Many nonprofit organizations succeed at getting donors to contribute to their causes — the first time. The challenge is to get them to open their wallets on an ongoing basis for recurring donations. Let’s talk about how to get more recurring donors and convert one-time donors into lifelong supporters.

Why recurring giving is so important

Recurring giving is a significant revenue stream for many organizations. Setting up a $10 per month gift offers a lower barrier to entry than a one-time $100 donation. And over the year, that monthly gift adds to $120, giving your organization a bit more funding.

People who give a second and subsequent time tend to increase their donation amounts. Overall, recurring donors give 42% more per year than those who make a one-time gift. From May 2020 to February 2021, our partners saw over a 700% increase in recurring gifts. That is proof that not providing this option means you are leaving money on the table. 

Recurring donations also give nonprofits a consistent revenue stream and better cash flow. On average, recurring gifts represent 15.4% of organizations’ annual revenue. These predictable gifts allow you to plan for the long term since you know how much you can expect to raise each month from committed donors. Meanwhile, it gives your supporters a monthly reminder about your cause that encourages increased donor retention.

What makes recurring giving challenging for nonprofits?

Recurring donations may be a new concept to many donors, which means they require a different kind of sales pitch. Besides making the case for your organization, you also need to convince a donor why they should donate a smaller amount monthly rather than a larger amount all at once. Some organizations simply add a recurring gift option to their donation collection platform and forgo the direct appeal. Without showing how monthly giving is good for donors and creates a better impact for your organization, many donors won’t realize what they’re missing.

Another challenge many organizations have is in differentiating the monthly giving option. Your monthly donors are essentially buying a subscription or membership. Organizations who do this right treat these donors as VIPs and provide gifts or perks in exchange for memberships.

Without this differentiation, recurring giving can present retention challenges. Donors may choose to stop giving because they don’t feel like they’re making an impact or need to cut back on their budgets. They may also stop giving by accident if they change credit cards. Many organizations don’t have a system in place to recapture lapsed donations, which can weaken a monthly giving program.

How to get more recurring donations for your nonprofit

The nonprofits that are most successful at growing their number of recurring donations know how to leverage the all-important initial connection. Here are some tips for how to turn one-time donors into recurring donors and encourage more monthly gifts overall:

  • Display your gratitude: Most donors like to feel that the organization genuinely appreciates their contribution. While many nonprofits don’t have the resources to send donors an elaborate gift, there are other more budget-friendly and effective ways to express your thanks. Even a heartfelt email will let contributors know that you care.
  • Show the impact: Donors also want to know that you’re putting their money to good use. Consider sending a before-and-after photo of an area their funds have helped to rebuild after a disaster or something similar. You could also send an email containing an anecdote or two about how their donation has assisted someone in their recovery. By doing so, you’ll set the stage for additional donations. Use these 12 strategies to show your organization’s impact.
  • Build a robust donor database: The more you know about your donors, the easier it is to target them to make additional fundraising requests. Building a comprehensive database gives you access to donor profiles and other useful information to help you establish and maintain valuable connections.
  • Use an automated donation collection method: Don’t expect donors to remember to send you a check every month. These days, many people pay their monthly bills via automatic deductions from their bank accounts or credit cards. Using the same automation to accept recurring donations will make things easier for donors and ensure consistent contributions to your nonprofit.
  • Enhance program visibility: If you want people to start making recurring donations, you need to get the word out about your program. An excellent way to increase visibility is to share posts on social media that highlight specific donors and the impact their donations have made. You can also create a targeted social media campaign that promotes the program. If you accept donations online, make sure the form offers an option to make ongoing contributions.
  • Tie to membership: Allow donors to become members of your nonprofit organization in exchange for their recurring donation. You could offer certain perks with a membership, such as free publications or other gifts that aren’t available to the general public.
  • Create a recurring event: One way to gain monthly donations is to set up a recurring chance to give rather than an automated monthly charge. Many nonprofits have earned smaller monthly donations by running some easy-to-plan fundraisers with low barriers to entry. They draw a different crowd from an annual gala and offer a chance for regular community building. Organizations have found success with miniature popup auctions, wine tastings, bingo nights, and the like.
  • Run a recurring educational panel: Another strategy is to create content that brings your community together without angling the event as a fundraiser. GiveSmart community member, My Friend’s Place, runs a virtual educational panel on mission-focused topics. The event is free to attend and makes no push for donations except for a “donate” button on the event website, which draws in some donation income at every event.
  • Run membership drives: Once you have a membership program, you can run occasional membership drives where donors can receive special gifts or donation matching for joining during a limited-time promotion.
  • Emphasize the recurring impact: You can encourage more monthly gifts by drawing a clear connection to the impact. It helps those who can only give a small amount feel like their gift makes an impact. Maybe giving $10 per month buys school supplies for one student or one meal a month for someone with food insecurity.
  • Continue to acknowledge monthly gifts: Many nonprofits stop sending thank-yous to their recurring donors after a few months. It’s critical to continue to express your gratitude and remind your supporters how their gifts make a difference. These thank-yous are a chance to deepen your relationship with donors and encourage retention.

How to optimize your online experiences to get more recurring donations

How to optimize your online experiences to get more recurring donations

Your online giving platform is a crucial tool for gaining recurring donations. Seek a technology that allows you to add a recurring giving option at every turn. Whether your donor is checking out during your silent auction, supporting you on#GivingTuesday, voting for the most accurate pet celebrity doppelgänger, or texting to give — they should have the option to make a monthly gift.

Your virtual events and campaigns often draw a different audience from your print mailers and other physical and in-person donation appeals. Capturing these supporters with low-barrier-to-entry monthly giving options is critical.

GiveSmart offers a seamless, on-brand experience for one-time supporters to migrate to being automatic monthly donors. It’s the best fundraising platform for recurring donors, hands down.

Here are some tips to maximize your recurring donation revenue:

  • Set up a monthly giving option on every campaign you run through GiveSmart.
  • Make your monthly event easy to access by using the same URL each time.
  • Preselect the monthly giving option.
  • Segment your digital communications for recurring donors.

Looking for inspiration?

GiveSmart has several partners who are doing recurring giving right! For inspiration, check out examples featuring both recurring giving donation campaigns and fundraisers that added recurring giving below.

Recurring giving donation campaigns

These GiveSmart community members have found much success with their recurring giving campaigns. Some of our community’s best monthly giving program examples include:

Fundraisers that added recurring giving

Another strategy you can try to encourage recurring giving is to make an appeal for monthly memberships at your annual signature event. Your guests who come to your annual fundraiser each year are already used to giving regularly, and you can often convert them from yearly donors to monthly donors a bit more easily. Many GiveSmart community members have found success this way. Check out some of these monthly giving examples and how they’re incorporated into an annual campaign:

Learn how to capture more donors with GiveSmart

At GiveSmart, we make giving to great causes feel easier than ever, which helps organizations like you earn more donations, whether they’re one-time or monthly gifts. Our intuitive platform has helped nonprofit fundraisers across every sector raise more than $3 billion. Interested in capturing these donations in support of your mission? Connect with the GiveSmart team today!

If you’re already a GiveSmart customer, contact our support team to learn how to set up recurring donations on your campaign websites. You can also sign up for our webinar on recurring campaigns to learn from fellow nonprofits on earning regular donations. 

Learn how to capture more donors with GiveSmart

Brandon Stec is the Director of Marketing at GiveSmart and an Indiana University graduate who's worked across sports and tech over the last decade. Brandon has sat on several boards of Nonprofits in Chicago and Kansas City. He resides in Chicago with his wife, son, and dog, Mango, and is a published author.
Brandon Stec