Donations: You Get What You Ask For

Donations: You Get What You Ask For

Has someone ever stopped you on the street to ask if you’ll make a monthly gift to their organization? Have you ever received a letter from that same organization asking for 50 bucks? Every nonprofit faces the choice between acquiring monthly donors and asking for one-time gifts. One of the biggest questions for any nonprofit is, “Can we ask for both simultaneously?” As an agency that partners with nonprofits, we used the digital space to start answering that question for our clients. Our tests showed that, overall, what you ask for is what you get.

Say you’re running an established fundraising program asking only for one-time gifts. You might imagine that a monthly ask would alienate potential one-time donors. But, we found that a monthly ask can actually win you new donors without losing your existing ones. In fact, we’ve seen it happen for one of our clients, an established nonprofit with a one-time ask campaign. After testing a monthly ask across all platforms, one-time donations held steady while monthly donations soared. The growing new sustainer base yielded such a high average monthly gift that the client asked us to convert every ad in the digital campaign to a monthly ask.

Sustained giving is, predictably, the most reliable type of giving. It’s also the fastest-growing. Sustained giving revenue grew 40% year-over-year, according to the M+R Strategic Benchmarks 2017 Report. That makes monthly giving programs an achievable goal for nonprofits looking to increase their sustained revenue without sacrificing one-time gifts.

Sustained giving revenue grew 40% year-over year

Source: M+R Strategic Benchmarks 2017 Report

If your nonprofit already relies on sustained giving, a one-time ask may still be worthwhile. Used strategically, and sporadically, one-time asks can help you reach revenue goals faster than monthly asks alone. In the case of another nonprofit client, testing a one-time ask (without incremental investment) yielded major results in only 29 days.

197% increase in one-time donations

2x revenue year-over-year


22% more donors year-over-year


Presented with a one-time opportunity to give, donors rose to the challenge in record numbers. Their unprecedented growth came at the initial cost of a 13% decrease in monthly gifts. For our client, the risk was worth the reward of an instantaneous revenue boost.

Conducting ask tests, like the ones detailed here, allows our clients to make data-driven decisions. After each test, we analyze the results to determine if the revenue yielded from the (potentially higher-volume) one-time gifts outweighs the lifetime value of the sustainer donors. This way, we can calculate the most beneficial mix of one-time and monthly asks.

When it comes to fundraising, it pays to be direct. If your nonprofit would benefit from sustained donations, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask for exactly that. The proliferation of subscription services today, from Netflix to Zipcar to Dollar Shave Club, proves that people are ready to make monthly commitments. Of course, you may see a slight drop in one-time gifts, but you’ll get more sustainers than if you had never asked at all. Likewise, if you need one-time gifts in the short term, test the best way to integrate them into your ask. Make donors aware of your fundraising goals and matching gifts and they’ll be more motivated to help you succeed. Don’t mince words. Let donors know exactly what kind of support you need and how often you need it. You’ll find that generosity–like fortune–favors the bold.