7 Bad Habits That Will Ruin Your Monthly Giving Program

Donors really do love monthly giving, but only if you make it really easy. Tara Moore/Taxi/Getty Images

As you know, I’ve been writing about what to do when starting a monthly giving program. Recently, I’ve been talking to a lot of clients about their programs and helping them become more successful at monthly giving.

What I found was that those organizations that were struggling to grow their program undoubtedly were doing one or more of the following seven no-nos.

The good news is that these are pretty easy to fix.

So, if you’re serious about your monthly giving program, make sure that you’re not committing any of these seven deadly sins of recurring giving:

Big No-No 1: Ask for amounts that are too high

I see this happen a lot. Organizations that have average gifts of $50 or more start asking for those amounts in their monthly giving program. Wrong! Remember that monthly donors are typically those donors who cannot write the big checks. So you have to start low.  I frankly like to start as low as $5. You can upgrade donors later. (Yes, you really can!).

I recommend using the rule of thirds. Take one-third of your typical average gift for the donors who give less than $100 and you’ll be okay. For example, if it's $50, you can start with $15 as the lowest amount. 

Just think of it this way. If you can convert a one-time $50 donor to a $15 a month donor, you’ve just almost quadrupled their annual gift, to a sweet $180 a year!

Big No-No 2: Not organizing the basics

An organization is gung-ho about the program and just sent out the first email blast asking for recurring gifts.  The first responses are coming in. Now, what? 

The thank you letter has not been written. The little magnets, promised as a small gift, have not even been ordered yet!

And the email thank you does not mention the fact that the donor is joining a monthly giving program at all. Plus,  the data-entry person does not know how to enter this monthly gift. What a recipe for disaster and lots of energy “putting out fires." Most organizations are way too busy for that.

Of course, this is not going to happen to you because you have prepared for the basics, right?  You have thought through what you’ll send and give to your monthly donors when they join (and ongoing). You have written the thank you letter; the thank you emails, the tax letter, and you have written the procedure for your data-entry department.  You have even prepared the process for what happens if someone’s card expires.

You must start with the basics. Otherwise, you’ll lose these new monthly donors as soon as you bring them in. Just take a little extra time to think through the process and you’ll be golden. You can market to your heart’s content because everything is in place!

Big No-No 3: Not making it easy

This small organization was so excited. They had found a donor to put up a $5,000 challenge to help them find 30 new monthly donors. They had just done their first email appeal to some 500 email names.

They had set up PayPal to enable recurring gifts. Their thank you letter was written. 

With their first email blast, the donors went to the site but then could not find where to sign up. Fortunately, they sent an email asking about it, so the organization could direct them to the correct link. And the web volunteer added the easy PayPal buttons directly on the page for the next e-blast, so it was a lot easier to find.

Sometimes I hear that an organization has created the special monthly giving page but forgot to link it to the homepage. So donors can’t find it.

Today, donors can go to your website directly or you can drive them there from social media or an email through a link to your site.

But if someone goes directly to your website, you must still make it easy to find the monthly giving link.

That’s why I recommend you always add your monthly giving option to your pull down menu on ways to give. 

And, if you’re totally committed to growing your program, you always put the recurring giving option front and center, right on the donation page so donors can’t get around it.

Make it easy to find and donors will join.

Big No-No 4: Using an end date

Some online donation options have an end date option on the page. Some donor base system options have an end date option.

I was working with an organization just the other day helping them set up their recurring giving page. The first thing we did was take out that end date. (Most systems allow you to choose to not use it).

You never want to ask your donor to set an end date because it’s always way too soon. And that’s not what they mean to do. But because you’re asking for a date, they’ll probably choose the end of the year. 

Research shows that most monthly donors stay with you for at least 5 to 7 years, and many even much longer than that. So, take out that end date option and you’ll be able to keep your monthly donors for many years to come!

Big No-No 5: Using complicated captchas and not testing

CAPTCHA  means: Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart.

Captchas are those funny looking characters you see on some web pages before check out or before donating. They want to make sure you’re a real person.

Sometimes, I see organizations using a very complicated type of captcha, which makes it almost impossible for an average person to fill out, let alone by someone who may be older or in a hurry.

One of the first things I do when I start working with an organization on their monthly giving program is to join their program.

One client had a very complicated Captcha. It took me three tries to get my recurring donation go through! Well, I was motivated, but the average donor may not be. And most of their donors were older.

Having tested it myself, we could work on improving their program. One of the first things was to put an easier Captcha code in place.

So, before you send anything out -- before your monthly giving page goes live -- test every part of the process. Make sure that you can join the program quickly, Test if the form is easy to fill out and confirm that all of the thank you elements work for you. Then it will work fine for your donors as well.

Big No-No 6: Not thinking long term

Monthly giving is not a quick fix. It’s not something you build overnight. It will take some time and some resources. If your boss or board thinks that you can go from 0 to 1,000 monthly donors in a month, when you only have 2,000 donors, you’ll have to tell them that they are unrealistic.

Organizations that commit and consistently work towards a monthly giving goal, making sure that the program is part of the overall communications strategy, will reach their goal over time. If you’re interested in making some projections of your potential, download this free monthly donor calculator.

Big No-No 7: Not asking

You’ll be amazed, but it’s true. I’ve seen organizations fail in growing their monthly donor programs, and the biggest reason was simply because they were not asking.

They sent out thousands of mailings asking donors to give a one-time gift rather than sending out a few targeted appeals a year asking donors to make a recurring gift. Because that’s the only thing they knew how to do. Or (and this happens especially in large organizations with “silo thinking” and lots of departments), they were worried that asking for monthly donations would impact their results.

Clearly, they were not thinking big-picture. Clearly, they were not thinking long-term.

The general rule of thumb applies: If you ask donors to join a monthly giving program, they will. If you don’t ask, you’re certainly not going to get them to join.

So, start asking, as soon as you possibly can.


There are definitely more no-nos, but these are the most important ones. Get these right and you’re well on your way to a successful monthly giving program.

Erica Waasdorp is President of A Direct Solution and author of Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant.