How can you get donors to give again?
Monthly giving programs bring more stability and sustainability to an organization. In this episode, Farra Trompeter chats with Dana Snyder, founder of Positive Equation, who shares tips on how to attract and engage repeat donors.
Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and member-owner of Big Duck. Today we’re going to ask the question, “How can you get donors to give again?” And I’m delighted to have with me Dana Snyder. I met Dana a few months ago at a conference called Cause Camp where we both had the chance to share the stage at a conference held by Do More Good with lots of nonprofits in person. It was my first in-person conference since Covid back in May 2022, and I enjoyed talking to Dana in between the sessions and getting to know her.
Farra Trompeter: Well, let me tell you a little bit about Dana. Dana, she/her, is a speaker, podcast host, and digital marketing strategist. As the founder of Positive Equation, her mission is to teach nonprofits how to transform their online experiences through digital marketing strategies and the use of new technology. Dana frequently speaks on innovative ways for nonprofits to increase their online fundraising efforts with guests on her podcast, Missions to Movements. Dana, welcome to the show.
Dana Snyder: Thanks so much for having me. It’s great to see you again.
Farra Trompeter: It is great to see you, too. One day we’ll get to see each other in person, but until then, until I get to Atlanta or you come over to Brooklyn, we will enjoy this space together.
Dana Snyder: I always love going back to New York City so, hopefully, I’ll be there soon.
Farra Trompeter: That’s right, you used to live here.
Dana Snyder: That’s right.
Farra Trompeter: Come on back. So, let’s just start by making the case for this conversation. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the average donor retention rate in 2021 was about 41.9%. So, most organizations are holding onto less than half of their donors year over year, and when we break that down more, we see that number actually go down dramatically to less than 20% for new donors and then up to above 60% for repeat donors. So, I know you’ve worked with lots of nonprofits as staff and as a consultant, and I’m curious if you’ve seen this problem of retention play out. Why do organizations need to pay attention to donor retention, and how can they maybe try to get those repeat donors and leverage that number up?
Dana Snyder: That’s a really great question and some really interesting stats that you just listed. I think we are overly focused on new acquisition, always and forever. When I worked for a nonprofit 10 plus years ago now, I remember that was my focus as a development manager was, “How do we bring in new people to our organization?” That was kind of always the main goal that we talked about, and there honestly weren’t any discussions about, “How do we build deeper relationships with the existing people that we already have outside of just sending the monthly newsletters and the annual campaign snail mails?” But there wasn’t any, like, personalization discussions about, “How do we take Dana or Farra as individuals and realize, okay, Dana gave $50 six months ago, what does that mean? What has she done so far?” Right? Like, how do we really figure out that deeper conversation with people?
Dana Snyder: And I think acquisition is, no doubt, more expensive, right, to find new people to bring them into your organization. And it can be really time-consuming, and there’s the mental aspect which can be very frustrating and daunting like, “How do I continue to bring in new people?” And I think focusing on donor retention can be super uplifting for the organization and for the people, your supporters inside of it, to grow deeper with you. So, I think for numerous reasons we should be paying more attention to donor retention. From a cost standpoint, from a staffing standpoint, from a resources standpoint, and overall just a benefit to the overarching impact that the organization can grow and have.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I remember reading years ago, I think it costs six to seven times more to acquire a new donor than to hold onto one you have. And that makes sense because when you’re acquiring a new donor, maybe it’s postage, maybe it’s printing, maybe it’s a whole new set of emails that you worked with designers and consultants on. And again, it’s like, you know, make new friends, we still want to bring those new donors in, but let’s keep the old, let’s cultivate the ones who’ve given to us, you know?
Dana Snyder: Yeah, and I think we all know this, right? I think we all know in the back of our mind that we’re kind of like spinning our wheels on the new people all the time, but I think maybe the time just hasn’t been spent to sit down and really think about, okay, what are the systems and the tools and the processes and the data and all the things in place that we need to have to set up something to help with their retention plan?
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, and I know one of the best ways that nonprofits can boost retention is by actually having a strong monthly giving program. Because donors who often sign up to be repeat donors and monthly sustainers kind of stay and keep on giving. You give your credit card and you forgot you did it, and it keeps going and going and going. Hopefully, you’re still happy about that monthly charge. And I think, actually, more and more, especially through the pandemic, people have gotten used to subscription programs, right? I’m sure Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime also got a boost as people were kind of signing up for those things. So, I’m curious, who are the best prospects to actually invite to become a monthly donor?
