Monthly Giving Tune-Up

in Acquisition & Prospecting,Monthly Giving

That was the title of a session I attended last week at the Bridge Conference for nonprofits (co-hosted by the Washington DC chapters of AFP and DMA).

One of the speakers was from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital … Rachel Thomas.  She passed on a ton of useful information based on her experience in growing a strong and large file of monthly sustainer donors.

I’ve listed some of the biggest nuggets from the session below:

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
The presentation centered on DRTV, but wasn’t limited to this.   They have about 500,000 monthly donors.

Whenever they cut back or reduce their DRTV exposure, every other channel is hurt. DRTV is the core of St. Jude fundraising.

Most of their monthly donors come from DRTV.

Canvassing doesn’t work for this org.

They primarily use DRTV, direct mail, telethons, and telemarketing.

The best messaging for the over 50 age group is “help the child.”  The best messaging for the younger demographic is to “eradicate cancer, period.”

When they use a celebrity in the DRTV spots, response is higher when the celebrity is on the scene; when they’re actually at the hospital with the children, parents, or staff.  Green-screen sets not as effective.

Also, celebrities are best for getting TV channel surfers to stop and watch for a minute.

Prospective donors want to hear from the patients (the children) or their parents and NOT another donor.  Use stories with patients and their parents.

Incentives and premiums added no value.

Must have messaging that clearly shows HOW A DONATION COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  For example: $30 does _______ (fill in the blank)>

Proven once again that what donors SAY they’ll do is usually different from what donors DO.  Focus group stated they want TV spots that are more upbeat, show kids that are happy, cheery music, and so on.  But the DRTV spot bombed.  Next created a TV spot with haunting music that showed kids who looked like they really need help – more realistic.  It’s beating their 5-year control by 28%.

Must have well-trained staff to answer the phones who can convert callers to monthly donors.

Create a sense of urgency.

Primary call-to-action (CTA) is to call a toll-free number.  The VAST majority of viewers prefer to call in lieu of visiting a website.  But they also insert the chance to go online to their website using a “snipe” which is more successful for them than a vanity URL.

They send monthly letters to sustainer donors with stories and updates. The messaging in the letters aligns with the tone of the DRTV spot that got them to sign-up.  TV spot is bit more hard-hitting than direct mail letters have historically been and now they’re matching the two up.

They also use YouTube.  And their “St. Jude Holiday Rock” video went a bit viral and raised $100,000 in just a few weeks with no call-to-action.  Watch it.  I think you’ll see why. 

Bottom line that I took away from the session: It doesn’t matter whether you use direct mail, DRTV, canvassing, telemarketing, or another channel to acquire your monthly donors.  With few exceptions you’ll have higher response when . . .

– Your messaging is packed with emotion.

– You don’t get so carried away with political correctness and protecting the dignity of those you serve that the message becomes milquetoast. That it isn’t clear what you do or who you help. Dare to test a hard-hitting appeal.

– Donors usually say one thing and then do another when it comes time to actually give.

– ALWAYS clearly show how a donor’s gift will make a difference.  Be specific: $50 does _____.  $25 does ______. [Fill in the blanks.]

– Identify the most successful channel for YOUR nonprofit.  Then leverage it to help the other channels you use.

Monthly donors provide a predictable revenue stream that gives any nonprofit a lot of stability and financial security.  Getting more monthly donors is worth the effort.  Just don’t forget to cultivate them once you acquire them.

Any tips from your sustainer program to share?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

sasha Davis July 23, 2012 at 7:57 pm

What is a “snipe” for a CTA?

Karen Zapp, copywriter July 25, 2012 at 12:25 pm


Don’t think I’m going to be much help on this. Couldn’t find my notes from last year – think they got tossed in a recent office cleaning. And I’m not an IT person.

So take this answer with a grain of salt and run it by your own IT folks: I think it is a phrase people can type into a browser. Then because that phrase has been connected to a URL, the person is redirected to the correct landing page. It’s easier to display on the TV and easier for viewers to remember.

It might be a keyword phrase related to a specific ad or campaign. Say the ad featured a story about a little girl named Mary. The snipe might be “HelpMary” and by typing that into a browser people end up on the correct landing page.

Again, I’m not positive that I remember this correctly from the presentation I heard over a year ago!! And I haven’t heard this reference to a snipe anywhere else. Regret that I couldn’t answer your question with more certainty.

If any other readers know the answer to Sasha’s question with certainty … please add a comment. Thanks!

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