Why monthly donors make great legacy prospects

First, let me start by telling you that my focus has been monthly giving for many years. To

First, let me start by telling you that my focus has been monthly giving for many years.

To set the stage, let me give you some facts:

  • Monthly donors make small gifts now (on average $24 a month although some organizations are seeing lower monthly gifts, others are seeing higher monthly gifts, depending upon their type of nonprofit).
  • Monthly donors are not the big check writers (Yes, there will be exceptions but not typical).
  • Monthly donors are often on a fixed income.
  • Monthly donors care about your organization enough to want to start a monthly gift commitment for an undetermined amount of time. They typically do so for many years.

Over the past few years and especially this year, with the pandemic, nonprofits have seen the tremendous power and value of monthly giving. More and more organizations have started generating monthly donors.

So, what’s the next logical step? You ask them to make a gift from their will, to consider a legacy gift. 

Ligia has already dispelled one of the biggest myths about legacy giving all the time: legacy donors do not have to be wealthy now. That’s where monthly donors come in. In fact, anecdotally we hear that monthly donors are 6 times more likely to leave your nonprofit in their will.  I have three major sources of research for this:

  1. If you look at the table below, you immediately see why monthly donors are great prospects for legacy gifts. Monthly donors are a step up from the typical annual donor. They’ll give in a committed basis, but they’re typically under the radar. They give modest but regular amounts. They care a lot about the organizations they support on a regular basis! 

 Source: https://www.plannedgiving.com/downloads/fd_donorcharactertable.pdf

My British friend Richard Radcliffe of Radcliffe Consulting has been doing studying legacy gifts in the U.K. for many years. The United Kingdom is a country where monthly giving (committed giving/regular giving/direct debits) has been popular for much longer than the U.S.

Based upon this extensive legacy research in the U.K., in relationship to whether donors made regular gifts, is how we came up with the 6 x times more likely for monthly donors to make a legacy gift.

Nonprofits in the U.K. can benefit from the wonderful central resource of Smee & Ford where every will is read and recorded. You can see who gives to which type of nonprofit. You can see how many nonprofits someone lists in their will. You can see the average amount of legacy gift, etc. etc. It’s absolutely fascinating, if you ask me.

Smee & Ford has the most comprehensive information on legacy giving. Their team reads through around 5,000 Wills each week, identifying and reporting any charitable content. They built an extensive database of legacy giving in the UK, with information on every bequest for each named charity mentioned in a Will since September 2012.  If you’re serious about legacy gifts, it’s worthwhile checking out some of their resources. https://smeeandford.com/dataandinsights 


  1. Finally, just look at your own legacy gifts. I have looked at a few organizations that had a substantial number of monthly donors and they had them for a while.

We then looked at the legacy gifts, looked at the first gift amount, first gift date, number of gifts, last gift amount, last gift date and if they were a monthly donor. And then of course the average legacy gift.

We saw that 70% of legacy gifts came from monthly donors.  All their legacy gifts came from donors who started out with $20 or $25 as their first gift.

What does your data show?

Look at your legacy gifts from the past two years. Break them out and see how they compare to the above. If you have a monthly giving program, make sure you add that into the mix.

Now that we’ve established that monthly donors are great prospects for legacy gifts, how can you ‘plant the seeds’ about your legacy program? Look at the ways you communicate with your low-end donors and your monthly donors and add little messages when you can. If all is well, you should have already created a special segment in your donor base and your email program with the monthly donors.

Include an insert in a tax letter in January. Send a special appeal. Send a post card. Include a message in every e-newsletter. Send a special email.  Of course, I’m not telling you to forget about all your other (small) donors but if you have limited time and budget, start with those donors who are already very committed to you.  What do you have to lose?


About Erica Waasdorp, President A Direct Solution

Erica Waasdorp is President of A Direct Solution, Massachusetts.  She works with non-profit clients nationally and internationally on growing monthly donor programs.

Erica Erica Waasdorp Waasdorp published one of the very few books on monthly giving, called Monthly Giving. The Sleeping Giant. She created the Monthly Donor Road Map and several e-books to include the Monthly Donor Retention Play Book. She co-authored the DonorPerfect Monthly Giving Starter and Marketing Kits.

Erica regularly blogs and presents on appeals, direct mail and monthly giving. She created the first virtual Sustainer Workshop in September of 2020 and hopes to do many more! More info: erica@adirectsolution.com or check out www.adirectsolution.com

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