysfunctional organization. And that’s where I’m going to get to meet people, and if they treat me like” — excuse the word — “crap, then I’m not going to give them bigger dollars, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.” And I think it’s brilliant, and I do think a lot of people are doing that.


So, I think this idea of siloing your volunteers separate from your little donors, separate from your mid-level donors, etcetera, etcetera, does not do us any favors. I think we need to bring these people together and say, “Look, anybody who supports us, we want to talk to you. We want to fill you in on what we’re doing, let you know about our impact, let you know about our needs.” And that’s really the way to have a real relationship and a long-term relationship with a donor.


Leah Davenport Fadling: Another really striking statistic that you shared in your article was that only 9% of donors receive a thank you after their third month of giving. And another interesting stat that I’ve seen elsewhere is that most transactional emails like receipts can get upwards of an 80% open rate. And that’s true for lots of other transactional emails, whether it’s getting your receipt or a shipping confirmation or something like that.


And so, it strikes me that nonprofits that aren’t taking opportunities in those types of emails are potentially missing opportunities to engage those donors further and let them know about the impact of their gift. Or if there are any upcoming campaigns that the donor should be aware of, where they may have an opportunity to make an additional over-and-above one-time gift. So many continual touchpoints that may be invisible to the nonprofit, but the donor definitely sees.


Lisa Greer: There’s a lot of things that are done that are invisible, both problems, solutions, ideas that are invisible to the nonprofit, and that’s a real problem. It’s almost like every nonprofit should have somebody just to say, “I’m going to spend a month figuring out what’s going on in the world” because they’re not paying attention.


The thing about the receipts is brilliant; you had mentioned that to me earlier, and I think that’s absolutely a big missed opportunity. You said 80% of the receipts and these transactional emails people do open. For just fundraising emails, it’s between about 20% and 40%. I don’t know the number, but it’s clearly much lower. And I’m guessing it’s closer to 20%, it might even be less than that. And also, snail mail — you can almost tell on these if it’s a receipt when you get it from the envelope, if it’s a receipt or if it’s a solicitation. Putting something in there I think is fantastic.


And I think that, for all givers but especially for your recurring givers, every communication with them doesn’t have to be asking for money. I (also) used to think too that you should always ask for money, because if you don’t ask you don’t get. But from a donor’s point of view, now that I’ve been doing this for a long time, it is so refreshing. Just like that meeting I was talking about having at the restaurant and thinking that, “Oh gosh I got through an hour and a half, and they didn’t ask me.” It’s really cool to read something and see that they’re not asking you for money; in fact, they’re saying thank you. “Thank you for supporting us in the past, blah blah blah.”


Someone asked me just the other day, “Do we have to send these every day? Every time they give money?” You have to do whatever you have to do for the legal piece. Some people just do it once a year, and that’s fine. But you have to communicate with these people on an ongoing basis if you want that credit card to stay there and if you want to continue the relationship. So, you have to put something into it as well. And when you look at them as a small donor — “We don’t have time for that, we don’t have resources to talk to them” — it’s a big mistake.


One organization that I know came up with this idea to have surprise gifts come to the recurring donors during the year. And say, “This is just for our recurring donors, it’s a special program.” Like a lot of people use their legacy program as a special program or an annual givers program. “You guys are the lifeblood of our organization and keep us running” and whatever it is you want to say. And then what they do is they take swag that they had from something else, something that they had a hundred of or a thousand of or however many recurring givers, and send that with a little note saying, “You are important to us, and we see you.” And that is just going to keep that 90% going for a long time, where people will continue giving in that way. So, we need to get creative with that.


Leah Davenport Fadling: Another tactic that I’ve seen some nonprofits employ is having a dedicated monthly donor concierge where every single email that goes to the monthly donor is signed by that person, and they have a direct line of contact to that person. And they can feel like they actually have a relationship, a one-on-one, and it simulates the relationship that a major donor might have with their gift officer, but of course it’s being done on a much larger scale. And that’s another tactic that I’ve seen work really well.


Lisa Greer: I have not seen that, but I think it’s terrific. As long as that person, the concierge, actually is able to speak with people high in the organization so they actually really do know what’s going on, they can communicate that.


Another thing you can do is you can do special webinars or podcasts, presentations online, just for your recurring givers. And you say to them, “This is just for you,” and I think that’s wonderful. I’ve never seen that done, but I have a feeling people will start doing it. It’s really easy, and with the software we have, if you get a thousand people, it doesn’t matter. It’s great, and you’re just telling them what’s going on.


