The Party Doesn't Stop: Cultivation and Stewardship for Nonprofit Recurring Donors

February 10, 2020
7 minutes

Does your nonprofit have a recurring donor program up and running? Gold star if you do! Recurring donors are one of the best ways to build sustainable (and predictable) monthly revenue for your nonprofit. It’s philanthropy on autopilot! Acquiring recurring donors is, of course, one challenge that fundraisers face when building their recurring donor program. But what about keeping and upgrading your recurring donors for the long haul?

The opportunities don’t stop when someone signs up to be a recurring donor. In fact, it's just the beginning! Your nonprofit needs a cultivation and stewardship game plan for recurring donors. Let’s dive into some strategies to help your nonprofit build a robust recurring donor program.

It’s All About Relationships

We don’t need to tell you this, fundraiser, but fundraising is all about relationships. So what kind of relationship are you building with a recurring donor if they only hear from your nonprofit once a year with their year-end tax receipt? We’d say that’s a pretty transactional relationship. Figuring out relationship-building with recurring donors can be a challenge. After all, they're making a donation each month. Does that mean you need to send them a monthly acknowledgement letter? How often should you be communicating with them? Ideally you should be communicating with your recurring donors at least 4 times a year—once per quarter.

So what exactly should you do to cultivate and steward recurring donors? Check out our list of ideas for inspiration.

Start with the Basics—A Welcome Package

This'll be a one-time-only touchpoint for new recurring donors, but it’s an important one since it’s the first communication they’ll receive from your nonprofit as a recurring donor. A welcome package can be as simple or complex as you make it. On the simple side, send a welcome email and a link to a special thank-you video. Or if you want to throw in a little more figurative confetti, create a specially-designed folder that includes information and swag that you send via snail mail.

Your nonprofit’s recurring donor welcome package should take into account your resources, staff time, and budget. No matter what format you choose for your welcome package, make it meaningful and heartfelt.

Recurring Donor-Only Newsletter

Creating special communications for certain segments of donors may seem like added work to your to-do list, but hear us out before you write it off. One of the reasons some donors sign up to be recurring donors is to be a part of the 'club' as an insider. Whether your recurring donor program is branded or not, some of your donors will appreciate the special commitment and status that comes with their giving. Those donors appreciate receiving a special recurring donor-only communications, like a newsletter.

This could be the communication you send out four times a year, or maybe it’s a special annual publication (you're gonna put together an annual report, right?) Make it fun and use it to keep your recurring donors engaged. This newsletter is a way to thank your recurring donors for their commitment and show them the impact recurring donors have at your organization.

Postcard Updates

If a newsletter seems like a big communications commitment, a postcard update might be the right fit for your organization. Postcard annual reports have been popular in the last few years as a simple yet effective way to communicate impact to your nonprofit’s community. You can bring this same concept into your donor communications: pick out a great photo or create an infographic for the front of the postcard and pair that with a short update on the back of the postcard. If you’re looking for an opportunity to personalize the postcard, leave the back blank and you can fill it in with a personal note.

Appreciation Events

Galas and fundraising events aren’t the only types of events your nonprofit could be hosting—appreciation events are a great opportunity to steward recurring donors and cultivate relationships. Plus, appreciation events tend to be much lower stakes since there isn’t a fundraising goal!

Your appreciation event will need a program. After all, you don’t want your donors aimlessly mingling. Think about planning it around an awareness day that ties in with your cause, like International Women’s Day, World Peace Day, MLK Day, etc. Plan to have someone from your organization say a few words and thank donors. You may also want to invite a special speaker, like a program participant who can share an impact story.

Anniversary Card or Email

Here’s a really natural stewardship opportunity for recurring donors—their recurring donation giving anniversary! Sending them a special communication every year is a great way to remind them of how much your nonprofit appreciates them. Design and print special anniversary cards for 1, 5, and 10 years of recurring giving. If you primarily keep in touch with recurring donors by email, consider designing special graphics you can embed in the email body or using a cool interactive email. We'd love to get an email that showers us with digital confetti!

Invite Them for a Tour

Another way to connect with your recurring donors is to invite your donors down for a tour. It doesn't have to be an all-day affair... keep it to 30 minutes so that your donors stay engaged and interested. Plan out a tour route along with specific stories or anecdotes you can share that'll bring home donors' impact in action.

There are endless ways to cultivate and steward your recurring donors. Be sure you have the basics in place with a great thank-you letter and welcome package, then look for creative ways to go above and beyond with special year-round touch points. By connecting with donors in a variety of ways, you’ll build lasting relationships and show recurring donors that they're funding awesome all year long.

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