Dana Snyder: I would look at any donors that might be giving less than $250, maybe $500 a year. And who are those people that are giving those one-time gifts? Individuals. And if it’s less than that amount or if it’s a one-time gift of $250 or something, or if it’s a one-time gift of $25, right? How can they give that $25 gift 12 times or a $50 gift 12 times a year? Which, obviously, significantly increases that gift over time. I really think I give to so many charities because I’m like a multi-passionate donor of different causes, and there’s a great study that Neon One had published about, like, the reasons that we give, and some of them are culturally, right, like, the Ukraine war. Like, something random pops up and we feel the urge to give. There’s more intimate where something has happened to me, therefore, I am invested. Or a friend of mine, something has happened to a friend, therefore I want to give. So, I just feel like I’m a very multi-passionate giver, therefore, instead of giving, like, a big lump sum to one organization, I really enjoy giving to multiple organizations smaller gifts, but I understand that monthly giving equals more stability and sustainability for an organization.
Dana Snyder: If they can say, “We know that we have,” I’m just making this up, right, “$10,000 in monthly gifts coming in every single month, “that’s a great chunk for them to know that they can rely on pretty much, and I think the average retention rate for monthly giving is 80 to 90%, so it’s significantly higher. So, I would really look at your donor data and figure out, “Okay, who are those one-time gifts that are maybe like, maybe it was once, maybe it’s one time, but it’s infrequent. Like, it’s random. And how can we ask that specific person to become a monthly donor for our organization?”
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, or even that annual donor who’s given to you for the past two or three years, maybe the same amount, maybe slightly more, but consider even getting a $25 donor to give $5 a month. You’ve just upgraded a $25 donor to a $60 donor and more than doubled the amount they’ve given to you, and then eventually have specific programs to upgrade your sustaining donors. So, it’s definitely worth thinking about.
Farra Trompeter: And I know you also teach a cohort-based program called Mastermind, which helps nonprofits build a community of recurring donors so they can actually spend more time on stewardship. Can you share a little bit more about the benefits of building a strong monthly giving program to an organization? You spoke about reliability but maybe speak more about this idea of stewardship and what nonprofits can also benefit from when they have a strong monthly giving program and they’ve actually built a community among those donors.
Dana Snyder: Yeah, so my Mastermind is actually the same name as my podcast, Missions to Movements, and I love it. So, I worked with six organizations, and I relaunched it. The next one will be in January of 2023, and over the course of three months, we literally build and launch monthly giving programs. And that’s soup to nuts, creating the name to, like, the landing page to the video that goes with it, to the optimizing the donation tool, and everything alongside of that. The most powerful monthly giving programs, it’s going to seem like the simplest thing to say, but they’re talked about all the time. It is brought up at every single fundraising function. It is in every single email newsletter. It is your GivingTuesday campaign.
Dana Snyder: I remember when I was talking with Vik Harrison from charity: water about this. She’s like, “We talked about The Spring,” they now have 70,000 monthly donors, she’s like, “We talked about The Spring relentlessly for over a year. It was the only thing we talked about.” So, you can get really crystal clear on just talking about that program, and that is the only thing you want people to do that is on your homepage of your website, right?
Dana Snyder: Like, a big one and really simple, like, tweak is make sure, on your giving donation tool, that there’s an option for a monthly gift, and then even better is if there’s an upsell. So, in the six programs that I worked with, I’m platform agnostic, but they all ended up switching over to Fundraise Up. Funraise has the same capability, but one of the things that can happen is if you’re giving a one-time gift, and let’s say it’s $60, the next thing it’ll ask is, “Actually, would you instead like to make that a monthly gift of $25?” So, in your mind, just from a normal, like, sales standpoint, you’re like, “Oh, I was going to give $60, but $25 sounds way more doable,” but it’s 25 times 12, right? So it’s obviously more than $60. So, really creating a program that makes people feel like they’re coming together as a community to make an impact together, I think, is a big deal.
Dana Snyder: So, when we’re building out these programs, I’m like, this is a product. This is a product. Think about it like a SKU number, and you are telling everyone about this awesome product you have. You have to market the product, you have to talk about the product, you have to invest in the product, you have to put good branding on the product, you should have video, like, it’s a full product. I mean, there’s no other way to say it, but it’s really investing time and energy into a program to allow it to be sustainable and successful.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, and a lot of what you’re just talking about with thinking about it as a product comes to marketing, and of course, we often talk about the connection between communications and marketing and fundraising and the idea of that, you know, a regular part of communications is to help you build and deepen relationships with your community. In this case, we’re talking about your community of donors and prospects, and I’m curious, what are some ways you’ve helped nonprofits use social media, their website, videos, or other digital strategies to actually engage repeat donors? To keep people giving, maybe again, to consider giving more whatever it may be.
