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6 Essential Donation Page Best Practices

March 13th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, Website

Donation pages that are difficult to navigate are always bound to drive me crazy. Oftentimes, an organization’s donation page is its own greatest enemy in getting site visitors to follow through with donations. There are few essential donation page best practices that, if followed, make it pretty straightforward to improve conversion rates.

You may want your website to accomplish a variety of organizational goals, but a steady stream of online donations are an essential goal for every nonprofit website. If you’ve succeeded in designing a great donation process – one that guides website visitors to your donate page and makes it easy for them to donate – then you are likely to increase the amount you can raise online.

The good news is that even very simple changes to a donation form can make strides towards increasing donations. Here, I will cover 5 essential, but easy-to-implement, donation page best practices that you can test out right after you read this post!

Donation Page Best Practice #1: Remove navigation

When a site visitor lands on a donation page, the goal is to have them follow through with that action. Make sure to hide or limit navigation on your donation pages, so visitors aren’t distracted and motivated to click out of the form. This will help keep your conversion rates up.

Remember your donation page has one purpose and one purpose alone – to encourage a visitor to make a donation. After they make that donation, feel free to share additional information on your thank you page.

Donation Page Best Practice #2: Keep it short

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your donation page can be overwhelming. Don’t try to stuff too much information on your donation pages. Share enough information to persuade supporters to donate without making the page feel incomprehensible.

Make clear what the page is about and what you want the visitor to do. Limit the amount of copy, images, media, and links to only what’s necessary, and organize your content in a way that feels very logical. For example, you might want to restate what campaign or program the donation is allocated to, so donors are still motivated to donate. It’s especially important that the call-to-action (CTA) is as crystal clear as possible for the visitor.

Donation Page Best Practice #3: Write a great headline

A great headline uses actionable, value-driven words. It should entice people to do something. In this case, you want site visitors to complete the donation form. Make sure that your copy uses action-oriented words that communicate the importance of making a donation.

Your donation page should have an attention-grabbing headline that reminds the donor why they were compelled to donate in the first place. When you present potential donors with a clear value proposition, they’ll be more likely to follow through.

Pro tip: If your donation page visitor reads nothing else on the page but the headline, would she still be motivated to donate? Would she understand exactly how important that donation is to your organization? If it’s not clear, revise it.

Donation Page Best Practice #4: Improve your form’s submit button text

Although it’s only a seemingly small part of your donation page, your call to action button is one of the most powerful elements on the page. You might be surprised to learn how much the text on a button can affect click-through and conversion rates.

Try experimenting with different button text that could really seal the deal. For example, instead of “submit” try

• Donate Now
• Make a Difference
• Send Your Gift
• Support Mothers
• Save the Environment

Donation Page Best Practice #5: Use click triggers

A click trigger is any message that’s positioned near a key call to action, with the sole purpose of compelling people to finally click the button. On a donation form, they can be an effective a way to provide reassurance to the donor that they’re making the right choice.

For greatest impact, a click trigger should:

a) Neutralize a key anxiety that is likely to keep your site visitor from moving forward


b) Amplify the value of proceeding, which is all about reminding your prospect of what motivated them to donate in the first place, what value your organization offers and how they’ll feel for making the donation.

Tip: If you’re offering an incentive or donation matching period, your click trigger may be that incentive.

Donation Page Best Practice #6: Add a compelling visual aid

Humans are visual creatures, so it’s no wonder we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on multi-media marketing. Hey, they don’t say “a picture is worth a thousand words” for nothing. So if your donation page doesn’t include some kind of visual — or a compelling one, for that matter — adding one is an easy way to improve your donation page.

Even though you’ve explained what the fundraising appeal or campaign may be, include a visual that more tangibly shows the visitor why they should support you and how it will impact your cause.


Focus on one or two main tenets of your campaign, how those feed into your broader mission and, most importantly, how important the donors support is to changing the world. When you remind a site visitor of why they chose to donate in the first place, they become their own best motivator to complete the process.

While there are lots of ways to present the main value proposition of your campaign and encourage people to follow through with a donation, one thing is clear: simplicity trumps all on the donation page.

January 30, 2015
By Daniel Melbye


7 big no-no’s for monthly giving programs

March 12th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

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.

What I found was that those organizations that were struggling to grow their program, undoubtedly were doing one or more of the following 7 no-no’s.

The good news is that these are really 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 its $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 nice $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 little 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. And the data-entry person does not know how to enter this monthly gift. This is a recipe for disaster and lots of “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 brought 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 really 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 home page. So donors can’t find it.

