Where Are Your Monthly Donors Hiding?

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by Erica Waasdorp

A while back, I interviewed Sami Sheehan of Lollypop Farm, a tremendous advocate of monthly giving. When we first talked, we decided we’d be back to discuss another great topic: hidden monthly donors. She’s done a lot of research, especially in the areas of workplace, Facebook and PayPal giving.

You and your organization may very well have donors who are giving monthly, but for some reason some donors didn’t tell you they joined as a monthly donor — or the monthly donor tracking system is different. You may not be able to recognize them as a monthly donor yet, even though the funds are coming in monthly.

Here are a few examples of areas where monthly donors could be hiding:

  1. Workplace giving donors.
  2. PayPal subscription donors.
  3. Facebook Giving monthly donors.
  4. Donors who set up recurring online bill pay, but you receive their gifts as checks.
  5. Donor-advised funds. They’re typically $50 or higher, and they could have an end date you don’t know about.
  6. Donors who used a monthly gift to pay off their pledge, but they continue after their pledge is fulfilled.
  7. Maybe there are others we’ve not yet identified.

If you’re gung-ho about growing your monthly donors, it will be very helpful to know how many of these hidden monthly donors you already have, so you can show an even bigger growth.

If you’re like me, a Baby Boomer donor who gets bombarded with appeals via mail and email, you already know that donors get many opportunities to make a gift. They may also be offered many different vehicles and channels. That’s why monthly donors can sneak in so easily.

Let’s address a few questions about hidden monthly donors:

  1. How do you go about finding them?
  2. How do you go about tracking them once you find them?
  3. How do you recognize and cultivate them?
  4. How can you get more of them?

The answers to the above questions may be different by channel. But let’s start with the most important question first. Below are questions I asked Sheehan.

How do you go about finding hidden monthly donors?

Well, the best way is by running a query from your donor base. You will not know what you have until you check.

You can start by isolating those donors who have made more than two gifts in the past year. Then look at how many made gifts in the same amount, month after month, at about the same time. If you’re the one entering the gifts, you’ll start to recognize their names quickly.

Set up a schedule where you do this cross-check regularly. Perhaps every quarter?

Then look at how these donors give. What is their source? Are they coming in online or offline? Is there a letter enclosed (like with a donor-advised fund)? Is it a check or a transfer?

Make an inventory of the group. Do they fall in one of the seven categories listed above?

How will you track these hidden and/or different monthly donors, so you’ll know for the future?

If your monthly donors are not coming in through your website’s donation page or if they come in via the mail, you may not have a record that they want to give monthly. That also means they’re not going through your typical system of giving monthly, so you really cannot code them the same as your other monthly donors. You don’t want those tallies to go off-track.

But depending on how many different categories you find, you can give them a special flag or attribute, so you’ll be able to easier select and isolate them in future. You can then run reports on them as well. This will help you determine the best approach when it comes to subsequent or ongoing communication. This will also help you select them to bring them back if they drop out.

For example, just as I recommend breaking out monthly donors by payment type (check versus credit card versus EFT/ACH), it’s good to break these out by category (e.g. PayPal, donor-advised funds, workplace giving, Facebook, etc. ). In my book, more codes are better than fewer because then you can sort and select. You can always combine groups, but the less you must do manually later, the better off you are.

How will you recognize these special monthly donors?

I am a strong proponent of recognizing monthly donors and sending them special stewardship reports and updates.

I recommend including your hidden — or should I say recently uncovered — monthly donors in a welcome as a monthly donor thank-you letter. But be careful listing their tax-deductibility or promising a tax receipt in January because not every type will allow that.

The rules are different for groups like workplace giving or donor-advised fund donors. We’ll address some of these rules when we discuss the different categories. Of course, if you have a print or email newsletter, you can never go wrong. It’s OK to say thank you for their ongoing monthly support. Just be careful mentioning that tax-deductibility.

How can you get more monthly donors?

That depends on how they got to be part of the special category to begin with. For example, if you just stopped using Facebook or PayPal, of course it’s harder to grow in those areas.

If you’re just starting out, you can expect to grow your hidden monthly donors. Growing your online bill payers could be a matter of letting donors know how much money they’re saving your organization in credit card fees. That’s money you can use for other purposes.

(Tip: This is also a great message to convert credit card monthly donors to EFT/ACH). Growing your workplace giving donors could be yet another message.

Let’s look at a few areas where you may find some hidden monthly donors.

