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Five Ways to Grow Your Sustainer Program

Not a News Flash:  Sustaining donors (or monthly donors) are vital to a nonprofit organization.  Every nonprofit organization has its own mix of new and existing donors that each require a unique approach. Tactics that perform well for Organization A might not generate similar results for Nonprofit B.

Potential News Flash:  The ability to grow your sustainer program depends on the commitment and investment you make in it. (You get results that correspond to your efforts.  If, like most nonprofits, you have the fundamentals of a monthly giving campaign, how do you grow participation?  Read on for some valuable pointers!

1. Commit and Segment. Commit to making sustained giving a cornerstone of your fundraising and engagement strategy! Monthly giving isn’t just an option on your donation form – these are a unique set of supporters who should be treated differently.

  • Give them answers to the age-old question “What are you going to achieve with my monthly donation that you couldn’t do otherwise?” Illustrate the impact of their gift with images, stories and infographic.
  • Offer them specialized content. Send them a variant of your newsletter that speaks to their ongoing commitment. Make them feel like partners in your mission.

2. Make it easy to convert.
Sustainer giving should be featured as the most prominent option on all direct response channels. Create marketing content specifically for promoting your monthly giving options, including posts, pages and appeals.

  • Identify your most loyal donors – those who gave three or more times in the last year. This segment is often the easiest to convert into monthly donors. They should be asked early and often.
  • Social media followers who are liking, commenting and sharing. They’re primed for a special campaign that acknowledges their participation and asks them to step it up.


3. Be generous with your appreciation. They may be giving smaller amounts monthly, but over the course of a year it adds up! If the sustainer is giving an annual total at a level that classifies them as a major donor, treat them as a major donor – they are!

  • Make it public – thank them by name in newsletters and on social media. Give them the heads up and make sure you have their permission to broadcast.
  • Set up special eCards for sustainers to send to their family and friends. Monthly donors can become champions, volunteers and advocates for your organization. Chances are, if they care, some of their friends will too.


4. Stay up to date with key donor data. Life happens. People move, names change and credit cards expire. Schedule credit card expiration date donor reports to run every month, and put automated processes in place to remind your donors to provide you with changes to their records.

  • Consider using of of the many updater services for email address appends and credit card data.  These tools will help keep your sustainers records current and ensure lapse-free transaction processing year after year.
  • If your fundraising and communications software supports it, create a method (social media sign-on can be a good choice) for your monthly donors to log in and update their demographic and payment info.


5. Test, test and test some more. Monthly giving programs can sometimes be viewed as a “set it and forget it” program. This is one strategy that we wouldn’t recommend. Many factors can have an impact on the performance of recurring donor programs.  To continue to improve your sustainer program, you need to test in a systematic way, isolating one variable at a time.

  • Consider using Optimizely or other testing software on forms, lightboxes, pages and other digital assets.
  • Most email software has built-in A/B split testing – learn what content does a good job of converting an annual donor to a monthly supporter.

Need help analyzing and improving your sustainer program?  Consider calling a professional like Firefly Partners!

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