In this day and age, donors can either go to the web site on their own accord or you can drive them there. If you drive them via social media or email, you can put the link to the page, which makes it a lot easier.

But if someone goes there on their own, you must still make it easy to find that link. That’s why I recommend you always add your monthly giving option as part of your pull down menu on ways to give.

And, if you’re really 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 really 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. Basically, they want to make sure you’re a real person.

Occasionally, I see organizations using a very complicated type of captcha, which makes it virtually impossible for a normal person to fill out, let alone by someone who may be older or is busy but wants to help you achieve your challenge.

For example, a combination of upper and lower case, does this mean you need to fill it out that way? Or something that’s very difficult to read. 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 of them 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 and one of the first things we did was put an easier Captcha code in place.

So, before you send anything out, before your monthly giving page goes live, test out every part of the process. Make sure that you yourself can join the program,. 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 in a month and you only have 2,000 donors to work with, you’ll have to tell them kindly, but firmly that that is not a realistic expectation.

Those organizations that commit and consistently work towards a monthly giving goal, making sure that the program is part of the overall communication 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.

January 31, 2015
By Erica Waasdorp
A Direct Solution

How Big Is Your Halo? 3 Ways to Measure the Branding Effect of Your Direct Promotions

March 11th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Marketing

Direct marketers take pride in accountability. But as I’ve said before, they can be their own worst enemies when it comes to measurement. They’re good at measuring things that are easy to count—clicks, page views, response rates, cost per lead, etc.

But they struggle with measuring the long-term or cumulative effects that the branding in their promotions has on current and future sales—people who buy, but not as a result of a specific promotion, the so-called halo effect.

Consider big direct marketing brands like or Omaha Steaks. These brand names have been built through direct marketing promotions over time and, as a result, people self-direct to their Web and phone sales channels.

But most direct marketers don’t know how to account for this halo effect, and when they work with response rates only, at best, they shortchange their results; and at worst, they get fooled by failing to account for those who buy without responding.

Case in point: A few years ago, I analyzed a data set from a multivariate direct mail matrix test that had 12 cells: four list segments, four offers and four creative executions.

Working off of response rates alone, we identified the winning list segment, offer and creative. But digging deeper by matching the solicitation file to the sales file, we discovered that from a revenue-per-prospect standpoint, these response rate winners were not the best revenue producers. Further analysis showed that from an ROI standpoint, they were actually the worst. In fact, the offer with the highest response rate (a free trial) produced a negative ROI when compared with a control cell: People in the control group who did not receive this offer actually spent more than the ones who responded to the offer for a free trial.

Here are three ways you can account for the halo effect:

1. Compare customer sales data to your promotion history. This is a good starting point. See who was exposed to your promotions and purchased without responding

2. Index brand awareness to sales over time. Take a look at this post for a methodology to measure this metric.

3. Create an engagement score that counts brand exposures and index it to sales over time. More on a methodology to measure this metric next time.

By Chuck McLeester | Posted on January 29, 2015
Target Marketing magazine

Email Evolution for a Middle-Aged Discipline

March 10th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Email

No one likes to be called “middle-aged,” but sometimes it’s just a fact. Email is 44. For marketers who also happen to be of a certain age, looking over this infographic from ReachMail might bring back some fun memories.

Email Is Officially Middle-Aged” is published on the Chicago-based email marketing software and services provider’s website and starts with 1971, when computer engineer Ray Tomlinson  sent the first email, then called an “electronic mail message.”

The infographic posted on Jan. 20 ends its chronology on 2014.

“In the past 44 years, email has gone from being a little-used form of communication reserved for only the most tech-savvy, to something so commonplace that it’s become part of our daily vocabulary,” writes ReachMail. “And just think—in the time that it took you to read this infographic, you probably got an email.”

Now for that “remember when” trip:

  • 1971: Email is born. As happens with age, Tomlinson doesn’t remember what the first message actually said. This goes against the “content is king” saying, doesn’t it?
  • 1978: Email marketing is born. Where there’s an audience, there’s an advertisement. Government and university staff and students saw the first ad.
  • 1982: Did someone say “email”? As with BrangelinaOpens in a new window, all words get shortened. So, of course, emoticons were born, too.
  • 1998: “Spam” enters the dictionary. As Jeremy Zimmerman  points out in his article on Thursday, “hashtag” entered the dictionary in 2014. These things happen. And sometimes, marketers cause them. Zimmerman suggests readers check out “@BrandsSayingBaeOpens in a new window” for social media marketers who are … well. Current?
  • 2003: President George W. Bush  signs CAN-SPAM into law. Now, U.S. commercial emails are regulated. It only took 32 years.
  • 2005: “Email became more secure when SPF was established, a technology that verifies email senders’ identities,” ReachMail says.
  • 2012: Mobile email addiction happened. Of the 90 million Americans doing so, 64 percent use mobile email each day.
  • 2013: Gmail introduced the “promotions” tab, moving marketing emails out of immediate sight. “To address the high volume of emails being sent and received, Google rolled out Gmail tabs in 2013 to ensure smarter sorting of email and less email overload,” ReachMail says.