Dana Snyder: Yeah, I think it’s all of the above, right? I mean I think the first thing you have to think about is having a great landing page. Like, where are you asking them to convert to make that transaction happen and what’s on that page? How easy is it for them to complete that gift? The one thing that we invested a lot within my Mastermind is there’s a copywriter that’s part of the program. The whole first month is nothing but really understanding “Who is your ideal donor for this monthly giving program, specifically?” Like, who has been a super fan? And a lot of times we based off of who’s a true, real super fan supporter in your organization, and let’s build it off of that, and the copy’s going to speak exactly to that person. And a lot of times I think we overcomplicate copy and we try and talk in, like, super robust sentences and, like, make it super scientific and it’s like we’re humans. Like, we just want to, like, make an impact and know, like, the really good feeling behind it of, like, making an impact and making a difference. And so having a really great landing page with powerful copy is huge.
Dana Snyder: I think the other thing is, again, optimizing that donation tool. This was one of the most important facets. I mean going through just these six organizations was, one of them, I was like, I had to log into something to donate. No one’s ever going to do that. I was sent to, like, a separate website that wasn’t branded as theirs, and I was like, “We have to change this.” One was, like, not mobile responsive. Like, I think a lot of times we’re just in the hustle mode of, like, working on so many other things that we don’t look at the core components of making a gift and, like, what it’s going to be for an outsider. So I know that’s fundamental, making donating really interactive and simple.
Dana Snyder: Social ads are my jam. So, I am always promoting using social media ads. So, paid ads on Facebook and Instagram, primarily. But to reach your warm audience and to reach new cold audiences, two different strategies there, obviously, a big one, also, is great email marketing. And when I say great email marketing, I’m really trying to focus in on segmenting and personalizing those emails. I have one member in the group, she was creating individual videos and she was individually emailing existing recurring donors to get them to move over to this new platform. And she’s like, mostly all of them didn’t care about giving a duplicate monthly gift during the transfer month, and she said it was like 50% or so were bumping their gift and they were giving more. So, by having that personalized conversation, she was seeing tremendous growth just from having that conversation. So, if you can really personalize your emails, come up with, like, a great flow and a cadence of them.
Dana Snyder: And I think we try and make our emails like, “Let’s talk about monthly giving and then let’s talk about our gala and then let’s talk about this great story that happened,” and then I’m confused about what you want me to do. Do you want me to go to the gala? Do you want me to give monthly? Do you want me to, like, read this story? Like, really focus on one clear message per email communication and make it the only thing that you want somebody to do. So, there’s so many facets of what you can do, and I think if you just start to, like, focus on one section at a time, like, if you can set up an email funnel that’s automated and then that’s set to go, and then if you can set up an ad campaign and that’s running and that’s set to go. But really, really, I think it’s focusing on the fundamentals of, “What does that landing page look like? What’s the language around that landing page, and what is the giving experience like?”
Farra Trompeter: Those are great, and you also made me think about when you talked initially about, “Who are the donors who are most likely to give?” We had a whole other podcast I did with Mica Bevington about donor personas. We’ve evolved our thinking to say, like, focus really on psychographics. What motivates people? Why do they give? You mentioned how you, you know, for example, you’re a multi-cause donor so, what’s going to attract you to this organization may be different than a single-cause donor depending on your connection to the issue. So really thinking about who those people are and then experiencing how you’re asking to give through their eyes. Imagine what it’s like. What happens when you go to make a gift? Can I actually make a gift to you from my phone and not just from your website to your point about having a mobile responsive page? What happens when I fill out the form? What do I see on-screen? What do I get in my email? So even just doing that audit of how you’re communicating and then building from there, I think is really helpful.
Dana Snyder: Yeah, there’s a super interesting stat. One of the great things that I do like about Fundraise Up is they have this, they have a lot of interactive elements that you can put on a website, and they have an element that’s called Social Proof. And we see this all the time on e-commerce sites, right? It’s, “Dana bought these shoes, like, you know you’re going to, like, want them too,” and so you click on the little, like, Social Proof.
