When I first contacted Ken Burnett, I wanted to know why monthly giving programs seem to be so much more established in the UK than in the US.
A world-famous fundraising expert and author of nonprofit classics like Relationship Fundraising and the Zen of Fundraising (these books and more by Ken, here) Ken reveals the reason for monthly giving differences, plus lots more, in this interview.
And, as founder of the too-good-to-be-free (but it is) website SOFII, he also sent links to samples of sustainer appeals that I can share with you ... they're yours, free for the clicking, at the end of this article.
Interview with Monthly Giving Expert Ken Burnett
1. Here in the US, it's generally accepted that sustainer programs are far more widely used in the UK. Do you agree with that?
And what, in your mind are some of the barriers that US fundraisers need to overcome to establish their own programs?
Yes. The key here is for each individual fundraiser to realise that method of payment is crucial, for fundraising. Deductions directly from our donors’ bank account that are automatic, electronic, (ie easy), regular and frequent are what fundraisers want, for several reasons:
• Most importantly, donors like them. Commercial retailers and the like call these ‘easy payments’. Little and often. They don’t hurt, and regular donors get to feel good regularly. A few pounds or dollars each month barely registers.
They engage donors. These are not known as committed giving schemes for nothing. The opportunities for feedback and proactive accountability are legion, as are the opportunities for contact that is not asking for money (so easier to build trust and confidence).
Ditto for upgrading, inflation linking and the cultivation of bequests.
Monthly donor programs benefit from inertia. $6.00 per month is barely noticeable for most people, not worth the effort of cancelling. All the nonprofit has to do is provide a little warm feeling now and then, and people keep giving. The evidence for this is unarguable. Automatic donors stay loyal for 10 years plus. Donors that require constant renewal rarely last beyond two years.
• So a monthly direct debit donor is valuable. You can justify a higher cost of acquisition than with most other donors (though monthly donors can be much more profitable, to recruit).
• Carefully developed, monthly donors can become great advocates for your cause.
2. Can you share any anecdotal evidence about what kind of returns you've seen yielded by sustainer programs, in terms of donor retention and overall revenues?
Yes. It is a numbers game. I know many organisations large and small who literally depend on monthly giving schemes. (see SOFII, below) Some years back Oxfam UK had 500,000 regular donors contributing more than £30 million. Many other UK charities have monthly donors in the hundreds of thousands. You do the math. A child sponsorship progam asking for $25 per month from 100,000 donors is looking at $30 million pa before emergency or top up appeals. In the UK most (80 per cent +) regular donors are easily persuaded to GiftAid their contributions so the charity recovers standard rate tax, about 25 per cent again. Economies of scale means that a good monthly donor scheme can be very low cost to run. Just one or two staff are needed to manage even very big programs.
Internationally, a while back, Greenpeace had 1.4 million direct debit donors recruited on the street in 14 countries over a five year period, giving $150 million + annually. Though attrition is higher in street donors, most still will be.
Unless you can get a job as CEO of a failed bank, there’s probably no surer way to reliably secure large sums of money at regular intervals, for your cause.
3. Is there anything else you'd like to add today on monthly giving, or reasons for popularity of sustainer programs in UK vs. US?
I think monthly giving is a no brainer. But your banking system doesn’t help. Ours changed dramatically in the 1980s with the introduction of direct debits (a sophistication on what you call EFT. Before then we had bankers orders). The change is crucial, but most fundraisers find it boring. However the successful ones get past that, see what’s happening and rake in mountains of dough. Do you need me to explain that? In the late 1970s early 80’s I became famous because (with the help of a few other people) I turned a small unknown charity into a top 20 national fundraiser. It’s still there. Was it because I was a good fundraiser? No. It was because it had a great proposition for a high value monthly donor scheme. Look at all the child sponsorship agencies. They get monthly giving. And if you get monthly giving you get bequests too. Street fundraising (see SOFII) is entirely based on direct debits.
4. As the founder of SOFII, the hugely popular free website for nonprofits (and recommended in Jo Sullivan's interview on monthly giving in the US), do you have any resources that you'd like to share today?
Ken Burnett's recommended links on monthly giving, on SOFII**:
• Reverse Book Club monthly giving scheme saves Book Aid International
Small dog seeks big love.'Sponsor a dog' monthly giving campaign sample
Greenpeace's reinvention of face-to-face fundraising = monthly giving gains
• Another from Greenpeace: direct mail, high value monthly giving campaign
And, Lisa recommends... more samples and statistics inside these terrific presentations:
• PDF of Defenders of Wildlife and Russ Reid's presentation on sustainer programs at 2009 DMANF NY Nonprofit Conferences
• PDF of sustainer program presentation at 2009 Annual Washington Nonprofit Conference
**More than 6,000 fundraisers around the world have already joined SOFII, for free. You can, too, here: SOFII. Also, Ken Burnett's books are among the best around; have a look and see if you don't agree.
© Lisa Sargent and Sargent Communications.