By Nathan Hill, Optimization Evangelist at NextAfter, works every day to share how testing and optimization can lead to fundraising growth that can transform organizations and causes.

At the start of 2018, we (the NextAfter team) set out to understand exactly what recurring giving looks like from the donor’s perspective. After selecting 115 nonprofits spanning 9 verticals, we made recurring donations to each one (or at least we tried).

While there’s a ton of insightful data I could share, there are 5 must-know recurring giving stats I want you to know. If you want to dig into all of the results, you can check out the full study (including 32 unique and data-driven test ideas) at:

1) 71% of organizations are saying the same thing on their homepage (and that might be ‘OK’).

The first area we analyzed was how organizations are getting donors on their homepage to the donation page. Many donors who come to your site with the intention of donating land on your homepage, so it’s essential to make it abundantly clear where they need to click.

So, we asked, “What do organizations use as the call-to-action to give on their homepage?”

The answer… 71% of organizations have a call-to-action that simply says, “Donate.” 12% said “Donate Now” which is basically the same thing. And 4% said “Donate to [Organization]” which is a little more specific, but the message is the same.

Why does this matter?

We’ve actually tested a lot of these call-to-action buttons and found that the most effective call-to-action buttons are the ones that are the most visible and clear. Even taking simple things like making the color stand out can lead to a 190% increase in donations.

2) Only 14% of organizations prompt one-time donors to upgrade to a recurring gift during the donation process.

Let me explain this one a bit, because I’m not just talking about having a checkbox on your donation page to make a gift recurring. In this case, we were looking for a clear interrupter or prompt during the one-time donation process to ask the donor to upgrade.

You might say, “Nathan, wouldn’t that just make people mad? If they wanted to give a recurring gift, they would’ve just clicked the checkbox.”

It’s possible that many donors don’t fully understand the value of a recurring gift to the organization, or that it actually has benefits to the donor as well. But if we can make the case that a recurring gift is actually more impactful, we could win over more recurring donors.

But don’t just take my word for it…let’s look at the data.

We tested using a prompt that appeared as soon as the one-time donor clicked the ‘submit’ button on the form. The prompt explained the value of a recurring gift and offered a suggest recurring gift amount (it was a lower initial gift, but the 12-month value was higher).

The result? A 64% increase in recurring donors. And it did not impact the overall conversion rate. That means we had the same number of total donors, but a higher percentage were now becoming recurring donors.

3) 91% of organizations stopped acknowledging recurring gifts by month 3.

This is a really scary stat to me. There are a few reasons why organizations might stop sending gift acknowledgments…. maybe it’s just a way to cut cost, or maybe they’re going to send a statement annually.

But I was at a conference recently where I heard a scary sentiment expressed. During a session on recurring giving, someone asked, “If we email [gift acknowledgements] to recurring donors every month, is there a risk they might cancel?”

Are we really afraid that recurring donors might cancel their gift if we remind them that they’re still making it?

What if we could turn gift acknowledgement into something that provided value to the donor. Rather than sending an email that simply says, “Here’s your receipt,” we could start sending hyper-personalized thank you emails, telling stories of impact, or sharing evidentials that reinforce just how valuable the donor’s gift is.

I’ll stop pontificating – but consider how you can kick your fear of gift acknowledgments to the curb and started seeing them as an essential part of donor cultivation.

4) Only 1 in 5 organizations sent emails from a real person.

Let’s play a quick game…

You only have time to respond to one more email before the end of the day, and you have two to choose from. The first is from an organization, and you can tell from the preview text that it’s just a marketing email. The second is from a real person, and the preview text shows they called you by name and are wondering how your day has been.

Which do you open?

We experiment after experiment to show that the real person gets more opens and conversions virtually every time. This one below is super simple: the control contained the organization name and the treatment did not. The result? 18% increase in opens.

All that to say, it’s important to send email from real people. Not only does it improve your typical email metrics, it often generates more email responses which help to cultivate the relationship with your donor.

Plus, personal senders will give you a better chance of landing in someone’s main inbox, rather than the “Promotions” tab in Gmail (like 65% of the emails we received).

5) 1 in 4 organizations made no attempt to win back our recurring donation after our credit card number changed.

If you want to have a successful recurring giving program, you need to have processes in place for these common scenarios. In this case, we reported a credit card as “lost” and got a new card number so we could see how these organizations handled it.

The best method is to use tools that automatically update the card number. 2/3s of organizations had this enabled. But again, 24% didn’t do so much as send an email.

And it only got worse when we canceled the card altogether. 47% did not reach out after the card was canceled.

Here’s the point…

More than likely, the donor doesn’t know right away that their gift isn’t going through. So just a simple prompt can let them know sooner and avoid a month or more of lapsed donations

But not reaching out at all could also imply that you don’t think the recurring gift is really all that valuable. And if it’s not valued, why should someone start a new recurring gift? Maybe their gift is better invested somewhere else.

What’s the biggest takeaway from this recurring giving study?

The number one thing I hope anyone takes away from this Recurring Giving Benchmark Study is that a recurring donation is not just of tremendous value to the organization – it is of tremendous value to the donor. They can have a greater impact, over a longer period of time, with lower initial investment, and with greater convenience.

And every single test idea packed into the study hopefully will help you to communicate that value to your donors to help them increase in their own generosity, while also helping your organization have greater impact.

You can get the full study (including 32 unique and data-driven test ideas) at:

NextAfter is an online fundraising research lab that works with nonprofits to help them discover what works to reach more people, acquire more donors, and raise more money. They have conducted over 1000 online fundraising experiments spanning +200 million donor interactions, and make all their learnings available for free at: