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Donor Participation Project Resources

Lessons from the Donor Participation Project

August of 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of launching the Donor Participation Project. From those initial sessions with just a handful of participants to over 1,000 fundraisers today, the amount of learning has been incredible.

What is the Donor Participation Project?

The Donor Participation Project (DPP) convenes fundraising professionals who are concerned about the nationwide decline in donor participation (20 million US households lost between 2000-2016). 

We believe this can be solved by changing our fundraising practices and want to learn from peers who are moving the participation needle.

Lessons Learned from the DPP

All of our sessions are recorded and available in the donor participation project resource library.


Our very first speaker, Angie Thurston presented on the importance of “deep community” for organizations that want to attract and keep millennials.

I believe her findings apply to all age groups. People seek community. Activities that create community have these characteristics:

  • They are recurring and happen with some frequency
  • They are participatory
  • They have a clear purpose. Ideally, that purpose is aligned with your organization’s.
  • And, because you can’t do it all, they often require volunteer leaders

These types of activities are also a great environment to create vulnerability loops, which is the fastest way to create trust. Trust is a requirement for any type of significant giving. So strengthening your nonprofit’s communities makes business sense.

Nonprofit Communications

Dr. Bill Donohue from Michigan State shared how poorly nonprofits are communicating in the new world of social media. Nonprofits should communicate in ways that generate feelings of trust and authenticity. They often achieve the opposite effect.

Here were his recommendations. Nonprofit communications must be:

  • Frequent. As in weekly or even daily depending on the channel. The annual report is a thing of the past.
  • Mission-focused. Every single piece of communication must breathe your nonprofit’s purpose.
  • Authentic. Forget highly produced fluff pieces. Think of something you could record on your camera.
  • Responsive. People will comment and have thoughts. Some of them will be negative! Modern nonprofits will be able to constructively engage with everyone.

Adam Platzer’s presentation on the path that leads from engagement to major gifts also emphasized how important it is that you respond in a timely manner. Timely as in within 24 hours! His motto?

Shock Them with Your Follow-up!

Adam Platzer

Another way to ensure timely communication and stewardship is through marketing automation. We organized a study group to explore this topic over several weeks.

To build trust, your nonprofit must be perceived as:

  • Competent. This is why timely responses are so important. Timeliness signals competency.
  • Honest. Are you telling the truth?
  • Benevolent. Do you have my best interests in mind? Or are you self-serving?
  • Open to feedback. Do you respond well to suggestions for improvement and other ideas?

Case Studies

Part of our group’s mandate is to learn from those who are successfully moving the donor participation needle. We were honored to have a chance to chat and learn from leaders at these institutions:

New Ways of Giving

The DPP also brought leading experts in these emerging areas:

Nicole Stern generously shared her game plan for automatically recurring gifts AKA monthly gifts.

Donors that give this way have much higher retention and give more lifetime. What is not to love?

Well, successfully building a monthly giving program involves reworking your business to make it “monthly giving-first.” It won’t work as a simple add-on to existing giving methods.

Leading with Engagement

Sustainable philanthropic success requires looking holistically at your fundraising operations.

We were fortunate to have a conversation with one of the leading proponents of an integrated, human approach to transformative philanthropy: Live Q&A with Jim Langley, Langley Innovations

Design thinking is a discipline that is especially good at helping us reenvision existing problems and find new solutions. In Donor Experience Mapping with Emily Taylor, teenyBIG, we actually got to collaboratively build a donor engagement map for a fictitious organization: teenyBIG University!

Donor Participation Project Resources

Monthly Giving: All or Nothing

This session has passed. Join the Donor Participation Project to get access to our resource library with session recordings, member chat, and other benefits.

Nicole Stern, membership director at WDSE WRPT Public Television joined the Donor Participation Project to share her knowledge of monthly giving fundraising.

Monthly Giving with Nicole Stern, membership director at WDSE WRPT Public Television

What is monthly giving?

Monthly giving, also called sustainer giving or recurring giving, consists of setting up an automatically renewing monthly gift to a nonprofit. It is the equivalent of a subscription.

What are the benefits of monthly giving for nonprofits?

Monthly donors have both a higher retention rate as well as a higher lifetime value. Over time, these two facts compound to create important positive effects on the revenue available to fulfill your mission as well as your donor engagement efforts.

How can I start a monthly giving program?

You must embrace monthly giving as a new of doing business for your annual fund.

Simply adding a checkbox under an existing online form is not enough. You must make it clear in all your outreach efforts (digital, mail, phone) that monthly giving is the default and best way to make a gift to your organization.

Won’t monthly giving preclude me from requesting higher gifts from loyal donors?

On the contrary, monthly donors are especially receptive to upgrade asks as well as to planned giving conversations. An established monthly giving program also frees up resources that you can invest in improved stewardship and more donor engagement.

How hard is it to start a monthly giving program?

These are the areas you need to pay attention to if you want to start a monthly giving program:

  • Executive buy-in. Use the data in the presentation above to make your case. A full re-orientation of your annual fund to monthly giving will require changes in all your operations and in your cash flow.
  • Gift processing. Monthly gifts turn one gift processing transaction into twelve. Fields may need to be added to code the gifts. For example, storing the credit card expiration date in your CRM can help you get ahead of credit card renewals.
  • Digital communications. Your main gift form will need to make it clear that monthly giving is the default and most convenient way to give.
  • Branding the program. Many organizations give a name to their monthly giving program (Sustainer Circle, Evergreen, etc.) to make it clear that this is something special.