How should brands expect email marketing to evolve in the next 44 years?

January 23, 2015
By Heather Fletcher
Target Marketing magazine 

An open letter to nonprofits from your donor

March 9th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Dear nonprofit,

Thanks for the amazing work you do. I mean it. And you know I mean it–because I sent you a donation. But maybe I made a mistake.

I’ve been giving to you for years, always at the same time of year. You send me a thank-you note whenever you get around to it…if at all. Sometimes the thank-you note arrives after the next time you ask for money. (Tacky, my friends, tacky.)

Between my gifts, you send me newsletters that do nothing but pat yourself on the back. I don’t want to know how great you are, even if you can prove it with statistics. I want to know what difference it makes to the cause I care about when I give. You’re not telling me that.

You asked me to follow you on Facebook. I did. But all I see there is the exact same articles you included in your newsletter, in the exact same format. I know that’s easier for you, but it does nothing for me.

Let me tell you a secret: I have a little list. It’s the list of organizations I give to every year. You’re on that list because of the work you do–but there are other groups that do equally good work. I can’t give to all of them, and with the way you treat me, I wonder if I should drop you and add one of them to the list instead.

Now, here’s another secret: you could get me to keep you on the list and maybe even give to you more than once a year. But you’d have to change your ways.  How?

Thank me early and often. Write personally to me and tell me a story I haven’t heard yet that will convince me I gave to the right group.

Write newsletters I’ll want to read. If it’s only in there to make the Executive Director look good or the Board feel good, leave it out! Help me understand the real-world problems that my donation empowered you to solve.

Be social on social media. Don’t just post: ask questions and invite me to answer them. Reply to my answers. Comment on my posts. Let’s have a conversation, and it’s on you to inform me, entertain me, and make me glad I talked with you.

That sounds like a lot of work? Well, I’m worth it.  I and all the other donors who feel the same way.  We’re on your list…but make your communications as impressive as the program work you do if you want to stay on our list this year.




Donations to US institutions hit record high in 2014

March 6th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Charitable donations to colleges reached an all-time high of nearly $38 billion last year, according to an annual survey released today by the Council for Aid to Education.

Donors increased the amount they gave colleges in 2014 by 10.8 percent, up from $33.8 billion in 2013, which was the previous historic high. Without adjusting for inflation, the growth between 2013 and 2014 was the largest since 2000.

Gifts from all sources, including alumni, corporations and foundations, were up in 2014, although each source’s proportion of the total was roughly the same as it was in 2013.

While donations were up at most categories of institutions, a huge chunk of the total was brought in by a small group of elite American institutions. The top 20 colleges in fund-raising brought in more than $10 billion. That means that 28.6 percent of the total was given to fewer than 2 percent of the roughly 1,000 institutions that participated in the Council’s Voluntary Support of Education survey.

Harvard University tops the list (see below) with its $1.16 billion haul, and it became the second university to pass the $1 billion threshold after Stanford did in 2012. Of the top 20 universities, 5 are in California, including 3 within the University of California System.

Some of the other universities on the top of the list were boosted by large-scale, one-time gifts. The University of Texas at Austin, for example, placed seventh thanks to a nearly $217 million art gift that accounted for more than 40 percent of the university’s total. Likewise, Northwestern University is a newcomer on the list after more than doubling its intake with $616 million last year as part of a multiyear capital campaign.

University fund-raising efforts were lifted by a strong stock period that saw the four major stock indexes increase by double-digit percentage rates. Stock values affect individual wealth and especially gifts for capital purposes, which are often made as securities, according to the council. That boon also affected endowment levels, which have investment returns that are influenced by the markets. At the 959 institutions that gave data about their endowments, the total value of endowments increased by 15 percent.

The amount donated by alumni increased 9.4 percent in 2014, even as the alumni participation rate dropped slightly. The rate has been dropping steadily for at least 20 years, as it’s grown easier to track down alumni, although many fund-raisers worry about the drop and say other factors also may be at play. Survey director Ann Kaplan said that that some colleges that report high alumni donor rates have poor records of alumni contact, which produces misleading information about the true alumni support.

