Starting a Recurring Giving Program: Tips from the Major Hospital Foundation

The concept of recurring giving is pretty awesome.  It enables people to make a meaningful increase in their impact on an organization that they care about without feeling a big impact in their checkbooks. For donors who care about a cause, nothing could be much better than that!  Simply put, recurring giving is making smaller gifts on a regular basis, maybe monthly or quarterly, that add up to a larger gift than a person could usually make all at once.  At the MHP Foundation, we knew that setting up and implementing a recurring giving program was in REACH for us. Here’s how we did it:


R: Review

First, we looked at our database to see what donors we already have who might be likely prospects for becoming recurring givers.  We decided that two of our donor groups were the most likely, the Acorn Club and the Major Women’s Alliance.

The Acorn Club is a group of about seventy donors who give annually in amounts of $100 to $999, with the average gift being $100.  They “renew their membership” in the Acorn Club each year when they receive our solicitation letter in the mail.  This generally happens in the spring and fall, depending on the date of their last renewal.

The Major Women’s Alliance, or MWA, has about 115 members who make annual gifts in various amounts.  They renew their membership each year when they receive a reminder letter in the mail, typically during the month that they originally joined the MWA.


E: Evaluate

Once we knew which donors were most likely to convert to recurring and that we had the technological infrastructure in place, we evaluated the two groups, thinking about them a little more deeply in an effort to create the best way to reach out to them.  We evaluated the donor personas for each giving group:

  1. The MWA is a newer program, just started in December, 2016. It has grown very quickly, and the membership is all women, generally aged fifty and up, with many retired.  They enjoy hands on projects to make what we call “the MHP difference” for our patients.  Because they are a hands-on, project-focused group, they might be less likely to make gifts that happen automatically.  However, they are also very cost conscious, so they have the potential to see this as an easy way to increase revenue for their group.
  2. The Acorn Club is a more established group, started in 2012. Acorn Club members are all ages, ranging from mid 30s to late 70s.  They are generally middle to upper middle class.  Most are dual career families, with a smattering of retirees. The renewal rate has slowly increased over the years, with the renewal rate for 2019 at 91 percent. We have donors that have renewed their membership since the group was established, and most members have renewed for at least 2 consecutive years. These donors are committed to the Foundation; they are content to make their gifts and to hear about how they were used later.  They receive quarterly newsletters and two holiday wishes emails in addition to their annual solicitation letter.

Acorn Club members are our most likely candidates for recurring giving because they only think about making their gifts once a year.  This means that they would likely be happy to sign up for something that happens automatically, i.e., they don’t have to think about it. They are likely to see the value in making frequent, smaller gifts to add up to a larger gift than they might make one time a year.

We also considered which groups NOT to include in our recurring giving solicitation. SYBUNT memorial givers, event donors, and employees were excluded. Memorial and event donors are inspired more by an immediate event or action, and they have a sporadic relationship with our organization. Employee donors already give consistently through their paycheck.


A: Adapt

Our target audience was chosen, so it was time to begin solicitation efforts. We didn’t start with a clean slate at first – we simply adapted our expected materials to allow our current donors to convert their gift type. We immediately added a subtle message at the bottom of each thank you letter. Each time they make a gift, the donor sees a P.S. that invites them to visit our website and make a recurring gift.  The option is also described in our quarterly newsletter with instructions and in our quarterly acquisition mailings.

Our annual giving pledge card now offers an explanation and instructions for signing up for recurring giving as well as the option for traditional annual giving.  This pledge card goes in with our quarterly acquisition mailings and in the renewal letters for the Acorn Club and the MWA.

If you feel a little fuzzy on how things might work, consider using your existing donors that convert to recurring giving as a “soft launch” group.  Let that run for a few weeks before actually pushing the program out publicly.  Find a few good friends, donors, or volunteers of your organization and let them know what you’re trying.  Ask if they will be guinea pigs for the program and be honest about your purpose. Let them know that their willingness to let you experiment a bit with internal procedures will help your public launch go more smoothly.


C: Create

This type of giving required brand new policies and procedures. We needed general guidelines for payment processing, membership requirements, and donor interactions. Internally, we developed gift batches for quick processing and timelines for when to process gifts. We determined our recurring donors would give at least quarterly, but there is no minimum amount.

Next, we began creating social media posts specifically explaining the new recurring gift option to obtain new donors.  We created materials to generate excitement about this new option!  Donors need to be presented with the option to make a recurring gift numerous times before they will convert, so we work to publicize the option as much as we can.  Once a few new recurring givers begin, we can include testimonials in our marketing efforts to encourage current donors to adapt to recurring giving.

This new option for giving led to the development of a brand new giving club, The Heartwood Club.  We wanted to emphasize the importance of recurring giving while still incorporating them into our existing brand. In our marketing materials for The Heartwood Club, we specifically focus on the excitement of becoming a charter member, the convenience of recurring giving, and the importance of this type of gift.  Instead of just adapting current acknowledgements, welcome series, etc., we created brand new materials specifically tailored to this giving group.  They receive a unique acknowledgement when they sign up and a gift summary at the end of each calendar year.  They have their own spot on the Foundation’s donor display. Both thank them for becoming recurring donors and praise their loyalty as well as their ability to see the value in recurring giving. Their positive impact on our mission is stressed.


H: Happy Dance/Hear

Now you can do a happy dance as your results start to happen!  This is an amazing commitment these donors have made, and it should not be forgotten. Always continue to steward these donors! Also, be sure to listen to your donors, and even more importantly, act on their input when appropriate.  If one of them has a concern or is experiencing a glitch, others might be as well.  It wouldn’t hurt to proactively ask for feedback, maybe even offering the option to give it anonymously.

Lastly, continue to emphasize recurring giving as a great option and fold new recurring givers into your stewardship plan for this group.  Don’t anticipate all donors making the switch, and don’t anticipate them doing it the minute they hear about it.  It takes time, but it’s in reach!