Sanford Institute of Philanthropy Blog

How to Steward and Upgrade Your Monthly Donors

Thanking Donors
In this blog, we will discuss ways to steward your monthly donors, which will increase their retention rate but it can also help grow their monthly gift.

Let’s start with the thank you process when you receive a monthly donation. 

Be sure to call them and thank the donor right away. Let them know how thankful you are for their ongoing support of your mission. This is also a great time to find out how they heard about the program, so you can learn what marketing tools are working best for you.

When you mail them a receipt or thank you letter, it is best to have a different letter than you use for your one-time donors. For example, you can include a success story that paints a picture of what donations like theirs will do for your organization. 

Note that it is not customary to send a thank you letter monthly upon each of their donations; however, depending on what gift processing looks like on your website, they may receive an automated receipt each month. In your first letter, be sure to let them know if they will not receive a receipt each month and explain that you will send them their cumulative giving for the calendar year. 

For this first thank you letter, I like to make it feel like a welcome package, as if they joined a special club. After all, they are a part of a very special group for you and your mission!

Depending on your staff capacity and what CRM system you are using, stewarding these donors can be tricky. Work on your stewardship matrix before you get started because you will have to answer some of the following questions:

  • Do I include them in my stewardship plan with all of the one-time donors?
  • Do I use their first monthly gift date to base my matrix off of?
  • What if this individual makes another one-time donation on top of their monthly gift? Maybe at the end of the year?  

If you are using any automated program, you will want to make sure these donors are not getting repeated stewardship pieces. What I like to do is give them a phone call and thank them for their generosity and send a formal thank you letter. Then, I only keep them on the stewardship plan for monthly donors. This gives me peace of mind knowing that they will not receive duplicates. 

Keep in mind, if you are planning to increase their monthly amount soon, this might not be the right time.

I prefer to have one touch per month with each monthly donor. This can include a handwritten card, an e-mail newsletter, an appreciation event, or a phone call.  If you already have a monthly newsletter these donors are receiving, that is okay for some months. However, most months, strive to send them something more personalized. 

Most donors upgrade if they have been stewarded effectively, so it’s important engage with your monthly donors regularly and in a personal way. 

When it comes to the question of timing of an upgrade, different studies and fundraisers will tell you different times to ask. Some will say as early as three months. While there are some donors that may be ready to increase at three months, in my experience this might be too early for others. Some donors may feel that if they say yes, then in 3 months you will ask them once again. The time frame will really depend on your donors.

I suggest asking for an upgrade within 9 - 10 months of their first gift. Before you call, be sure to look back at what kind of stewardship they have received and thank them for their support and share with them what their donations have done. You can tell them about new interests or programs the organization is working on and ask if they would consider increasing their monthly donation.  

Base your ask on what the donor has already given. If they are donating $75 a month, you could ask them to increase $10 or $15. If they are giving $10 a month, maybe a $3-5 increase makes more sense for them. 

This phone call also gives you the opportunity to validate the donors credit card information and address.

Another great opportunity to upgrade your donors is when they change their credit cards. If your donor has changed cards and calls you to re-instate their monthly donation, it is a good sign they feel invested in your program. Or, if their credit card was unable to process and you have to contact them to get signed up once again, this is a perfect opportunity to share with them a new project you are working on and ask them to increase their gift. 

Want more fundraising tips? Check out our upcoming events at the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at Maricopa Community Colleges.

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