How to Upgrade Your Recurring Donors

July 5, 2020
4 minutes

Pop quiz time! What's one of the easiest ways to increase your fundraising revenue?

Answer: Ask your recurring donors to increase their monthly gift amount!

This is one of the easiest and most effective asks you’ll make to a donor segment. Your recurring donors are already loyal, happy givers to your nonprofit. Asking them to increase their gift by a small amount adds up and has the added benefit of showing you who your most dedicated supporters are. Let’s talk about the logistics and considerations for successfully upgrading your recurring donors.

When should I upgrade recurring donors?

This is the question on everyone’s mind! As you know, a donor of any kind is at their most engaged right after they make a donation. This means that they're more likely to make another gift sooner when asked or take further engagement action like attending an event or volunteering. But, becoming a recurring donor is a big leap in engagement... so is asking a new recurring donor to upgrade their gift within a few weeks too soon? Probably.

Monthly giving guru Erica Waasdorp says the best time to upgrade your recurring donors is 9 to 12 months after they joined your program. What this means for you is that you might be running upgrade campaigns on a rolling basis and not using a traditional appeal or campaign model.

Alternatively, you could choose to run an annual upgrade campaign and suppress donors who have recently become recurring donors.

How do I ask recurring donors to upgrade their gift?

Let automation do the heavy lifting for you! As we noted above, your recurring donor upgrades can be done on a rolling basis, meaning you have year-round opportunities to increase the revenue from your recurring donor program. Awesome, right? This is where automation becomes your BFF.

Automated emails usually trigger through your CRM. Essentially, these are emails slated to go out to contacts who meet certain criteria at a certain time. In the case of recurring donors, an example of this criteria is a contact who 1) is a recurring donor and 2) has been a recurring donor for 9 months.

You would set up a corresponding email to be automatically sent once a contact meets these criteria. No running reports or having to press send daily. It all happens behind the scenes once you’ve done the setup work.

If automation isn’t in the cards for your nonprofit (which P.S. it’s something worth considering), you may put together a one-time email or direct mail letter to send out to your recurring donors to ask for the upgrade.

How much upgrade should you ask for?

One of the fundamentals of fundraising is that a specific dollar amount ask is always more effective than a generic ask. This means suggesting how much the donor should give instead of saying, “please donate today.” You definitely will raise more money by asking for specific amounts from donors; the same principle applies to your recurring donors.

When you're ready to upgrade your recurring donors, set up an ask array based on segments of recurring giving. This will make it easier to customize the ask in each letter or email you send.

Here’s an example of what we’re talking about:

Donors currently giving $1 to $20 a month → $5 upgrade ask

Donors currently giving $21 to $40 a month → $10 upgrade ask

Donors currently giving $41 to $75 a month → $15 upgrade ask

More Tips to Make Your Upgrade Appeal a Success

Before we leave you to conquer the world of recurring donor upgrades, we have a few final tips for you.

  • Make it as easy as possible for someone to upgrade their gift. Being able to do this with minimal clicks online is great. Having someone call your office may be a higher bar that impacts conversion.
  • Thank your donors well! Retention for recurring donors tends to be high and you want to keep it that way. Do something a little special to say thanks for their increased commitment to your cause.

Upgrading your recurring donors is a low-hanging fruit fundraising initiative that you need to put on your docket ASAP. These small upgrades really do add up and mean that your nonprofit can keep doing its amazing work.

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