Recurring Donations | How to Turn One-Time Donors Into Recurring Donors

Looking to increase donor retention and create sustainable growth for your organization? One of the best ways to bring in dependable income for your nonprofit is through recurring donations. In this article, we share tips on how to turn one-time donors into recurring donors, giving your revenue a boost.

8 minutes read
Recurring Donations | How to Turn One-Time Donors Into Recurring Donors

Fundraising is a complex and challenging ordeal for most nonprofits. While there are many funding sources out there available to nonprofit organizations, it can be hard for a nonprofit to decide on a funding model that would suit its individual needs and its specific circumstances.

Amongst the multitude of offline and online fundraising techniques available – from direct mail to events to crowdfunding – there’s one fundraising strategy that stands out: recurring donations.

When a donor sets up a recurring donation, they choose to give a pre-determined amount of money on a regular basis. Many donors choose to give monthly, bi-monthly, or yearly, but they can give as frequently as they’d like.

Why are recurring donors important?

While one-time donors are, naturally, very important, recurring donations are the most sustainable source of income for an average nonprofit.

Recurring giving programs (e.g. monthly giving programs) have a much higher return on investment compared to one-time giving programs.

The average monthly online donation is $52 ($624 per year) compared to the average one-time gift of $128. According to Network for Good’s donation data, the average recurring donor will give 42% more in one year than those who give one-time gifts. Monthly donors also have a greater lifetime revenue per donor. Finally, 52% of Millennials are more likely to give monthly vs. a large one-time donation.

Recurring donations are also much easier for donors. Instead of having to remember to donate and instead of constantly being prompted to give again, donors enter their payment information once. The process is automatized from then on until the donor decides to stop giving. Monthly giving, for example, is also easy to understand for most donors because many people are used to monthly payments (e.g. rent, bills, etc.).

The retention rate is also higher with recurring donors compared to one-time donors.

Finally, developing a strong recurring donation program means that you can plan more and plan smarter because your income becomes more predictable. This can create space for innovation and growth.

To start building a sustained recurring giving program, you might want to consider starting by turning your one-time donors into recurring donors.

One-time donors are generally more likely to set up recurring donations compared to cold leads (people who have never given to your nonprofit before).

Here’s a short video on how to turn one-time donors into recurring givers:

Top Tips on Turning One-Time Donors into Recurring Donors

1. Say Thank You

Sometimes the simplest actions work the best. Following a donation, you should always thank the donor – regardless of the size of their donation.

There are many ways to thank your nonprofit donors. Thanking your supporters encourages existing donors to keep giving, demonstrates that you care about your supporters, and encourages one-time donors to give again, possibly even setting up recurring donations.

How you choose to thank your donors will depend on the resources your nonprofit has at its disposal. If your resources are scarce, a thank-you e-mail is probably the most cost-effective solution.

And e-mails don’t have to be cold and boring. You can get really creative with your e-mail outreach and make your donors feel special.

If you have more resources available, consider sending out hand-written thank-you letters or personalizing thank-you videos for your donors.

Whatever you choose, remember to show your donors that you care and appreciate their support. A donor that feels appreciated is a donor that will keep giving. And the more personalized the communication is, the more the donor will remember it.

recurring donations

2. Make Sure Your Technology is Up To Speed

Before you ask a one-time donor to become a recurring donor, make sure your technology is up for the task.

Your systems should be ready to handle a recurring giving program by being able to accept and process recurring donations. Ideally, your fundraising system should process the payments securely, as well as safely store donor information.

Good fundraising software is essential if you want to make a recurring donation program a reality.

Donorbox is a powerful and efficient donation management system optimized for recurring donations. It will make building your own donation pages much easier and will provide you with a number of features and benefits, such as:

  • Recurring giving options – including daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually
  • Giving donors the option to manage their recurring donations at any time
  • Pre-filled custom amounts with descriptions to show the impact your donors will have with their gifts
  • Integrated employer donation matching
  • Optimization for desktop computers, mobile phones, and tablets
  • Accepting donations on your Facebook Page
  • Donation ‘thermometer’ to encourage more donations
  • PDF receipts

Check out the Donorbox recurring donation system today!

3. Showcase the Impact of Donations

After a donor has given their first donation, it’s important to not immediately ask for a second donation or to set up a recurring gift.

In addition to a ‘thank-you’, good post-donation communication should include a sort of a report about how the money was spent – as accurately as possible.

Reporting to the donor about how their gift was used is a good second communication to send out. And when a donor knows how their gift made a difference, they will be more likely to sign up for a recurring donation program.

To showcase the impact of your donors’ donations, consider sending a photo or a video, or even just an e-mail sharing a story of an individual their donation helped.

If you’re able to successfully showcase the impact their gifts have made, your donors will know that their gifts will be well-used, and will be more likely to give on a recurring basis.

how to get recurring donations

4. Make Your Recurring Giving Program Visible

If no one knows about your recurring giving program, it will be very hard to grow it.

Drive program awareness by actively promoting recurring donations through clear calls to action in your communication outreach. Remember to let your donors know the benefits and impact of recurring donations and then include a button or link with instructions on what you want them to do – e.g., ‘Set Up Your Weekly Gift’ or ‘Join our Monthly Giving Program.’