Workplace giving. If your donors are still working, if you have a very active United Way organization or you live in an area where companies or government agencies are actively promoting the Combined Federal Campaign, donors may be more likely to set up a workplace giving plan and send in small gifts every month to your organization. You may get a lump sum gift from the company or organization.

Often you may not get that information until much later. You may not hear that donors are giving that way until they stop. If you receive an overview of new workplace givers on a regular basis, I’d definitely send those donors a thank-you letter, list the name of your monthly donor program and assign a contact email and phone number. Send them your newsletters, and keep them up to date on how their monthly gifts are making a difference. Workplace giving donations are tax-deductible within the extent of the law.

Checks from payment processing services that are online bill pay checks. I see these very often. You can recognize the donors as a monthly donor, and you could consider them part of your check statement program if you have one, except that you don’t have to send them any reminders. Do send them a thank-you letter and ongoing updates, and it’s OK to include them in some targeted extra gift appeals.

(Note: Some organizations, especially those with much older donors, started offering monthly giving through check statements years ago. These are very labor intensive, so most only do this if they have the resources or an in-house mail room to organize. They often use it to feed their EFT/ACH monthly donors. These donations are tax-deductible within the extent of the law.)

Donor-advised fund recurring donors. In many ways, these donors act like check donors as you’re receiving a check from a Fidelity, Schwab, Benevity or other donor-advised fund provider. In most cases, you’ll receive a letter that indicates the giving fund, and it indicates the donor. You may, however, not always know who the donor is. And even if you know, the donor may not want to receive any recognition. The letter will clarify this.

The donor-advised fund provider is technically the donor, and the monthly donor typically gets the soft credit. Donor-advised fund donations are not tax-deductible. You may not know that it’s even a recurring gift unless you see that it’s repeating month after month. I’d keep the overall donor-advised fund rules in mind, but do track the donors as they are some of your better donors. Keep the donors in your newsletter and general updates, but be mindful of asking for extra gifts.

What about Facebook giving donors?

You need to do some extra work to identify these monthly donors. As the money comes in through Facebook, it will not indicate that it is a monthly donation on the transaction report provided by Facebook.

In order to figure out who is giving monthly through Facebook, you have to be signed up for Facebook’s Charitable Giving Tools. This means you have signed up formally through Facebook, and you are receiving donations through Facebook bi-monthly through direct deposit. If you are still receiving checks through Network for Good, you must sign up for Facebook Charitable Giving. I highly recommend it because you will get information on your Facebook donors.

Once you have Facebook Charitable Giving set up, you will go into your Facebook page settings and under “Donations,” you’ll find an option to have a “Multi-Day Transaction Report” emailed to you. Request at least six full months of data to be emailed to you. You should get the report in your inbox less than five minutes later.

After you receive the data and open the spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, highlight the last name column. Go to “Conditional Formatting,” and use “Highlight Cell Rules” and choose “Duplicate Values.” After you do this, you’ll see that a bunch of last names will be highlighted in red. Then, you will want to go to “Custom Sort” and will want to sort the spreadsheet in the following order: Last name by cell color, Last name alphabetically and finally by gift date.

Example of how to find monthly donors in your database on Excel

Source: Sami Sheehan, Lollypop Farm

Example of how to find monthly donors in your database on Excel

Source: Sami Sheehan, Lollypop Farm

Example of how to find monthly donors in your database on Excel

Source: Sami Sheehan, Lollypop Farm

You can count them in your monthly giving totals, but you will want to have a good idea of how many and who are giving this way.

Sheehan does this about once a quarter, and then marks these donors in the database as “Facebook Monthly Donors.”

Many donors do not realize that how they give or through which channel makes a difference, so they may call your organization to make a change to their monthly gift. You will want to be prepared to explain how they can do it themselves within their Facebook account settings.

You may also be able to convince them to cancel their monthly gift on Facebook and set it up directly with your organization. This type of customer service will go a long way in your donors’ eyes.

So to sum up, you may be sitting on some additional “sleeping giants,” donors who are giving monthly to your organization without you even knowing it.

Just a little bit of time and focus on your donor base could uncover them. Once you know they’re committed to you, you are ready to prevent them from dropping out. And you’ll be ready to upgrade them to higher levels.

Remember, donors want to help, and they want to help in the way that best works for them. Recognize and support them accordingly, and you’ll be able to grow your monthly donor program with more hidden gems.

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