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10 Tips for a Successful Monthly Sustainer Program

Tips for a successful monthly sustainer programEnd-of-year fundraising season may be one of the most lucrative times of year for your nonprofit (you can raise up to 40% of your individual donations in December), but December comes but once a year. So what are your options for nurturing your supporters and ensuring they keep giving (more) in perpetuity?

Well, first you need to set some goals. Then you need to come up with a plan. Now, assuming you are trying to increase gift giving, then you really should be thinking about including a sustainer program in your campaign toolkit.

Why? Sustainer programs are one of the most valuable pieces of your fundraising pie.

What is a sustainer program? Just as you’d expect from the name, a sustainer program is a gift program that allow supporters to donate automatically on a recurring basis. One example of a monthly sustainer program you're probably familiar with is ASPCA.

A sustainer program has many benefits. For the donor, the one-time action simplifies the giving process - they set the gift amount and frequency and their good work is done. For nonprofits the rewards are awesome - recurring revenue, lower marketing costs plus a higher ROI for every dollar spent, and a truly committed long-term donor.

Sounds great! If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are ten tips to bear in mind as you go about developing your sustainer program:

1. Determine Whether a Sustainer Program is Right for Your Nonprofit

Despite all the benefits, many nonprofits rely on the immediate ROI of a large one-time donation over smaller recurring gifts even if the overall amount donated is less. As Alia McKee, Principal at Sea Change Strategies explains: “Too often organizations don’t recognize the tension between lifetime value and immediate budget goals. They want a sustainer strategy to increase their donor pool’s lifetime value, but they don’t want to sacrifice immediate revenue in the door.

To ensure you’re going to achieve lifetime value from your sustainer program, check out Alia’s tips on Network for Good.

2. Be Prepared to Commit Time to the Program

Unlike one-off fundraising campaigns, sustainer programs require a consistent and steady commitment from your team. It takes time to acquire monthly givers, the channels needed are often more diverse (radio, direct mail, email, telemarketing, online, in-person, etc.) and the resources needed to support and maintain it need to be factored in.

3. Get Ready to Change Behaviors

You should also consider that you’ll need to change (or upgrade) the giving behaviors of your existing supporters. Folks who are used to making one or two single gifts each year toward specific fund drives need to be convinced that a recurring donation is the right investment.

4. Target Potential Recurring Givers

It’s easier to convert one-time donors into lifetime recurring donors, if you know where to find them. Use list segmentation to identify existing donors who give frequently (more than three times in 12 months) and recently (in the past 1-3 months).

5. Build a Case for Monthly Giving

Get ready to make a case to your supporters as to why monthly giving makes sense for them and for your cause. In this new paradigm of giving it’s especially important to tell the big picture story of your mission and connect with your supporters’ emotions. Tell stories, use visuals, and develop clear benefit statements.

6. Do the Math

Nothing breaks down the impact that monthly donations can have more than numbers and results. Explain the impact that a low monthly donation make to your mission. For example, whether it’s a direct impact on one life:

  • “For just $10 a month you can help us feed a child in Africa for a month”

  • “Would you consider $15? That little extra will provide that same child with food and education for a month.”

Or how that donation can benefit the wider cause:

  • “Join our monthly giving program and offset the nearly $25,000 it costs to provide clean water to refugees in war-torn countries.”

Salsa Online Fundraising Demo

7. Add a Monthly Giving Option to your Donation Pages

Make monthly giving a standard part of your donation pages; you can do this easily in Salsa. Or consider creating a unique landing page for your sustainer program that outlines the benefits and makes it easy to sign-up.

Don’t forget to test the form and see how many of your donors sign-up for one-time versus recurring gifts.

8. Use your Thank You’s to Cross-Promote your Program

Strike while the iron is hot. Use the moment after a supporter has taken an action to put the benefits of a recurring donation option in front of them. Use your thank you pages/emails and nurture emails to spread the word.

9. Communicate Differently with your Monthly Donors

Monthly donors are the nonprofit equivalent of your loyal customers and, as such, they should be treated differently. They are your partners in your mission. Create a communication plan that reflects this. Segment them from your other supporters and develop custom newsletter and email content. Share stories that show the impact of their gift. Think of them first when you have a new appeal and reach out to them first with targeted messaging: “As one of our loyal supporters, we wanted you to be the first to know about our latest appeal…”.

10. Measure your Program

This goes back to the earlier point about lifetime value, a key success metric for sustainer programs. Measuring the success of your program is going to be a little different. Instead of looking at net revenues booked per month, come up with a plan to monitor and measure key metrics with a longer view such as:

  • Response metrics for your sustainer program marketing activities (email opens, clickthroughs, click to recurring donor ratios, etc.)

  • Number of recurring donation sign-ups per month versus one-time gifts

  • Gift upgrades. For example, if you run a campaign at the year-end to encourage existing recurring donors to increase their donation amount from one tier to another, measure the net result in terms of responses.

Good luck!

Topics: Fundraising