The participation rate in 2014 was 8.3 percent, compared to 8.7 percent in 2013. At private liberal arts colleges, which as a group always have higher alumni giving rates, about 20 percent of alumni donate. Overall, the number of alumni donors increased 1.2 percent, and the average size of the gift, which is calculated as the mean, went up by about a quarter.

With ongoing concerns about student debt loads, Kaplan recently looked at past survey data to see if there was any sizable increase in gifts tied to scholarships. She didn’t find anything significant, but donations earmarked for student financial aid consistently make up the largest category of money earned through endowment gifts. In 2014, student aid represented 43.6 percent of all endowed gifts, up from 38.5 percent in 2013. That part of the survey is optional, meaning the number of responding institutions fluctuates year to year.

Kaplan has noticed what appears to be a recent spike in mega-gifts in the form of personal art collections donated to university museums. She’s not an expert on the art market, she said. But she points out in this year’s report that, in addition to the large gift at Texas, Colby College reported an art donation that was valued at $102.6 million. And in September, Stanford University opened a new museum anchored by a 121-piece collection of American art, although a value hasn’t been announced for the collection.

Kaplan predicts that giving to higher education will increase again during the current fiscal year, although it’s hard to say by what degree. Large individual gifts can swing the momentum. On average, 12 large gifts represented a third of the total at typical participating institutions.

Top Fund-Raisers in 2014

Institution Raised in 2014
1. Harvard U. $1.16 billion
2. Stanford U. $929 million
3. U. of Southern California $732 million
4. Northwestern U. $616 million
5. Johns Hopkins U. $615 million
6. Cornell U. $546 million
7. U. of Texas at Austin $529 million
8. U. of Pennsylvania $484 million
9. U. of Washington $478 million
10. Columbia U. $470 million
11. New York U. $456 million
12. U. of California at San Francisco $445 million
13. Duke U. $437 million
14. U. of Michigan $433 million
15. Yale U. $430.31 million
16. U. of California at Los Angeles $430.28 million
17. U. of Chicago $405 million
18. U of California at Berkeley $390 million
19. Massachusetts Institute of Technology $375 million
20. Indiana U. $341 million


January 28, 2015
By Kaitlin Mulhere
Inside HigherEd

How to Fundraise Prospect Research

March 5th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Identifying major gift donors is an important step towards maximizing your organization’s fundraising efforts. The following is a guide to implementing prospect research in order to better allocate your fundraising efforts.

Step #1: Prepare a Strategy for Handling Prospect Research

I know, I know, those prospect screening results come hot off the press, into your hands, and you’re bouncing with excitement to dig through the endless columns of data. Your energy is great, but you don’t want to jump the gun. Remember the six P’s: Prior proper planning prevents poor performance.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What are your fundraising goals?
  • What high-level fundraising approaches will you implement with your data?
  • Who manages your prospect screening process and implements it into the broader fundraising strategy?

Your target for how many major gift prospects you would like to add to your portfolio should be more defined than ‘a lot’. Also provide yourself with ambitious but concrete numbers for your donation upgrade goals through mail, specific club levels, and other outreach efforts.

Perhaps you want to identify your short list of top prospects or to find all major gift prospects in a certain state or to pull the top 1,000 records most likely to respond to a piece of mail. If you figure out what you want beforehand then your research will better reflect your desired results.

The most important part of strategizing is owning the process of planning, analyzing, and implementing your prospect screening results. Prospect ownership requires formulating a plan with determined goals, a project timeline, and organizing departments to assist with relevant tasks, such as IT support for database issues. Putting a plan down in writing where people can refer to it at will is a good way to avoid confusion.

Step #2: Clean Up Old Prospect Data

A major task is taking a proverbial mop in hand and cleaning out the cobwebs from your old database. The worst thing you could do is to pile new research on top of previous clutter. Database areas to focus on include:

  • Donor contact information
  • Important internal giving data
  • Existing relationship data

Don’t over-clean. Your data doesn’t need to be perfect. Focus on the areas of major importance in order to balance both your time and your financial investment. If you’re not sure whether or not a certain category is worth cleaning up, ask yourself this question: Is the value of cleaning up the data worth the loss of time and money otherwise spent on other prospect efforts? If the answer is ‘Yes’ then mop away.

Step #3: Develop a Solicitation Plan

A proper solicitation plan prevents you from stretching your staff too thin once the prospect screening results roll in.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have a communications strategy in place?
  • Will you use direct mail, email, in-person conversations, or another solicitation technique?
  • How much time and what tasks will each staff member be responsible for?

