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Behind Neon One’s Recurring Giving Report with Abby Jarvis

Abby Jarvis is the Sr. Content Marketing Manager at Neon One. Abby is a thought leader and regular creator on LinkedIn, and recently helped produce Neon One’s Recurring Giving Report.  

 

In this episode of the RKD Group: Thinkers podcast, Abby discusses key takeaways from the Recurring Giving Report and what they mean for nonprofits. She shares:  

  • The process of putting together an annual report 
  • How to unlock sustainer potential at your nonprofit 
  • Prioritizing fresh perspectives in content creation

Show chapters

  • 6:05 The Recurring Giving Report and donor growth 
  • 9:15 The importance of donor retention and sustained commitments 
  • 12:21 The process of creating the recurring giving report 
  • 22:06 Lessons learned and the role of compassion in fundraising 
  • 25:08 The value of personal connections and meaningful experiences 
  • 27:31 Where to find the Recurring Giving Report 

 

Meet our guest 

Abby Jarvis - 1200x627

 

Transcript 

Justin McCord  

Welcome to the RKD Group: Thinkers podcast, the podcast for nonprofit marketers. I'm your host, Justin McCord. With me, as always, is Ronnie Richard. And this is a show about the people who influence nonprofit marketing and fundraising. A lot of times we say that and you know, Ronnie, as you think about going into different guests and stories, it's really interesting whenever we talk about influencing nonprofit marketing fundraising with the guests that we have today. So as opposed to shows that talk about the craft, we're talking about the people, the pioneers, the thinkers, and in this case, the influencers, and diving into their story and their work.  

And today we have Abby Jarvis from Neon One, who is definitely an influencer. Ronnie, tell us a little bit about Abby. 

Ronnie Richard 

So, yeah, Abby's the senior content marketing manager there at Neon One. And one of the reasons I know we wanted to have her on was because they just put out this report, the Recurring Giving Report. And yeah, there's Justin holding it up for those watching on video right now. For audio, sorry, you missed out.  

So, the report, it takes a deep dive into recurring giving over several years. And it's such a hot topic in our industry right now. It's something everyone's interested in. How can we get more monthly giving? And so, Abby walks us through some of the stats in the report. And we really talk about the process of how they came up with the idea and started processing it, and getting through the data, and the story and everything. And it's fun to get into that background.  

Plus, you know, listeners, stay tuned for an exciting story about Florida and alligators and Abby running into one. So that's … you can't miss that. 

Justin McCord 

I'm gonna say, this is the only podcast that connects alligators and bananas and recurring giving. So here's the thing is that, all joking aside about being an influencer―and that's going to make Abby wince when she hears it―the report is incredibly timely and pertinent and is just so important right now for the work of nonprofit marketers. And so, hearing some of the backstory behind it, it's fun for us, but it also gives us a different lens on how we get to apply our craft of content marketing and content distribution and what that might look like in a nonprofit space.  

So without further ado, here is Abby Jarvis of Neon One on the RKD Group: Thinkers podcast. 

Justin McCord 

So, Abby, I have a confession at the outside of the conversation: I fully intended to have this conversation while walking outdoors with plants and things around me, but it's kind of a muddy, nasty, gloomy day here in Dallas, and I didn't want to be outdoors walking and get stuck in a downpour, so I bailed on the idea. 

Abby Jarvis 

I get it. It's 85 and just breathtakingly humid in central Florida, so it would have been a rough walk.

Justin McCord 

So for our audience who does not yet follow Abby on LinkedIn―but they will by the end of this conversation―Abby does a fair number of videos where she's walking, or at least you have through, like, the fall and winter months, and now you're approaching the summer months, and you've got some decisions to make. Where did that come from? Like, where did the idea for, “Let's take a walk and talk about email marketing or whatever” come from? 

Abby Jarvis 

So, my colleague Tim is very active on LinkedIn and has been encouraging me to be active on LinkedIn. And I know that video is one of the most accessible and, like, engaging forms of media out there. So he was really asking me to do some videos. However, I am not a huge fan of that kind of activity. Like, not a big selfie taker. That's not my default.  

