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3 Things I Learned About Recurring Giving from Making 345 Donations to 116 Nonprofits

By August 21, 2018

Recurring Giving
By: Brady Josephson, Vice President, Innovation & Optimization, NextAfter

This is post 2 in a series on recurring giving. You can check out the first post What You Need to Know About The Nonprofit Recurring Benchmark Study and all the posts in the series here.

Online fundraising can be quite complex, but in a nutshell, online fundraising boils down to three key things and corresponding metrics:

    1. How can you get people to find/visit your site? This is website traffic.
    2. How can you get people to care about what you are doing, saying, and offering? This is the average gift.
    3. How can you get people to complete their donation? This is conversion rate.

Recurring giving is an important part of any nonprofit fundraising strategy.If you multiply those three things (traffic x average gift x conversion rate) it equals revenue (you can learn more about these metrics and even benchmark your organization with them).

So when we conducted research like The Nonprofit Recurring Giving Benchmark Study, we look for and asses the experience along those lines. And, in this case with recurring giving and 115 nonprofits, we found that, overall, it wasn’t as easy to find, understand why you should give, and actually donate as it should be. Let’s look at each section.


1. It’s not easy to find out how and where to make a recurring donation

Before we get into why someone would or would not want to make a recurring donation—the value proposition or offer—they need to be able to find it and know a recurring donation is even possible. But, as we discovered, this wasn’t always available or easy to find.

1 in 10 nonprofits did not have a recurring giving option available online.

Pie chart showing how hard it can be to make a recurring donation.

Even though this is a relatively low number, given how valuable recurring giving is to fundraising I found this quite surprising. And I’m not sure why an organization would not want someone to set up a recurring donation.

3 out of 4 organizations did not have a separate call to action for recurring donations.
We were looking for ways to quickly find a way to give a recurring gift from the homepage—almost always the most visited page on a nonprofit site—but the vast majority of organizations were relying on you to want to donate and then once you were there to find the option to give a recurring gift (more on that later).

But if we want donors to find the recurring giving option faster and easier—and we do because those donors are so valuable—then perhaps we need to help guide them there with specific calls to action or in the navigation.

In this experiment, we found that just by highlighting the donation option in the navigation, we increased donations 190%. And in this experiment, we were able to increase donation clicks 16% by splitting out the navigation items—from Membership to Join and Renew.

We’ve found that clarity is more important than persuasion, and it wasn’t very clear where we were supposed to go to make a recurring gift.

2. It’s not easy to understand why you should become a recurring donor

If you found out how or where to make a recurring donation, there’s still the question of ‘why’? Some donors have made up their mind before they visit a page—maybe because of the ad or email driving them there has conveyed the value and reasons why—but just going through a donation flow from the home page, we had a hard time understanding the answer to the value proposition question:

    If I am your ideal recurring donor, why should I give to you rather than some other organization or not at all?

And for recurring donations, the value proposition question you need to answer for donors is actually more like:

    Why should I give a recurring gift to this organization, instead of a one-time donation, and rather than some other organization, or not at all?

But here’s what we found…

Only 9% of nonprofits used specific value proposition language on their donation page for recurring giving.

Value proposition comparisons.

Just about ¾ of organizations used simple language like “Become a monthly donor” when presenting the option to set up a recurring gift or simply a checkbox like this:

Recurring giving checkbox example.

That may be clear — which is better than it not being clear — but it doesn’t help a donor understand why they should make a recurring donation as opposed to a one-time gift.

Only 9 organizations actually tried to answer that value proposition question with something more ‘value oriented’, even simply, like this:

Recurring giving options.

Only 14% prompted one-time donors to become recurring donors.
Beyond some language and a check box, some organizations went a bit further to nudge and encourage donors to make a recurring gift. These strategies ranged from simple:

Nonprofit fundraising page with donation page example.

To more complex with a pop-up as you are making a one-time donation:

Nonprofit fundraising page with monthly donation request

This is an interesting strategy as it somewhat forces the donor to decide to make or not make a recurring donation. Forcing decisions on donors doesn’t always end well (more on that later) but we thought this was interesting and actually went and tested this approach for ourselves and found that, in this experiment, the pop-up prompt helped increase recurring giving 64% and did not have an adverse affect on one-time donors.

Finding out how and where to make a recurring giving donation is obviously important but understanding why they should become a recurring donor is also key and from what we’ve seen there’s a lot of work, and testing, to be done.

3. It’s not easy to actually make a recurring donation

Assuming a donor could find out where to make a recurring donation and was inspired enough to try and complete one, we found that the last step of giving, completing the form, was often invasive, complicated, or confusing.

We were asked for more and more personal information on the donation form.
Generally, the more form fields and information you are asking for from a donor, the less likely they are to actually go on and complete their donation — in this experiment, adding just one more required field decreased giving 56% — but we saw many instances where we were asked for a lot of other info besides what’s required for a donation.

Like our spouse’s information (assuming we even had a spouse…).

A complex form for nonprofit fundraising

That’s a lot of extra info and I’m not sure what the benefit to the organization is there.

We had to answer some confusing questions without context.
Two of the 7 types of donation page friction are confusion friction — they are unsure what they are supposed to do — and decision fiction — they are asked to make more decisions than necessary — which add to a donors cognitive load — fancy term for brain stress — and reduces conversion rates.

But when giving, sometimes we had to make a choices about unclear things like an agency location:

Nonprofit fundraising page that is overly complex

Or whether or not we declined the ominously named ‘benefits’:

A difficult-to-understand nonprofit fundraising page example.

These questions added friction to the giving process as we didn’t know what they were asking or how to answer.

We had to prove we were human. A lot.
Numerous times we were asked to prove that we were human by checking a box:

Numerous times we were asked to prove that we were human by checking a box

Or playing the ‘pick the street sign’ game:

It is difficult to make a donation, first having to prove the donor is human

I know these are intended to prevent spam and fraud—although I’m not sure who these rogue frauder bots are making donations to nonprofits are—but these measures don’t always identify the threat and make real human donors do extra work to complete their donations.

Nonprofit Fundraising with Recurring Donors: Summary

The Nonprofit Recurring Giving Benchmark StudyIt wasn’t as easy to find, understand the value of, and complete a recurring donation as we had thought — and hoped. That means there is a lot of room to test, improve, and optimize to grow your recurring giving program and that’s what we dive into in this post.

That just scratches the surface of what’s in the report, so here are a few other findings may be of interest to you:

  • 1 in 4 organizations collected a phone number in the donation flow
  • 1 out of 3 organizations accepted EFT/ACH donations
  • $100 was the most commonly suggested gift in a gift array
  • 62% of gift arrays were sequential (had suggested amounts that went from lowest to highest)
  • 23% of organizations offered a tangible benefit to recurring donors

Get all the statistics and insights to improve your nonprofit fundraising with your free copy of The Nonprofit Recurring Giving Benchmark Study.


About the Author
Brady JosephsonBrady Josephson is a charity nerd, entrepreneur, digital marketer, professor, and writer. He’s the Vice President of Innovation and Optimization at NextAfter — a fundraising research lab and consultancy on a mission to unleash the most generous generation in the history of the world.

He’s spent his entire career in the nonprofit world working for nonprofits, in technology, and as a consultant. He’s an international speaker whose work and writing have been featured in The Huffington Post, Christianity Today, NPR, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among others.

Brady lives just outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada with his wife Liz, son Hendrix, dog Melly, and cat Thor. Connect with Brady on LinkedIn, Twitter, or email: brady[@]