Recurring gift programs are a hot topic because of their potential to increase donor engagement and retention. At the end of FY14, Beta Theta Pi Foundation staff faced a falling donor retention rate and struggled to engage young alumni. They decided to launch a recurring gift program in 2015 called the Auto-Kai Club, which resulted in many lessons learned in just two years.
FY14 was a tale of two years for the Beta Theta Pi Foundation, including some major successes:
- The Beta Leadership Fund (BLF – Beta’s annual fund) raised $854,000 against a goal of $850,000.
- A record 2,450 undergraduates joined the Sons of the Dragon Club by making gifts of $18.39 or more to the Beta Leadership Fund.
- The Promises to Keep capital campaign raised over $2M in two months to push the total amount pledged to over $11M.
However, a deeper analysis of the data revealed areas of concern:
- Alumni donors to the BLF fell below 2,000 (less than 2 percent of Beta’s alumni base) for the first time in five years.
- Donor retention fell to a five-year low of 55 percent.
- First-time donor retention fell to 18.8 percent, far below the non-profit average of 27 percent.
- Gifts from young alumni (ages 22-40) fell 18 percent against the five-year average with 311 alumni making gifts totaling $69,954.
- Staff also noted that in the current giving structure, young alumni had to make significant gifts for their age in order to receive any type of recognition. Students can join Beta’s undergraduate giving club with a gift of $18.39. After graduation, the most visible gift levels are $350 for a brick in the Beta Walkway and $1,500 to join the John Reily Knox Club.
Based on this analysis and data, Beta Theta Pi Foundation staff determined a recurring gift program was the next step to improve overall donor retention and provide more options for young alumni. Over the course of a six-month period, they developed a project plan for the new recurring gift program. There were five key components put into place in the months leading up to a public launch of the program in March 2015.
Develop desired outcomes for the new program. Program goals included:
- Increase donor retention to the Beta Leadership Fund (this would be a new Club specifically designed for the annual fund) through electronic recurring gifts with no end date
- Minimize fundraising expenses to the Foundation
- Provide an intermediate “next step” between two other successful and well-branded giving Clubs
Design a clear brand and marketing strategy.
This included choosing an official name, logo and program taglines similar to other programs/Clubs; creating marketing collateral to be used as inserts or takeaways; and updating web space with the benefits of joining, FAQs and a link to join online.
Address technology infrastructure.
This included preparing an online giving link for establishing the recurring gift amount and frequency; implementing a required question on all online giving forms to choose frequency of gift (one-time, annual, quarterly or monthly); and establishing back-end processes for gift receipting and ensuring gifts are recurring in perpetuity.
Choose segmented multi-channel solicitation strategies for launching the Auto-Kai Club.
This included recruiting 20 Foundation Ambassadors to make phone calls to target prospects; using a March 2015 direct mail piece created in collaboration with Gabriel Group to encourage donors to consider the Auto-Kai Club; targeting those with a current annual fund pledge, and grandfathering in those sending in recurring gifts through their company’s payroll; using electronic solicitation strategies via email and social media on “Pi Day” (3.14.15); and ongoing outreach to graduating seniors who might consider the Auto-Kai Club as a next giving step.
Develop ongoing stewardship and recognition plans for Auto-Kai Club Members.
This included plans to reward new Club members with a leather padfolio; making staff-led thank you calls to new Auto-Kai Club members; and implementing various phone calls or mailed pieces throughout the year from students benefiting from Auto-Kai Club gifts.
“Most importantly, this was not a ‘fix ‘em and forget ’em strategy,” said Ryan King, Advancement Director for Beta Theta Pi Foundation. “In fact, this is the LAST group of donors we wanted to neglect in terms of ongoing stewardship and recognition.” Since the program’s launch, the Auto-Kai Club has become one of Beta Theta Pi Foundation’s most successful programs. Some specific Auto-Kai Club results from FY17 efforts include:
- A total of 286 donors are current members of the Auto-Kai Club.
- Auto-Kai Club members are giving $56,679 to the Beta Leadership Fund each fiscal year, without being solicited.
- By the end of FY17, 71 percent of Auto-Kai Club members met or exceeded their average BLF annual giving total over the last three years, and the median giving increase was 86 percent.
- 73 percent of Auto-Kai Club members met or exceeded their largest BLF gift with their FY17 BLF total (which concluded on May 31, 2017), and the median giving increase was 48.6 percent.
- The cost per dollar raised for the Auto-Kai Club in FY17 was only $0.0079 cents per dollar because of the low cost of bulk mail and our email outreach (and the high return from Auto-Kai Club members that were giving but did not need to be solicited this year).
“The beauty of the Auto-Kai Club is that it not only eliminates our solicitation costs, but most importantly it drastically improves the overall donor experience for these donors because they hear from the Beta Foundation when we want to say thank you or show that their giving is making a difference,” King said. “The Beta Foundation prides itself on being a relationship building organization, rather than a solicitation office, and the Auto-Kai Club is a perfect example of this commitment.”