So the only way I can do videos as I am being encouraged to do videos is to do it in a situation where I don't have to look at my phone or actually, like, think about the fact that other human beings are going to watch me. So I just walk and do these videos and then stitch them together. And by the end of them, I'm sick of looking at my own face, and I'm sick of hearing my own voice, and I put them on LinkedIn, and I forget that they exist. So that's how I kind of got into it. I've been really kind of amused and gratified that people started asking me to talk about the plants I encounter because that is one of my loves, is the plants and the ecology of central Florida. So I started trying to work that in there too. And that also makes it feel a little less self-aggrandizing, I guess. 

Ronnie Richard  

You holding your phone while you do this, or do you have, like, this contraption rig set up that scares all the neighbors? 

Abby Jarvis 

Now I am holding my phone as I do it, and I feel like a real dork if I'm, like, walking around my neighborhood because I know my neighbors can see me pacing, and the number of outtakes that I have deleted from my phone because they're taking too much memory is just absolutely wild. But so, yeah, it's always, it throws me for a loop when I recently, for example, I was holding my phone talking about, I think I was talking about email, And I turned a corner on a trail, and there's a large alligator right off the trail, and we startled each other, like, quite a lot, and the alligator launched itself into the lake, scared the pants off of me. I had to turn off the camera and collect myself because that was a little much. So I startled the neighbors, and I startled the wildlife too. 

Justin McCord 

That's a lot. 

The, okay, so I, it makes me think about … I was asked by a colleague within our company to record a video. There were a handful of us that were recording videos to send encouraging messages to a team that was meeting off site, like, to help motivate them, et cetera, et cetera. And we had to do it on a tight timeframe. And I just happened to be in a shoe store, which isn't a, that's common, I guess. 

Ronnie Richard 

I mean, it's like once a week, let's be real. 

Justin McCord 

But it's, this is not the point of the conversation, but I was walking up and down the aisles of this Nike store, like, recording this video, and I had to do it over and over and over, and people don't always see that you have these outtakes. And I just kept walking past the same people. And I just, at one point I thought, I wonder what they think. Like, what's going through their mind as they're seeing this, you know, this random bald guy walk through here, say the same words over and over again. So. 

Abby Jarvis 

Are you familiar? I know it's an Instagram account. It's called Influencers in the Wild. I live in terror that I will end up on Influencers in the Wild. Like, ugh. 

Justin McCord 

Love it. Highly suggest. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, you mentioned your love of plants. Ronnie, how many species of bananas do you think Abby has in her front yard? 

Ronnie Richard 

I assume more than one based on that question. I'm only familiar with one, unless plantains count. Is that a difference? Okay, well then two. 

Abby Jarvis 

I do have plantains. I do have plantains. So yeah. If you count plantains, I think I have four right now. 

Ronnie Richard 

I've heard that this ... the banana that you, the one we are all familiar with is actually not one of the best ones, that we've narrowed down to this one that's not the tastiest. 

Abby Jarvis 

Yeah. Well, and the reason we have that one, at the risk of getting just completely off topic, is because that banana is a Cavendish banana, and Cavendish bananas were resistant to a disease that wiped out a lot of bananas. So all, the reason all bananas that you can get at the grocery store taste the same is they're all genetic clones of one another. They're all Cavendish bananas. So, there are a ton of other ones. You just can't get them in the grocery stores. So. 

Justin McCord  

So one of Ronnie's secret superpowers are segues. So I'm gonna let him segue from that to talking about Neon One's incredible, inaugural Recurring Giving Report. 

No pressure. 

Ronnie Richard 

Mmm, mmm. Hmm. So, speaking of different varieties of bananas, there are a variety of different reports out there that we see in the nonprofit industry. And one of the ones that Neon One just put out, the Recurring Giving Report, really stood out to us. And joking about the segue aside, Abby, we were just on that call, the call with the GivingTuesday Data Commons, and there was a large discussion ... We broke out into groups, and various discussions happened, and it seemed like that report was the topic of conversation in every one of the groups, and it got the most questions. And when Justin asked me what, you know, what, what happened in the meeting, that was the key takeaway I had. I said, everyone wanted to talk about that report. So, tell us just, you know, from, from your perspective, what are some of the things that really stood out in, in the report to you? 

