Monthly subscriptions swallow the world

Monthly subscriptions make sense for companies and nonprofits.  As we talk about in our Sustainer Revolution white paper:

  • They provide ongoing predictable revenues
  • You can build a relationship with a donor/customer where you are continuingly learning and improving
  • Consumers are increasingly accepting of monthly subscriptions.

In the business world, everyone is now trying to get in on the subscription game because of these advantages and because companies with subscription products are enjoying higher valuations.

This may be why BMW just launched a subscription plan that charges extra for the luxury features on its luxury cars.  This includes things like heated seats and adaptive cruise control.

Let me first confess that Beemers are not exactly my scene.  They stopped making my make of car over a decade ago.  It is my first car that has power windows.  In short, I have as much credibility on luxury car strategies as I do on the international modeling scene or competition ballroom dancing.

A 2004 Saturn VUE; my car of choice…

And yet this subscription offer smacks of an older business model: the “nice car you have here; a pity if something were to happen to it” mode of “insurance” favored by those with more brawn than scruples.  Whether this is the intention or not, behavioral psychology shows us that people loathe paying for something once has been free.  Thus, an installed feature that can be subtracted is far more painful than an upgrade not chosen.

Clearly, the monthly subscription/giving train is leaving the station if it has not already left.  As we say in the white paper, monthly giving has been continually growing for nonprofits even during times that one-time giving has decreased.

But more than that, we can learn from BMW that the offer we should be giving for monthly giving shouldn’t be taken away from one-time givers.  Rather, it should be created as an upgrade for them.

This can be a challenge.  When creating a monthly giving offer, the temptation is to round up existing assets—whether they are tangible benefits, benefits that create recognition, or benefits that convey exclusivity—and draw the velvet rope around them so they now apply only to the monthly donor or other high-falutin giving club.  Don’t give in, as your donors could feel like the BMW loyalist who is wondering if they will soon need to put a quarter in to power their airbags.

Beyond this, remember that many of the trapping of monthly giving clubs—naming conventions, donor convenience, and the like—aren’t generally an important part of the monthly giving experience.  In every test I’ve seen of message that focuses on what the monthly gift does for the donor (e.g., “it’s convenient for you”) versus what it does for the organization (e.g., “it allows us to be ready for emergencies”), the latter wins.

This seems counterintuitive; we’re taught, or at least we should be taught, to adopt a donor focus with things like “you” focused rather than organizational-focused messaging.  But this is one of the cases where the donor’s goal is to have the greatest impact.  You can focus on the donor, then, by telling them they are having the maximum possible impact in the way they want to.

So learn from BMW—your monthly subscription can be a new experience that excites rather than a shaming of your one-time donors.

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