Another really great thing for recurring givers is to send them text messages. So, a text message that says, “Hey, thank you for that.” And give them a little tidbit of something your organization accomplished this week or this month. People will love that. Everything doesn’t require … a handwritten note, but there are some people who like that. But all the studies about thank you notes say it really doesn’t matter if it’s handwritten — for most people, not all. It doesn’t matter if it’s on pretty stationery. It doesn’t matter, like one person was saying on Twitter, which color ink you use. What matters is that you get thanked promptly. That’s the most important. The other things are important but to a lesser extent.


I go on the 48-hour rule — that 48 hours later, you should be thanked somehow. I don’t care how it is, honestly. I’m fine with an email. Some people think, “Oh no, people aren’t going to want an email.” No, I’m fine with an email; most donors are. But I have heard some people say they think it should be the same day. It just depends on what’s possible with your organization. Somebody even said to me 45 minutes, but I don’t know if that’s possible.


And there’s lots of really easy ways to say thank you that don’t cost any money. You can record a video with your iPhone, with your cell phone, and send that to someone and say, “Hey, I just wanted to say thank you, this is so great that you’re here helping us.” The end. Someone came up with the idea the other day to have some of our grantees who are participating — I think in this case it was scholarships, people that have scholarships from a nonprofit — and have them say, “Hey, I just want to say thank you, you guys keep supporting me and it’s so great. I got an A on my test today.” The end. You can send that out, and people will just love it. And you notice, when I’m saying this, I’m not asking for more money at that time. I’m saying, “Thank you” and “You’re a part of a really important group to us.” And the more we do that, the better off we’re all going to do.


Leah Davenport Fadling: What is, to you, the biggest obstacle that nonprofits face when it comes to prioritizing recurring giving and getting your recurring giving program off the ground?


Lisa Greer: It’s just that absolute resistance to change. Nonprofits need to make it a priority. The way I’ve seen it work really well is when you talk to the financial people, you talk to your budget people, or go to finance on your board, and you explain this part that I was mentioning, about continuous cash flow and ongoing cash flow that you can reasonably expect to continue. And sometimes it works through that direction as opposed to, “We should change this because we’ll make more money.” A lot of people who’ve been doing this a long time will listen to that and say, “Yeah, we’re making money fine this way. We just have to work a little harder and ask a little more and we’re going to get more money.” And that might be correct for them, but it’s not a long-term solution.


And hopefully as you put together your recurring giving funds, or if you have them, as you broaden them, tell other people about it. Get articles out there about how successful they’ve been and how you grew it. And the more that our sector knows that other people are doing it and it’s going well, the easier it’s going to be to get through that resistance to change.


Leah Davenport Fadling: I also loved what you shared about how millennials and Gen Z approach recurring giving because we’ve all seen the rise of subscription model businesses. Even businesses that have been around for a long time (are) starting up a subscription program. Or seeing YouTube channels start up exclusive content for people that give to them, so it is definitely a model of revenue that is on a meteoric rise at the moment.


And I think that if we can leave nonprofits with anything from this conversation today, it’s that the business world has and will be on the forefront of what shapes consumer expectations. And if your nonprofit isn’t offering a recurring giving program, it can leave younger donors kind of scratching their head because that’s how they’ve been trained to budget and to look at their expenses.


Lisa Greer: Yeah, that’s right. And there’s really no excuse for it. It’s an opportunity, and to not take advantage of it — I have not heard a reason for not doing it that I think is really even valid because it can be done really easily. And like I said, the mechanisms are there. But when people from the business community see this, I think they really do think that we’re decades back. For some reason, we just haven’t kept up with the rest of the world. And I don’t think it’s business vs. nonprofits, but we’re in an interesting position.


In this case, we can learn from their decades of having subscription-type relationships with their clients, their customers. And there’s piles of research on that. And we can look at that if we want to and see how well it works and learn from their mistakes. And then we can just jump into it. And now, we’re at a point where that’s the mature way of paying for things, that way of giving, except in the nonprofit world. So, we just need to take that and say, “Look it works. It’s good for our organization. There’s no good reason not to do it, and let’s go.”


Leah Davenport Fadling: Lisa, thank you so much for joining us today. If anybody who is listening or watching today would like to read more of your writing or learn more about you, what’s the best place that they can do that?


Lisa Greer: You can just go to lisagreer.com, my website, and from there you can subscribe to Philanthropy 451. You can get my tips of the day, which I do once a week, on Mondays. And you can also learn about my existing book and my upcoming books. So, we would love to hear from you, and I guess, if you would help us spread the word, everybody who’s listening to this, that would be great.


Leah Davenport Fadling: I’m thrilled to learn that you’re writing more books, and I can’t wait to have you back on the show to talk about your latest book.  


Lisa Greer: Thank you so much. I really appreciate being here, this was great.