Abby Jarvis 

Well, first, that was an excellent segue. So, high five. Very proud of you.  

In terms of the report itself, in terms of the report, we knew that we wanted to look at recurring giving, and we'd known that for quite a while. And I feel like the urgency was there for this. 

Ronnie Richard 

Thank you. 

Justin McCord  

That segue was bananas, let's be honest. 

Ronnie Richard 

Hey-o. 

Abby Jarvis 

There are a lot of negative headlines in the nonprofit space right now, right? We're talking about individual giving going down and fundraisers raising either fewer dollars or the dollars they are raising, they're trying to do more with less. And those are, of course, important trends, and we can't look away from those, and we can't ignore those, and we can't just write them off.  

However, I really think that what we found in the Recurring Giving Report is encouraging, especially in the face of those headwinds that the nonprofit sector is facing. We're seeing people step up and support the nonprofits that they love and the causes they love in a really significant way by creating these ongoing commitments to these causes.  

And one of my favorite takeaways, it doesn't ... so the positive thing is we saw over the whole industry a 127 % increase in the number of active recurring donors in a non-profit’s database. And the time period that we looked at was 2018 to 2022. So I'm sure that number has continued to grow. So that's the encouraging part.  

What I also find encouraging, even though it doesn't sound as positive on its face, is that the average number of recurring donors in databases is still very low. So, at the beginning of the time period we looked at, the average nonprofit had 11 recurring donors. By the end, they had 25. So that is significant growth, but it does show that there's still a ton of room for nonprofits to grow this donor segment, and it shows that people are ready and willing to set up that kind of commitment. So that was, kind of, my favorite takeaway.  

And then the other things that we found, I'm sure you and everyone listening to this has heard all of the talking points and read all the articles about donor retention and how important being able to retain your donors is. And we found that these recurring donors are not only creating their commitments to these causes, but they're also sustaining those commitments to these causes. The average recurring donor supports that nonprofit for over eight years.  

And that, when you are looking at a sector that has historically struggled with donor retention and continues to struggle with donor retention, is really remarkable. So I think recurring donors can really serve as or be a blueprint almost for what people can do with their nonprofit supporters and maybe how they can build relationships and sustain those relationships.  

I did also want to say, from what we can tell―and this is hard to pin down with, you know, CRM transaction data―from what we can tell, it doesn't look like a lot of this growth is happening because nonprofits are actively running recurring donation campaigns or recurring donor campaigns. This is happening organically. And I'm dying to see what happens if we as a sector really start focusing on prioritizing recurring donations because I think that could really make a huge difference. 

Justin McCord  

No, that's interesting. And it's like, it's, it is one of the most talked about aspects of individual giving right now. Like, there's, there's recurring giving, there's DAFs and there's mid-level. It's like those three things are, like, the most talked about elements of it. And I think that there's a fair amount of people who, it's like, you know you need to do something, but you don't know how or where to start. And so you're right. It's just scratching the surface of the potential and how to connect with people around it. And so that's fascinating.  

I am blessed to have, as I held up a second ago, the printed copy of it that I was gifted at the AFP ICON when you all launched that. And, Abby, I was fortunate to see you the day before launch and then the morning of launch. And so, I wanna talk about that a little bit because I don't know that our audience always knows the behind the scenes of getting one of these reports off the ground. So not, let's get to the panic of the morning of. 

But let's start with when you said that y'all wanted to, you knew that you wanted to talk about recurring giving. When did that conversation start? And were there other things that were on the table that just didn't make the … that couldn't get over this as the dominant idea? 

