What is a Giving Society for Nonprofits?

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August 21, 2022

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When donors feel special and recognized, they will want to level up their involvement in your organization, and that’s where nonprofit giving societies come in.

When done correctly, a nonprofit giving society can drive engagement, helping to increase donations that will yield support for years to come.

In this article, you’ll learn how to start a nonprofit giving society, why they’re important, and how to nurture them within your organization. These tips will help you learn how to use nonprofit giving societies to your advantage—so if you’re ready, let’s get started!

What is a Giving Society?

Group of people

A nonprofit giving society is a group of your organization’s most loyal donors—an exclusive club that only they belong to, thanks to their continued financial contributions.

Giving societies are a fantastic way to help your donors feel recognized for their support because they foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie that only the most engaged within your nonprofit will appreciate.

There are different ways nonprofits approach the structure of giving societies. Some have a single giving society made up of different tiers based on giving and some have multiple different giving societies within their single organization.

Below are some examples of different giving societies based on various levels of giving to an organization. Note that the first example is broken down into three distinct tiers.

  • Friend of the Org - Annual donors who contribute $1,000 to $9,999 in a year.
    - Buddy - Donors who give between $1,000 and $3,999. They will receive access to exclusive events and named in the annual report.
    - Best Buddy - Donors who give between $4,000 and $7,999. They will receive all the buddy perks plus an exclusive networking reception with the president.
    - Best Friend - Donors who give between $8,000 and $9,999. They will receive all the best buddy perks plus dinner with the president.
  • Leadership Circle - Annual donors who contribute more than $10,000 in a year. They will receive all friend-level perks, plus an exclusive tour to see the nonprofit’s work in action.
  • Lifetime Friend - Donors who include the organization in their planned giving estate. They will receive all friend-level perks plus lifetime recognition in the memorial plaque.
  • Each of these examples adds a unique take, subtly encouraging donors to give more so that they can be part of the select few. Ultimately, a nonprofit giving society is a great resource that you can use to cultivate and steward donors through the entire giving life cycle.

Why is a Giving Society Important?

Smiley

So why is giving societies important? It’s simple. They make your most valuable donors feel special, and when your donors feel special, they are more likely to increase their giving. You get a higher ROI when you take the time to make them feel seen, which in most cases translates to more dollars to your bottom line.

Now, just because the answer is simple doesn’t mean there aren’t nuances to it.

Understanding how to use nonprofit giving societies to your advantage is critical because they also serve an important internal purpose. Internally, a nonprofit giving society is a great way to organize your donors, as long as you have the data to do so. You can track when a donor started giving, their most recent gifts, lifetime giving, and more.

As you develop your nonprofit giving society, look at the metrics to see the most meaningful criteria based on the data. Use your findings to develop strategies and goals for the year. You can even segment your communications or campaigns based on this insight.

Ultimately, giving societies help you keep a pulse on your donors, and you’ll be able to leverage the information they provide in meaningful ways throughout the year.

To find inspiration for nonprofit giving societies, look at any nonprofit or university website for examples. The University of Chicago lists five giving societies on its giving page, providing a brief overview before letting donors click on the societies that interest them. Each has its own unique criteria, but there is some overlap, so you can qualify for multiple societies.

University of Chicago giving page

Remember, these societies provide your donors with something to aspire to. They also help your donors feel a deeper connection, a sense of belonging, and even a little bit superior to others. These feelings are what tie your donors to your organization—they are what make them want to pay it forward, so do what you can to foster them within your nonprofit.

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5 Strategies to Develop a Nonprofit Giving Society

Strategy

Now that you understand their importance, let’s explore how to start a nonprofit giving society. It may seem simple, but there are a lot of nuances you want to take into account so that your nonprofit giving society will be successful in the short and long term.

1. Identify Your Parameters

As you consider how to start a nonprofit giving society, you need to analyze your current giving data to identify trends.

Do you have several donors who have been giving consistently yearly? Are several donors giving in particular increments, including $1,000, $5,000, or more? Have donors written you in their will?

Whatever it is, you want to identify what will qualify your donors for membership in your giving society. As you look at your metrics, map out different tiers. You can recognize these as different levels or as different societies, but a $1 million donor should get different recognition than a $5 donor.

Remember, your parameters will be unique to your organization, but you can look to others for inspiration. Learning how to find nonprofit giving societies is easy once you know where to look. Google your peers and competitors, adding giving society at the end to target. If that doesn’t work, broaden it to the industry.

Don’t be afraid to benchmark and connect with peers for guidance. Most will be willing to share best practices, and you’ll start to see trends that may work for your organization.

2. Set Your Perks

Membership in your giving society should come with something but don’t limit yourself to physical items. Some people like pins and other tchotchkes, while others are satisfied with verbal or printed recognition. Regardless of how you recognize them, remember to convey a sense of exclusivity as you define your benefits.

Kenyon College does a great job of outlining their perks, building on each level to convey exclusivity until you get to the highest tier.

Kenyon College perks

They provide accessible entry points for their young alumni, stewarding them through the societies as they get older and more established. All levels get the same base benefits, but they become more exclusive the more money you donate.

3. Spread Awareness

Now that you’ve started the nonprofit giving society, it’s time to get the word out! Start to spread awareness by leveraging written and digital communication. If you’ve already had people qualify, welcome them and explain what the society is.

As you take your nonprofit on the road, mention the new giving society at member events or use it as a discussion point during donor meetings. Have a way for members to join on the spot! Do what you can to drive excitement and awareness over this opportunity.

4. Monitor Progress and Adjust as Needed

When you create your giving society, you will automatically have many donors who qualify for membership. As you go throughout the year, monitor your progress. Make sure you have realistic benchmarks and metrics you’d like to hit each quarter.

This can include the number of new or sustained members, dollars raised, and more. You want these metrics to impact your bottom line, so make sure they are realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure before you start.

If you’re not hitting your goals, look at the data. Were your goals too high? Are there unanticipated economic circumstances? Don’t be afraid to adjust as needed.

Your giving society is going to be a journey. You’re not going to convert everyone in your first year, and that’s okay! Slow and steady growth is more sustainable than a short burst of viral giving.

5. Develop a Renewal Process 

Setting up your society is just the beginning. Now, you need to learn how to nurture your giving society so it can thrive. This isn’t a one-time process. Giving societies shouldn’t have a lifetime membership, even if the initial gift is substantial. They should be built on continued giving to foster engagement.

Remember that deadline that you set in your parameters? That’s the cut-off date for your donors to do [insert action] before they lose membership to this exclusive club. Develop a communications strategy to engage with those who may be in danger of lapsing. Once they give, make sure that you thank them and recognize their continued membership.

For more tips on securing recurring donations, check out our post on how to increase monthly donors!

Wrapping Up: What is a Giving Society?

Donor

Giving societies drive engagement, make your donors feel special, and most importantly, they inspire continued giving. By now, you should understand how to use nonprofit giving societies to your advantage—using your data to drive insights on how to best connect with your donors.

From here, it’s up to you to learn how to nurture nonprofit giving societies to yield the best ROI. At the end of the day, you want to connect with your donors in new ways, and nonprofit giving societies are an easy and effective way to make your donors feel special.

So what are you waiting for? Start brainstorming names, parameters, and metrics today!

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