Another aspect of solicitation is travel to meet major gift donors. You want to know where you plan to travel and how many prospects you will meet on each trip. Can your board members make connections in advance of travel? Will your meetings be in-person or events, and, if events, do you have a strong support to host the event? If you plan well then fewer unexpected obstacles will trip up your fundraising efforts.

Step #4: Analyze Prospect Screening Results

Time is a finite resource and there are too many donors to reach out to. Your screening results provide a wealth of information, and deciphering that data allows you to best allocate your time and effort to serious major gift prospects.

Companies such as DonorSearch provide prospect scores to ameliorate the data analysis process. Instead of reading column after column after column, important prospect giving indicators are conglomerated into a comprehensible score. Time is money, and money won’t come unless you maximize your time spent interacting with the best prospects.

You’ll also want to update your solicitation process in order to make the most efficient use of your time and resources. The new data could influence what types of prospects you target or where you choose to travel.

A good practice is to share the data across all relevant departments. After all, you’re a team, and you never know who might notice a hidden but important piece of information.

Step #5: Go Get Those Checks

You’ve planned. And planned. And analyzed. And planned. Now is the time to iron those shirts, dust off those telephones, and reap the benefits of your prospect research.

When talking to prospective donors, keep track of your conversations for two reasons:

  1. Major gifts can take awhile, so it’s important to keep tabs on major donors.
  2. Donors may not be ready to make a major gift, but could be eligible in the future.

Conversations should revolve around your organization’s mission and not the donor’s wealth. Past philanthropy is a better indicator of potential giving than wealth, so it makes sense that donors respond better when the conversation revolves around the positive impact of their gift.

And be sure to thank people. Gratefulness goes a long way towards assuring prospects that you’re an awesome person working for a worthwhile nonprofit.

You’re well on your way to becoming a prospect research savant. When you can send a nicer piece of mail or provide a more personal conversation to a prospect who is likely to give a four or five-figure gift, you stand a much better chance of receiving a positive response. It’s not a short or easy process, but it’s hard work that will pay off.

28 January 2015
Richard Smith

Clever Tactics for Gaining Monthly Donors

March 4th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

The true value of monthly donors is undisputed. Securing just 30 monthly donors at $20 per month may generate only a monthly revenue stream of $600, but over the next 12 months their contributions will add up to $7,200. And time, effort and expenses are saved because there is no need to keep sending repeated “asks”. The “lifetime value” of any of these donors who may continue to donate for 5, 10 or even 20 years can be a huge bonus.


When Should You Ask For a Monthly Gift?

At every given opportunity. You can ask a new donor as early as a week after they have made their first donation. Or you can push long-standing board members to convert to monthly giving at every meeting.

Who Should You Ask?

Segmentation of your house list helps determine which donors are more likely to respond to a request for a monthly gift. For example:

  • Leave the $100+ donors aside. Rather, look at your donor base and identify those donors who have made small gifts, even $5 or $10 twice a year. Any donor who has made two or three contributions over the last 18 months should be encouraged to join a monthly-giving plan. If they give frequently you know they are loyal donors who believe in your cause, so encourage them to convert.
  • Asking your $100+ level and multi gift donors might jeopardize their “lifetime value” by inadvertently moving them to a lower-value monthly gift.

How to Ask for Monthly Donations

    • Give your monthly giving program a name like the one below for the Toronto Humane Society.

monthly giving

    • If you can, frame your monthly giving request as an opportunity to join a special group with special privileges.

monthly giving

    • If you have a leadership-giving program where membership is $1,000 per year, show them that a monthly giving plan of just $84 every month is lot easier than writing a cheque for the full amount every year.
    • Package the appeal in an exciting way. For example, some organizations have a Gold Club program or a Help-a-Child Monthly program. Put a face on that sustainable gift. This way you’re creating a tangible tie to the idea of giving every month. Remember: to increase charitable donations, you should appeal to the heart, not the head.

monthly giving

    • Devote one side of the donation form to convincing donors to convert to monthly giving.

monthly giving

    • Use variable copy for each specific segment. Remind them of their last gift, the amount of the contribution and tell them how it was used.
    • Allow them to choose their donation amount, method of payment and even the timing as to when they should start.
    • Show donors how their monthly gift buys something specific. For example just above the donor form or near it show a breakdown of what each donation amount could accomplish.

monthly giving

How to Promote Monthly Giving

  • Use every medium: website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, direct mail, email, telephone and even face-to-face are all great ways of getting donors to convert.