Abby Jarvis 

Definitely. So, I started working at Neon One. You know that thing where you just feel like you've always been somewhere? I've been at Neon One for a little over two years. So, before I started here, I had a call with my colleague Tim Sarrantonio, and we just, kind of, daydreamed about this report in particular. We wanted to look at recurring donations, and how they're changing the sector and why they're significant. I ended up coming on Neon One shortly after that conversation, and we had been, kind of, scoping this out from the beginning. This was a huge amount of data, and we weren't sure if we wanted to start with that. Before we wrote this, we wrote a smaller-scale article on email benchmarking for nonprofits. And sometime last year, we decided that it was time to start looking at the recurring donation process.  

So we had been talking about this for a while. I think it had been just about two years since we initially dreamt about the report and when it actually launched. You saw the, what was it? Was it breakfast that I saw you the day of the launch? And I was completely out of it. I was not mentally present at all. 

Justin McCord 

Yes. It's the combination of fumes and adrenaline at the same time, right? 

Abby Jarvis 

My gosh, yes. And so, so we started, let's see, we started scoping this report out in August and September of last year. We worked with our data team to pull all the information I had asked for, at least most of the information I had asked for. We spent November and December kind of analyzing everything and breaking it all down. I don't have a background in research or statistics or data analytics or anything. I studied poetry in college, so you know, that was a huge help as I was pouring over spreadsheets.  

I spent all of January drafting it, spent all of February editing and revising it, and then we launched in April. So yeah, when you saw me, I was running on fumes and adrenaline, and I had gotten up early that morning to launch everything, found a bug, and had to troubleshoot that in the hotel lobby, which was a real blast, I'm sure. But we got it done. And it went well; I'm really pleased with how it's gone. 

Ronnie Richard 

I'm curious, that part that you mentioned of not having a background in doing research like this―how did you handle that? Because having done reports like this, I know you can just receive all this data in spreadsheets, and it can be overwhelming just trying to parse through it and figure out what's important here and what's not. Did you have to bring in other people to handle that, or did you just sit with it for a long time? What was your process there? 

Abby Jarvis 

The process was very disjointed. So, the first time we did any kind of report together, Tim just gave me a spreadsheet of raw data, and I sent it back, and I was like, man, I have a, I studied poetry. Like, please help me out. This is not … I can't … I don't know what to do with this. It's a lot. So this time around, he sent me everything, and it was, it was more or less formatted the way I needed it to be. So, it was formatted by, like, year, and revenue band, and NTEE code and fairly decipherable. It still very much feels like drinking out of a fire hose. I think this is the fourth or fifth research piece I've written in my career. And every time I read over the data, and I get really overwhelmed, and I usually cry a little bit. And then I slowly start to wrap my head around it and find a narrative in it and kind of lay it out that way.  

So while I don't have a background in research, and while that does present more than its fair share of challenges, it also does give me the ability to understand what people need out of it, I think. So, I used to work with a data guy in my old job, and I would tell him, like, please explain this to me like I'm your 13-year-old daughter. And that is what I try to do when I write the research. I need it to be accessible for everybody. So I try to translate. It just takes a while. 

Justin McCord 

No, I think that, I mean, you know, I was joking with, with y 'all about, you know, I see so many similarities, Abby and Ronnie, and the way that I've talked with Tim, about how y'all work together and then, Ronnie, how you and I work together. And so, I've got a question for, for both of you: How … when, when y 'all are crafting these reports, at what point are you settled on what a narrative is? Like, how do you get to that point to where you're like, no, this is it. Like, this is it instead of all the various avenues. What is that? How do y 'all individually get there? 

Ronnie Richard 

I'll let you go first. 

Abby Jarvis 

How do I do that? I don't know. I've always been a storyteller, even when I remember actually being a kid and not knowing how to read, but I would sit down with my little sister and tell her stories just based on the pictures and the books that we had.  

