Is There a Relationship Between Monthly Giving and Bequests?

From time-to-time, I will invite an outstanding, published book author to write a guest post. If you’d like to learn about how to be a guest blogger, click on the “Authors” tab above.

Monthly Giving Cover - Erica WaasdorpThis week, I have invited Erica Waasdorp, a self-proclaimed “philanthropoholic,” President of A Direct Solution, and author of the best-selling book Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant. Erica explains why nonprofit organizations should have a monthly donor program, explores trends in monthly giving, and provides plenty of useful how-to tips all in a mercifully brief, 131 page book.

Jerry Huntsinger, a direct-response fundraising guru, said of Erica’s book, “Good job! It’s the best resource book I’ve ever seen on the subject. You certainly put a lot in it.”

I agree with Jerry. As I read Erica’s book, I was reminded of the first time I wrote on the subject. In 1989, I wrote an article for Donor Developer that predicted that every charity would have a monthly donor program within five years. I believed in monthly giving and its power to help transform nonprofit organizations. I still do. Sadly, my prediction was wrong. It’s now a quarter-century later, and most nonprofits still do not engage in a robust monthly giving program. Nevertheless, they should.

In the 2011 State of the Nonprofit Industry Survey, Blackbaud asked philanthropy researcher Adrian Sargeant:

Where do you see the largest opportunities for nonprofits to make an impact on their operations as we enter the next year?”

Sargeant responded:

Two words: monthly giving. Regular/monthly or sustained gift programs are currently revolutionizing the economics of fundraising. If your nonprofit doesn’t have one — it should get one. Lifetime values are 600-800 percent higher than would be the case in traditional annual fund giving. It’s also more resilient in the face of changes in the economy.”

Now, Erica shares some of her insights with you including a revelation about monthly and bequest giving:


You should know right off the bat that I’m a true advocate for monthly giving, aka sustainers, aka recurring gifts. Not surprising, because it’s really a great way to generate loyal donors for your organization. What is not to like about the ongoing revenue you will see coming in month after month after month?

I have been fortunate to be involved with large monthly giving programs generating millions of dollars of reliable income. It truly sustained organizations after major disasters such as September 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy, to name a few, where all focus and attention and individual giving was elsewhere. Yet, that sustainer revenue kept coming in.

When you look at whom to target for monthly giving, there’s certainly an interesting mix of sources:

• Existing donors, who have been giving $10 or more and made two gifts in the past year.

• Existing donors, who have been giving one gift a year for the past few years.

• New donors, who are willing to try this convenient way of giving right away (yes, this does work!).

• Reactivated donors, who just came back into the fold and they used to give several gifts in the past.

Is there anything you recognize here? 

Monthly donors are typically your most loyal donors. Their retention rates are high (on average between 80 and 95 percent). Typically, these donors have already self-identified as being more supportive of your organization. They trust you enough that they’re willing to give you their bank or credit card information. They are usually not able to write large checks, but rather they make small gifts (on average between $10 and $35 a month).

So, when you look at good monthly giving prospects, they also seem to have all the criteria we’re looking for in potential bequest donors. They are more likely to leave your organization in their will, as long as you treat them right and continue to treat them right.

So, what does that mean?

It does NOT mean to stop sending monthly donors information about your organization and programs (unless of course they asked you to do this).

It does NOT mean to stop telling them stories about how their gift has made an impact.

It does NOT mean to stop thanking them.

And believe it or not, it does NOT mean to stop asking them to support your programs.  Yes, I know this is very controversial, but let’s think this through for a minute. You’re a donor who used to give an organization two $25 gifts a year when you received an appeal. Now, you care enough about that organization that you’re willing to give them $10 a month.

The organization thanks you by sending you the quarterly newsletter and its two annual appeals a year. They really tell a wonderful story about the great work the organization does and the impact the donor’s gifts have made. Guess what? You, as the donor, want to hear from this organization. You want to support this organization and make another gift.

Of course, the more special the organization can make you, as the donor, feel when you give another gift, the better off it is. It’s a win-win for both parties involved.

Well, these small regular loyal donors are definitely interested in leaving the organization in their will. They’re invested in your organization, and they want to see you succeed, now and in the future. I have heard lots of stories about small, loyal monthly donors who used to give $5 or $10 a month for years and, then all of a sudden, left $200,000 in their will.

Sadly, there’s not yet a lot of targeted research available about wills coming from monthly donors, other than what I’ve seen in the UK where every will is read by Smee and Ford and where organizations can get information about the donors making a will, so they’re prepared. Smee and Ford has lots of great research available for those organizations subscribing to their service. Watch future posts for more information about the relationship between monthly donors and wills.

Meantime, based on an unscientific examination of donor records in the UK, it appears that monthly donors are seven times more likely to leave a legacy gift than other donor segments, according to Richard Radcliffe, legacy specialist and former Executive Chairman at Smee and Ford.

If you have a monthly giving program and you have a limited bequest promotion budget, start by promoting legacy giving to these loyal donors. And, if you don’t have a monthly giving program yet, I highly recommend you get started. What do you have to lose? You can really do a lot with very limited resources.


As always, I invite you to comment about monthly giving and what Erica has shared. If you have any questions for Erica, please submit them below so she can respond.

That’s what Erica Waasdorp and Michael Rosen say… What do you say?

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