    • When incorporating a monthly giving option, be careful how and where you talk it up in your letter. Often just a mention of monthly giving in the letter’s P.S. works better than including lots of text on the subject in the body copy.
    • Include a monthly giving option on your response device only to current donors. Prospects generally don’t respond well to this option. Though this is generally true, test it out with your own donors.
    • If you do try to convert new prospects, remember they need more inducement before they decide to donate or become monthly donors. As per the example below:

monthly giving

    • Consider a test to convert sponsors to monthly giving by offering benefits like the ones below.

monthly giving

  • A donor who has lapsed in giving may need a different kind of approach. For example, this mailing for United Way Montreal used a survey to find out why they had lapsed. The result: it won back many donors with a 4.9% response and gained some valuable information about their lapsed donors.

Front of Letter/order Form & Survey
monthly giving

Back of Letter/order Form & Survey
monthly giving

For more reading on this topic, see Harvey McKinnon’s book Hidden Gold and Erica Waasdorp’s Monthly Giving The Sleeping Giant.

27 January 2015

Going from satisfactory to excellent with thank you letters

March 3rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Inspired consultant and blogger Penelope Burk has been surveying donors and paying attention to what they say about how the nonprofits to whom they give recognize their donations.  Here’s her list of 20 elements that contribute to an excellent thank you letter.


Of course, images go a long way toward helping our donors see exactly who and what their dollars are supporting.  Ball Statue University holds campus-wide thank you events to involve students, faculty and donors and shares those images through their social media channels.

Thanks Ball State alumni and friends!

To access Penelope Burk’s blog, click on the list above.

January 27, 2015 · 8:07 am
Diane Korb
APRA Greater Houston

Expert Advice for Making the Most of Prospect Research

March 2nd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Use tools and available resources to save time and increase efficiency

Make sure your development team is taking advantage of the various tools and resources available to conduct prospect research. New applications and prospect screening services can improve the effectiveness of your prospect research efforts. Also, explore the free resources available to nonprofits to see how they can supplement your fundraising activities. 

Elizabeth S. Zeigler, President of Graham-Pelton Consulting, says:

“In 2015 more so than ever before, major gift fundraisers must craft individualized cultivation and solicitation strategies in order to best engage prospective donors and match their interests to the needs of the nonprofit.  Graham-Pelton Consulting relies on DonorSearch research culled from dozens of sources to provide informed counsel that results in solid solicitation strategies and increased confidence in the person that will make the ask of the donor.”

Marge King, President of the InfoRich Group, says: 

“Using simple tools like bookmarking services and Evernote can increase a researcher’s efficiency. All prospects are unique, so finding tidbits of information about a prospect’s neighborhood or business sector may be just as unique or obscure. For example, how many taxidermists have you researched? None? I’ve researched one in 15 years and it took some time to sift through sites related to taxidermy to find the useful sites for prospect research purposes.

Using a good bookmarking service that allows user tagging or comments so that you may find that website that lists taxidermist fees or other obscure sites is key to efficiency. What is on the Internet today may be gone tomorrow. So, I also recommend using tools like Evernote to collect, organize, and store useful data like salary surveys.”

Chris Dawson, Senior Prospect Researcher at University Hospitals, says: “My main advice is to be aware of all the possible tools that you can use as a researcher. By that I mean that while it’s easy to pick up a subscription for a service like DonorSearch, or LexisNexis, iWave, or any of the other companies (and I always do recommend that researchers look into these companies and get what subscriptions they can), a good researcher should always be aware of other resources that may be available that they didn’t originally consider, allowing them to expand their research capabilities, often at no cost. Such as:

  • The Foundation Center, with locations in New York, Cleveland, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Washington, are full of free resources to help researchers … and the Foundation Center also partners with a variety of local libraries and college libraries to have certain resources freely available there

And speaking of libraries … I can’t speak to every city library out there, but we found out almost by accident that Cleveland’s public library system had a host of research resources that were freely available to anyone with a library card. We were actually able to reduce our research budget by switching over to some of the research products that were available for free, rather than paying for them. We were able to access a surprising amount of newspaper databases, biographical databases, and business databases (including one that I knew had an annual subscription fee of $45k/year) all for free.

Other cities have similar research databases available through their public libraries, or via college libraries. I always urge researchers to seek out what their public library has, as well as area colleges (many of which allow local citizens to get library cards to access their collections).

In a single swoop, researchers can expand their capabilities, for no extra cost. These new sources certainly allowed us to offer better and more extensive information in our profiles, which has benefited our gift officers.”