So it's that part is second nature to me. It's figuring out ... I have to figure out what the data says first. So if you look in my Canva, it looks ridiculous because it's just full of graphs that I had to plot everything out, I had to see it. And then once I can see it, I can structure it. But it's not a smooth process, and sometimes it is completely inefficient. And I remember, I actually, I wrote the whole report and gave myself two days to revise it myself before I submitted it to the different teams that were revising it. And I came back the next day, and I hated it. It was garbage. And I panicked, and then I rewrote the whole thing that day. And I mean, I don't know. Coming up with a narrative is one thing; telling it is a completely different thing. But when you sit down and you're like, my God, I have the narrative completely wrong. That's always a ... that really throws you for a loop. But I don't know, once you understand, understanding is the hard part, telling the narrative is the easier part, at least for me. What about you, Ronnie? 

Ronnie Richard 

No, I think, I think very similar. I think it's important not to go in with a preconceived notion of what you want to see in the data. Make sure you have this blank slate as you're going in. And then for me, looking through it and trying to connect the dots of pieces that stand out. ‘Cause there's going to be so many things in there, and not everything's going to have a narrative to it. Some things it's just, here it is. It is what it is. 

But trying to find where I can connect the dots and put that story together. And similarly, like, the storytelling part comes naturally. Like, that's, that's what I do. I, you know, right, I tell narratives, that part, but finding it is, is the challenging part and structuring it in a way that it makes sense to the reader.  

And similarly, again, sometimes I'll write something and it just ... I hate it, and it doesn't flow, or maybe I'm, I feel like I'm missing the point, and I have to, it's like I have to go through different parts of, okay, here's what I see in the data, and then walk away from that, then come back and write something up, and then walk away from that, and then come back to it and change it, alter it. And, eventually, it gets to where it needs to be. 

Abby Jarvis 

Yeah, that's the hard part. And I don't know about you, like, structuring it, this time it was concerning looking. Do y 'all ever watch “It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia”? You know the scene where Charlie's explaining Pepe Silvia, and he has all the stuff on the walls? I wrote out parts of the narrative on Post-it notes and, like, constructed it on my floor. It looked ridiculous. But at least―I don't know if you have this, Ronnie―the different parts of my brain are working when I'm translating data and when I'm actually writing. So the reason I hated the first draft so much is because it sounded too analytical. My brain was still in that space, so I had to walk away and then come back when I could be in the telling-a-story space so I didn't sound like a robot. Yeah. 

Ronnie Richard 

I totally get that. Yeah, it's like you have to like, flip a switch in your brain by walking away to do something different. 

Abby Jarvis 

Yes, definitely. 

Justin McCord 

There's an application here, I think, for our listeners around even, like, annual reports and preconceived notions. And we're a handful of marketers talking right now, the three of us are, in one way, shape or form, whether or not you produce content or distribute content, like, we're marketers.

But at the end of the day, it's about making sense out of data in a way that connects to a broader target audience. And, you know, how many times do our nonprofit colleagues go into something like an annual report with the preconceived notion of here's mission; here's the impact that we had this year; it's X, Y and Z different or the same as last year; here's some new photos, et cetera, et cetera.  

And I wonder what life would look like if we didn't walk in with those preconceived notions and we're able to take a fresh approach. I think that would be really interesting.  

So what's, for me, Abby, as I go through my role in our, our content-marketing process, I always learn something new about the topic. Like, there's something not just on the trend side, but there's just something that becomes like an aha for me about, I never thought about this in this way. Not necessarily a data point, but just something about recurring giving that you learned as you were helping build out this report and the surrounding campaign. 

Abby Jarvis 

The thing that really struck me is how gracious people are, and how generous people are and how easily it's over to, or it's easy to overlook that. The reason I say that―when we did the second part of the report, there was, kind of, an analysis of, like, recurring donor behavior and maybe what they're thinking when they set these up.  

We found that, 13,000 people left notes on a donation form explaining or giving commentary to why they set up this kind of gift. And that's remarkable for a few reasons. One, we know that just looking at some of the patterns that we see in the data, these people aren't necessarily responding to appeals for recurring donations. It feels like a lot of these people are landing on donation forms and of their own volition, without being asked, are setting up these gifts. So that's remarkable in and of itself.  

