By Brian Zive
Consultant, Analytical Solutions at Marts & Lundy

Recurring gifts have become a steady stream of revenue for many nonprofits. While principal and major gift donors typically make decisions based on the wealth of their assets, recurring donors’ philanthropy is tied to their income.

An economic downturn and the threat of unemployment can make your income-based donors rethink their generosity. What should you do if your organization starts receiving inquiries to cancel recurring gifts?

First, do not discount the fact that recurring gift donors care deeply about your organization. Their recurring philanthropy is a signal of their commitment, and canceling their gift is probably something they would rather not do. Make sure to steward them as valued donors.

Acknowledge their desire but make the case for your organization and why recurring giving remains so very critical, especially now. Develop a succinct sales pitch for these instances.

After expressing your case for support, ask your donor if they would consider moving to a bi-monthly gift or initiating a three-month pause. If you’ve ever called to cancel your cable television, cell phone, or newspaper, you are familiar with these approaches already – transitioning to a bi-monthly gift is no different than the 50% discount your service provider offers you when you call to cancel.

But be gentle in your approach. This is not the time for a laddering approach to see which offer is best. At the very least, it puts into your donors’ minds ideas that they perhaps never thought of — “Oh, I never realized I could give every other month.”

If, at the end, continuing their commitment is not feasible, express an empathetic understanding and ask if you could follow up with them in six months. Of course, you’re likely to re-solicit all your LYBUNTs, but if a donor gives you an indication that it’s OK to connect with them in six to nine months, you will want to give this group special attention.

Who fields these inquiries is important. If you have ever called a service provider to cancel, you have probably been transferred to a retention specialist. It is now your turn to become a retention specialist or to build a team of retention specialists. This conversation is different from fielding a call to update a donor’s credit card number.

Develop a stewardship game plan for fielding these phone and electronic inquiries. Having a plan might put your organization in a better position to retain a portion of your reliable gift revenue.

In these unprecedented times, it’s important now more than ever to meet your donors where they are. We are facing a crisis that affects everyone, and we’ll need to lean on each other – donors and organizations – to get through it together.