In addition to that, there are a lot of other ways to promote your recurring giving program and turn one-time donors into recurring donors:

  • Link to your recurring giving program in your staff email signatures
  • Link to your recurring giving program in your e-newsletters
  • Share social media posts highlighting recurring donors and the impact their donations have
  • Run entire social media campaigns that promote recurring donations
  • Design a persuasive landing page dedicated to the recurring giving program and place a prominent link to it on your website
  • Include recurring giving options in your online donation form

In order to really build brand awareness around your recurring giving program and turn one-time donors into recurring donors, you need to make sure your program is visible.

Ensure your ask (call to action) is compelling and remember to track the effectiveness of your activities. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to recurring giving programs. Therefore, it’s essential to measure and evaluate in order to know what works best for your nonprofit when it comes to asking for recurring donations.

how to get recurring donations

5. Use Storytelling as a Tool

Storytelling has a unique power to move people to give in a way that nothing else does. That’s because, as humans, we are hardwired to respond to stories and to remember them more than we remember facts or figures.

Stories help create context for your mission and its impact. People are more likely to relate to individual people and families, not abstract causes or large groups of people.

Stories move us to act by stirring up emotions, and people make decisions on an emotional level.

You can also use videos to tell stories and put them on your blog or website. Don’t forget that visuals are more effective than text in grabbing and keeping attention!

Storytelling can help your one-time donors form genuine emotional connections to your nonprofit, which will make them more likely to become recurring donors.

For more storytelling tips, check out our guide to nonprofit storytelling.

recurring donors

6. Incentivize Your One-Time Donors

Incentivizing your one-time donors to become recurring donors is essential if you want to kick off your recurring giving program. Donors can be incentivized in many different ways.

For example, make it known to your supporters that they can cancel or change their donation at any time. This is likely to put them at ease and they will feel a lot more comfortable setting up a recurring donation.

Also, don’t forget to offer a variety of options for the frequency of gifts, as some may find a monthly donation too much (or too little!).

You can also use public recognition as a way to incentivize your one-time donors. Public recognition evokes social proof – a psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the actions of others in an attempt to undertake behavior in a given situation. This simply means that people are more likely to give when they see others give.

For example, publicly recognize a donor by sharing their photo and a quote on your social media profiles. Just make sure you check this is okay with the donor first.

You can also frame the ask in a way that makes donors feel valued; perhaps you could name the tiers/levels of giving e.g. “Premium Patrons” if they give a monthly gift at a certain level.

If you want to take it up a notch:

Offer gifts to your one-time donors when they make a contribution at a certain level (e.g. mugs, tote bags, umbrellas, hats, etc.)

Gifts make donors feel special and like they’re part of something exclusive. Since the gifts are usually branded, this will also help spread awareness about your organization and might encourage others to give too. When talking about the gift, make sure you present it as another altruistic gesture.

In addition to material gifts, you could also incentivize your one-time donors by offering experiences (e.g. a visit to one of your programs or a day at the office meeting the staff).

Note: It’s smart to offer the donor the opportunity to not receive a gift with language such as “No thanks, I’d like 100 percent of my donation to go toward [name of nonprofit].”

Example poster graphic promoting a thank you fest for recurring donors and recurring donations.

7. Engage With Your Donors

If you’re trying to create an engaged community of recurring donors, a ‘thank you’ won’t be enough – although it’s a great first step.

To engage with your donors, make sure you communicate with them regularly and enthusiastically. However, don’t make all of your communication about asking for donations or signing up for the recurring giving program. If you do that, donors can come to resent you and you will achieve the opposite effect.

These campaigns are usually referred to as ‘non-ask campaigns’.

Non-ask campaigns are any communication or marketing campaigns that have the primary purpose of informing and acknowledging your donors without asking for a monetary contribution. (

Show your donors that you value them for and beyond their donations. Use social media, organize events, meet them in person where possible, and send them direct mail and newsletters to keep them informed. Ask them for feedback on your projects and initiatives and acknowledge their opinions and input.

In addition to that, structure an email drip campaign to send emails based on the amount of time since a donor’s most recent activity (donor segmentation). Drip emails are usually automated – which ensures no donor is left out and saves tons of time for your team. Make sure all automated emails are carefully written and thoroughly checked by your fundraising staff.

In short, maintaining a relationship with every donor, regardless of the size of their gift, is the most important thing when it comes to turning one-time donors into recurring donors.

Engage donors at the right Moments

A great way to value your donors is to effectively engage with them at the right time. Make sure to reach out to your donors at key moments to remind them how their contribution and support have helped your nonprofit. For example, when a donor gives to your nonprofit for the first time or on the first anniversary of their first-ever donation made to your organization.

To help, Donorbox offers a dedicated feature called Moments that notifies you about important donor moments/events, including when a donor has:

  • Donated to your organization for the first time
  • Canceled their recurring donation
  • Their first year anniversary since they started donating
  • Increased their recurring donation amount
  • Updated their address in the last donation
  • Updated their phone in the last donation

Use this tool to keep track of moments and personalize your communications with donors!

Screenshot showing the Donor Moments tool in the Donorbox org account.


Recurring giving is the way to go to ensure stability and sustainability for your nonprofit organization. It gives you the opportunity to create a steady income stream that allows you to plan and budget accordingly.

Recurring donations also provide an opportunity for your donors to engage with your cause in a more meaningful and frequent way.

Attracting first-time donors requires a great deal of effort and investment, so we hope you consider using these seven tips to retain your one-time donors and turn them into recurring donors.

Choose Donorbox as your donation platform and check out our Nonprofit blog for more nonprofit resources and tips.

Avatar photo

Raviraj heads the sales and marketing team at Donorbox. His growth-hacking abilities have helped Donorbox boost fundraising efforts for thousands of nonprofit organizations.

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