The other reason that really stood out to me was because I've had drilled into my head since I started in this industry 11 years ago that people do not want to spend time on forms. You need to streamline your form to the extent that someone can get through it as quickly as possible. People do not want to give personal information out. They don't. They just want to finish their transaction and be on their way. And that wasn't necessarily what we saw. So those 13,000 notes were―at the risk of sounding overly precious about it―like, people pouring out their hearts, explaining why they were making this commitment, why this cause was so important to them. They shared stories, they shared pieces of their personal lives, they talked about their emotions and their feelings. One that I just keep dwelling on, it was a gift to a nonprofit that focuses on support for LGBTQ youth, and the donor said, like, I wish I’d had something like this when I was a kid. 

And people are just offering that information with no ... not being asked, no real, like, they're not getting rewarded for it. They're not being incentivized to take a donor survey. They're just giving you that. And that was really surprising to me. They're sharing their, their finances, of course, but they're also sharing themselves on those forms. And that was, that just set me back on my heels. I love that. 

Justin McCord  

That's so fascinating. We've had conversations recently with folks from the commercial space that have spent time around our team and around, you know, nonprofit leaders. And more than once now, we've been reminded that, yes, there are aspects of commercial marketing that are applicable. But when we just chase, like, a replication of commercial tactics, we lose the thing that sets our sector apart altogether. And that's empathy and, you know, compassion.  

And I love that, Abby, because it's a reminder of the role that compassion plays in what we do. Right? And, to your point, that maybe it's not all about, like, the quickest transaction possible; it's about the most meaningful experience. 

Abby Jarvis 

Yeah, yeah, that was … and I know you and I have talked about it. I do see more and more, yeah, of course there's a bunch of cool marketing tactics and whatnot you can take from for-profit companies. And yeah, there is room to kind of take the approach, like, a marketing approach in doing this, but you're not selling a product, and you're not selling a service, you're giving people an opportunity to invest in something that's very closely tied to them, to themselves, and their sense of identity and the things that they love. And I'm always a little leery of over-commercializing fundraising because it's so easy to over-commercialize fundraising and forget that when someone is setting up a recurring gift to you, like, they are giving you more than their money. They are giving you something that they are. They're giving you part of their hearts, and that's invaluable. 

Justin McCord 

Abby, where can people get their hands on the virtual copy of the report? 

Abby Jarvis 

If you go to neonone.com/RGreport, you can get it. I am actively double checking that, so I know that that's correct. That is correct. It's neonone.com/RGreport. It'll take you right there. 

Justin McCord 

Yeah, let's make sure. Okay, good. That's it. 

And will you sign my copy the next time? I'm gonna bring it with me. You've gotta sign it, okay? Believe me, just because of the opportunity for you to have to do that ...  

Abby Jarvis 

Yeah, yeah, if you remember to bring it, I'll sign it. 

 Justin McCord 

Yes, I will most certainly bring it. Abby, we're glad that you did this. We're glad, we're so impressed by yours and Tim's work and the whole team around it and the way that y'all have not just put it out there but, like, made it echo in the space, and so we're thankful for the work that you are doing. 

 Abby Jarvis 

Thank you. That means a lot, and I hope that this is encouraging to fundraisers. I hope it balances out some of the negativity that we see happening in this space, and I hope it gets people excited about reaching out to their community and letting them support them in this way. 

 Justin McCord 

Spot on. All right, everybody, follow Abby and you can go on walks, and learn about bananas, and recurring giving and all sorts of other things. So, follow her on LinkedIn, Abby Jarvis. Abby, we'll check in again down the road, okay? 

Abby Jarvis 

I'll talk to you guys soon. 

 Justin McCord 

See ya. 

RKD Group

RKD Group is North America's leading fundraising and marketing services provider to hundreds of nonprofit organizations, including hospitals, social service, disease research, animal welfare, rescue missions, and faith-based charities. RKD Group’s omnichannel approach leverages technology, advanced data science and award-winning strategic and creative leadership to accelerate net revenue growth, build long-term donor relationships and drive online and offline engagements and donations. With a growing team of professionals, RKD Group creates breakthroughs never thought possible.

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