Why You Should Promote Monthly Giving with Direct Mail

How to Target the Right Prospects

Smiling woman getting her direct mail.
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Not long ago, at a fundraising conference, I heard someone say: "Direct mail does not work for monthly giving."

Hmmm. That is extremely odd because that's not my experience. There are just so many organizations that are highly successful at generating monthly donors through the mail.

So, I followed up with the organization who mentioned this, and it turned out that the reason it was not working was because they mailed only to donors who gave a gift of $50 and up.

And they sent to donors with all payment types. They left out a prime target group for monthly giving, namely the smaller amount, multiple givers!

In essence, they did not apply the single most important element of any direct mail fundraising campaign: TARGET, TARGET, TARGET! 

Even with a monthly giving campaign, the rule of thumb is that 50 percent of your overall fundraising results comes from your direct mail. I'd say that it's even closer to 60 to 70 percent.

Why Do Some Donors Respond So Well?

Why is that the case? Because someone who is interested in joining your monthly giving program has self-identified as a loyal giver. They give you two or more gifts a year.

Also, if you keep track of the way a donor gives, for instance by check, cash or by credit card, that's an excellent targeting tool.

In the US, the concept of giving monthly through someone's bank account is still the hardest to sell as it's not part of the culture (unlike in many other countries).

 But the credit card is truly the next best thing. If you know who has already given by credit card, then you have your prime target group for conversion to monthly donors.

One of the biggest mistakes I see many organizations make in targeting donors for monthly giving is that they start too high.

The crux of a monthly giving program is that it's a way of giving for small donors, who are often on a fixed income, who care about the organization, and who are willing to support it on an ongoing basis.

They just can't write the big checks. But they're very much worth the effort to convert to monthly donors.

For instance, someone who gives a gift of $20 every year, may not be able to move up to a donation of $50 or $100.  But they may be able to give you $5 a month which adds up to $60 a year. That's nothing to frown about! You just tripled their value!

Note: If you're a small organization that only mails one annual fund appeal a year, this is, of course, harder to accomplish.  But your indicator there will be someone who has given to you for two or three years in a row. Asking only once is, of course, leaving money on the table.

How It Works

So, let's look at a case study. You're an organization with say 500 donors who give between $15 and $100 a year. You also know that 250 of them have given you their credit card information. 

How about preparing a special letter, asking these 250 to join your Circle of Friends with $5, $10, $15 or $20 a month? It does not cost you a lot since you're targeting the right people and you'll be able to see the results.

I often compare fundraising with ‘dating. You first try to get a donor to give you a cup of coffee. Then you’ll find out if they’re ready for the bigger gift, the dinner.

Well, monthly giving is sort of like trying to get a cup of coffee a day that amounts to dinner or more down the road. In fact, that ‘x cents for a cup of coffee’ approach has been used numerous times in monthly giving appeals, and it still works to this very day.

Why Economic Appeals Work So Well 

As in any fundraising appeal, the more great stories you can use, the better off you are.

BUT I have found that you're more successful converting a donor to monthly giving by including some economic reasons as well. So tug the heart string, but throw in some facts and figures to convince them that this is an even better way to support the organization.

For instance, a sample argument might be: “With your ongoing monthly support, we can help more kids xxx, we can help xx more animals, more [fill in the blank]…”

Do offer as low an amount as you can afford. This depends on how you're processing your monthly donations. If you're outsourcing this process, you may need to start at $10 a month to just cover your costs, But if you can, I recommend starting at $5 a month. You can always upgrade later. Really you can!

Ultimately, it’s about trying to get the highest number of monthly donors as early as possible.

Have Answers. Build Trust

One final recommendation for your direct mail appeal to target potential monthly donors:  include answers to regularly asked questions and use as many testimonials of other monthly donors as you can.

It will help build trust in the organization. I’ve seen organizations who offer Monthly Giving guarantees, with a unique phone number and email address, all aimed at building trust that the donor will be heard, making it easier to join.

If you use direct mail for your annual fund appeals, you're able to use direct mail to convert monthly donors. Of course, ideally, you'd use any and all media to convert as many of your donors to monthly donors as possible, but don't rule out direct mail as one of those.

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