Incorporate Social Media into your Fundraising Activities

The rise of social media has huge implications for prospect researchers. Consider how your nonprofit organization can use social data to learn more about potential donors.

Jay Frost, Senior Partner at Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, says: “We are witnessing the biggest shift in the history of organized philanthropy. No longer do we just reach out to new friends for support. Donors are now coming to us. And reaching out to their peers to support us as well. The universe of contributors is no longer local, or even national, but international. And we can learn far more today about what is in the minds and hearts of prospective supporters than ever before.

All of this is the direct result of the social media revolution. And it is up to us, this generation of fundraising professionals, to determine if we want to be merely marketers or relationship builders. To become true advocates for philanthropy, we must pay careful attention to how people define themselves and their relationships. The largest opportunities for advancing our organizations exist at the intersection of great financial capacity and deep affinity. And the map to that intersection is available to us through prospect research informed by social media.”

Maria Semple, Owner of The Prospect Finder LLC, says: “Don’t forget to set up some “Saved Searches” on LinkedIn’s Advanced Search page so that you can put some proactive prospecting on Auto-Pilot for 2015! So simple to do and you can save up to 3 searches under a free LinkedIn account and LinkedIn will email you the search results on a weekly or a monthly basis….you decide.”

Create processes and systems to organize and implement your prospect data

Too much data can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to use it. Put into place systems that can capture the information your organization gathers and establish processes to put that information into action. 

Joshua Birkholz, Principal at Bentz Whaley Flessner, says: “Encourage your research team to move from providing facts to offering judgment. You will be well-served to leverage this function for prioritizing your work. Development will always involve sitting in someone’s living room asking for money. This activity is not easily scalable. Determining which prospects to see is scalable. Let Prospect Research help choose which living rooms.”

Thomas Sonni, President of Greater Mission Development Services, says: “In our work with clients, prospect research has been a powerful resource because of how we have learned to organize, cross-analyze, and further develop the data by integrating the findings with client-supplied giving data and local knowledge. We use our own custom rating strategy for potential gift levels.

The combination of refined information translates into creating strategic tools such as gift tables, goals, campaign timetables, and particularized plans linked to how many likely lead gift candidates exist at each key pledge level. One specific example of this approach is the way we often set a minimum threshold for active giving. Then we identify which active donors meet any of the capacity criteria for significant large gifts. Looking at combinations of key data simultaneously leads us to identify those constituents who are most likely to be qualified leadership gift candidates for our clients.”

Brian Lacy, President of Brian Lacy and Associates, says: “It is important to keep donor databases clean! Prospect research is less effective when you start with the wrong addresses for too many top prospects. Limited annual giving budgets are misspent when appeals are mailed to old addresses, student callers call wrong phone numbers, and e-solicitations are never received. By keeping your donor database updated and with the fewest possible errors, you lift the fundraising effectiveness of your team and their results.”

Adam Weinger, President of Double the Donation, says: “Don’t forget about integrating matching gift data into your prospect outreach strategy. Many companies offer matching gift programs to their employees which can increase the potential value of individual donations. What’s more, some companies will even match major gifts of $5,000 or more.”

No matter what tools you use, don’t forget the basics

No amount of fancy tools, tricks, or shortcuts can replace the basics of fundraising. It is important to remember that your organization should not lose site of its fundamentals as it develops its fundraising capabilities. 

Margaret Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of CCS Research, says: “Prospect Research is an integral part of any fundraising campaign. Getting the correct information to the individuals who will be cultivating and soliciting can be challenging, but seasoned prospect researchers know just where to look. After completing a screening with a service like DonorSearch, the client will assess their results and see which matches yield the most promising potential. At this point, the researcher steps in to see if there are any additional nuggets of information available that might yield a higher ask amount.

I liken getting all the information about a prospect to putting a puzzle together. You need Biographical information, like address, education, date of birth, and any other pieces of information you can find. Corporate information can provide the most interesting piece of the puzzle in that it may include compensation. Honors, awards, and corporate affiliations give you some insight into the personal behavior of your prospect and just how engaged he or she is with their community.

Wealth Assessment information can include real estate values, stock holdings, other director compensation, lawsuit winnings or any other information obtained that affects the monetary piece of the pie. Finally, charitable contributions will show you where and in what amounts your prospect has given in the past. Don’t forget to include political donations. The best indicator of future giving is the prospect’s history of past giving.”

Don Souhrada, Vice President of Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt, says: “It’s important to be focused on a group of people that you want to bring to conclusion. For example, when you screen an entire database, you can get greedy when evaluating potential prospects. Instead of running too quickly through your list of prospects, try focusing on a small group of high potential donors to bring them to resolution and foster a positive perception of your organization.”