Farra Trompeter: “100 people are buying these shoes right now.”
Dana Snyder: Yeah, “Dana from Georgia,” and so, like, you click on it, you’re like, “Oh yeah, cause that, okay, somebody else just bought them so I’m going to buy them, too.” They have that for donating and what’s interesting is we enabled that Social Proof element on these sites, and it is one of the top elements that’s converting donors. So, like, the Social Proof aspect and, like, really being part of a community, it was fascinating to see more than the actual just, like, donate button itself.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, that’s amazing, and I think that speaks to the idea that people want to be part of something bigger and by supporting you, knowing that their gift might collectively add too much more than they can give on their own and that Social Proof is a great reminder. Well, before you go, you’ve dropped lots of nuggets and tips, but I just want to see if there are any other tricks or ideas you have that folks can consider putting into practice. Basic things they can do to create or promote their monthly giving program or even some pearls of wisdom about social ads if that’s your jam when it comes to monthly giving. Yeah, share some more tips for us.
Dana Snyder: Yeah, for sure. I’ll give two. So, on the monthly giving side, I’m going to start at the beginning, which is your naming. So, there were some names that came up in our brainstorm session that if they’re not easy to pronounce or spell or say properly, like, you might think, “Oh, this is so, like, spot on for who we are as an organization,” and I’m like, but I have no idea what that is or what that means. And so it’s like, don’t overcomplicate the naming of your program. Make it something that is already on-brand. For example, The Family Promise did The Promise. And then think about that in a sentence. “I’m making the promise,” right, “I’m joining The Promise.” There’s another one, Celebrate! RVA. They create birthday parties for kids in Richmond, Virginia. It’s amazing. So their monthly giving program is called The Party. Join the Party. RSVP to The Party. Like, think about it in a sentence and how people would think about it in joining because you’re going to have to talk about it in your marketing efforts.
Dana Snyder: The second thing that I would say on social ads is now and all year round, one of the greatest ads that you can run is for lead generation. So not donation-based, but lead generation and collecting emails. If You can have a great lead magnet. So, not inviting someone to your email newsletter because no one wants to join another email newsletter, but, like, some value exchange of content for lead generation. And I have a whole course that I just launched recently on this about building your email list of supporters because social does not convert nearly as much into donations as email does. Like, point blank. And you own your emails. So, if you can use social ads to consistently build your list, and let’s just say that the average lead costs you $6, you are 100% going to get more than a $6 donation from that person. I would say those are my two tips: really invest in your lead generation in social ads all year round, and then number two, really think about a very marketable, easy-to-use monthly giving program name.
Farra Trompeter: On the second piece, on the lead generation, I just want to just pull out maybe one or two ideas. I’ve seen organizations do a checklist, a resource guide, something that is related to the mission but might actually be useful to the supporter or the community. Or “ways you can volunteer to do X.” “Other organizations you can support as part of our movement to Y.” Something that they’ll actually benefit from as an incentive to give their email. Are there any other quick ideas you’ve got off top of your head?
Dana Snyder: Yeah, a great one is if there’s a resource that, like, a family can do together. Is there an activity at home that if they can, like, build something or make something or deliver something, that’s a really great one? Any webinars or videos that you might have that are kind of as a content unlocked piece. Like, “You have to use your email to be able to see behind the scenes of X, Y, and Z story,” that works really well. So, it might be things that you already have. I love your idea of the checklist.
Dana Snyder: An easy one that I think is great is we’re always looking for content to consume. Like, just this weekend I was like, “What’s new on Netflix?” What if there’s a list of documentaries or podcasts or books on your topic area that would help me be more informed about what’s happening? That could take you, I don’t know, 20 minutes maybe to write those down. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You could put it in a Google Doc or if you wanted to, there are beautiful checklist templates in Canva, and you can just write those down, download it as a pdf, and you’re rocking and rolling.
Farra Trompeter: Love it. Well, so much goodies, but I want to let you go back to your day in helping more nonprofits engage their community. So, if you’d like to learn more about Dana’s work and read her blog, go to positiveequation.com. You can also follow Positive Equation on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. You can find Dana on LinkedIn at Dana R. Snyder, and Dana also has a great podcast we mentioned earlier for marketers called Mission to Movements. And if you are curious about Big Duck’s work to get campaigns or plans to encourage repeat gifts and engage sustainers, reach out to us, drop us a line at [email protected]. Dana, thanks again for joining us today.
Dana Snyder: Thanks so much for having me.