Alison Sommers-Sayre, President of APRA, says: “The promise of technology is great and one we should all embrace, but we must beware of being led astray by that promise. Today we need highly skilled prospect development professionals more than ever, to navigate the tools available, to use them effectively and at the end of the day to do the critical analysis and investigation that turns all of that data into something on which our fundraising partners can act.”

Poonam Prasad, President of Prasad Consulting & Research, says: “The new trend in Prospect Research is a focus on Data Analytics and Visual Analytics. These are amazing new tools for understanding and presenting large volumes of information. However, not too long ago, I attended a presentation about a very large billion dollar campaign at an Ivy-League university. In the end, the campaign succeeded because of less than 10 transformational gifts from donors who had been cultivated over a long period of time. Be sure you never lose sight of who your top 10 donors are, or could be, as you review and present data using the trendiest new tools.”

Sarah Bernstein, blogger at the The Fundraising Back-Office, says: “Capacity assessment has an important place in prospect research and fundraising strategy, but it is not the only language in which the story of a prospect can be told, and it never paints a complete picture. You can use capacity to prioritize prospects, but you should make the most of prospect research by looking beyond the numbers to discover relationships, interests, and conversation starters. Prospect research has a role at every stage of the cultivation cycle.

As I wrote in my final presidential column of the APRA Wisconsin newsletter, The Research Report, last year: ‘Our goal in ratings, profiles, and bios should always be to tell a story that creates interest and informs the development of a donor-centric strategy, whether the immediate next action is to make the first phone call, cultivate affinity for our mission, solicit a gift, or steward a lifetime of generosity.’ Prospect research increasingly needs to leverage both familiar and emerging technologies to seek innovative ways to tell more compelling stories using more efficient tools.”

Make sure prospect research is always done with your fundraising goals in mind

Success in prospect research is defined by success in fundraising. Consider how each new piece of data on your prospects will help your fundraisers be more successful when soliciting donations. 

Tom AhernPresident of Ahern Donor Communications, says: “Fundraisers are sales people. They have to make a sale to a prospect. Knowing that prospect as thoroughly as possible before attempting a sale is simply the smart way to prepare. You still might fail, but you’ll fail for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.”

Jennifer Filla, President and Founder of Aspire Research Group, says: “Prospect research developed in response to fundraisers’ need for more information. The research should always serve to enable fundraising. The question to answer is: ‘Does the information I find and the delivery format enable the fundraiser?’ Too much, too little, or in the wrong format? You need to adapt and change.”

Helen Brown, President of Helen Brown Group, says: “Plan prospect identification projects in close collaboration with frontline fundraisers. You’ll get a better end product that will meet their needs and get them excited to get out the door.”

Bill Tedesco, CEO of DonorSearch, says: “It’s important for nonprofits to understand the variety of data types that fall under the umbrella of prospect research. Organizations that focus too much on one type of data such as wealth indicators are losing out on additional types of information, such as philanthropy data, which may more accurately predict a prospect’s likelihood of making a charitable gift. By compiling a complete prospect profile with a diverse array of properly weighed data points, you provide your fundraising team with everything they need to be successful.”

But remember, a good development team is more than just front-line fundraisers

Prospect researchers have a unique set of skills that can help balance out a nonprofit’s fundraising team. They can bridge the gap between the raw data and the story it tells about a specific prospect.

Diane Valdivia, President of Pinpoint Prospect Research, says: “… I think that, despite the prospect research profession’s evolution and substantial growth in the past 10-15 years, there remains a lack of understanding by nonprofit management of the value and return on investment prospect research brings.

For example, if provided the staffing dollars in 2015, would the average director hire additional development officers or prospect research staff? From what I’ve experienced in over twenty-five years of fundraising — both as a development officer and a researcher — prospect research would not be a first consideration. And that’s too bad because a good researcher is not only an analyst but a strategist who is, essentially, a match-maker in finding key partners and supporters for your organization.”

Don’t ever lose sight of the ultimate philanthropic mission

While raising money is important, it’s ultimately a way to help achieve your mission as an organization. Always remember to keep your nonprofit’s mission as the focus when connecting with potential or existing donors.

Amanda Jarman, Principal of Fundraising Nerd, says: “Be effective, efficient and ethical by doing research for a reason. Know the “why” behind your research, and keep your efforts focused on the just-in-time information that’s necessary to take the next step with the prospect.”

We hope this expert advice can help you get the most out of prospect research at your nonprofit organization!

26 January 2015
By Richard Smith