Monthly donor or sustainer programs are a relatively low-effort and high-impact way to increase donor retention and donor lifetime value, while also providing a steady and predictable stream of revenue that can help your nonprofit better budget and plan for the future. However, building and maintaining a sustainer program isn’t as simple as adding a button to your donation forms, it takes intentional time and effort to create an effective and profitable program. If you’re ready to start growing your sustaining donor base, here are a few tips to get you started.
Make monthly giving a prominent option everywhere you fundraise
We’re not talking about just having a “make this contribution monthly” button on your donation forms (although you should have one on all of them, from paper donation slips at events to your online forms). The key is to not stop there; instead, make sure that you are actively promoting a sustaining option. In fundraising, you don’t get what you don’t ask for, so don’t be afraid to specifically ask for monthly donations. Have fundraising emails dedicated to asking supporters to sign up as sustainers, and have a website page or section of your donation page dedicated to the program. Ask consistently and specifically, and you will see your sustainer program grow.
Take this EveryAction-powered donation form you’ll find on Greenpeace USA’s website: its simple and clean design allows for an easy donation process, and it is automatically set to the monthly donation screen shown above. Even when a user switches to the one-time donation option, they’ll still have the chance to check the “monthly” option at the bottom of the form. Greenpeace puts monthly donation asks front and center on their website, increasing their chance of generating long-term financial support from recurring donors.
Make monthly giving a club that people will want to join
Everyone likes to be part of a group, and branding your program in a way that will make it feel like an exclusive membership is a great way to attract donors. We’ve seen many creative takes on this approach, but one of our favorites is So Others Might Eat (SOME) is an interfaith, community-based organization that works to alleviate poverty and homelessness in Washington, D.C. Their website features a page solely dedicated to promoting their monthly giving program, which they call the “Helping Hands Circle.”
Be careful when branding your sustainer program - it isn’t as simple as just making up a name for your monthly donors. To cultivate them into loyal supporters over the long term, you’ll need to actually treat them differently than your regular donor base as well. Segment members from your email list, and brand all of the emails specifically toward group members so that they know they are receiving exclusive communications. Remind them that they should be proud to be members of your program by highlighting the work you are accomplishing and the impact that they are having.
It is appropriate to ask monthly donors to give one-time contributions occasionally, especially for special occasions such as major anniversaries or campaign deadlines, but be careful to do so sparingly. Monthly donors who still receive constant general fundraising asks that go out to the whole list may feel unappreciated. Part of the draw of joining a monthly giving program is a decrease in regular fundraising emails, so show appreciation for your monthly donors by being intentional about the fundraising communications that they receive. Once they have been in the program for a year and you have cultivated them as loyal supporters, however, you should ask them to increase their monthly donation amount. You’ll continue to hit your fundraising goals, while helping your donors feel appreciated and invested in your work.
Keep up with credit card changes
All of your hard work to attract a sustainer can be derailed by a stolen wallet or expired credit card. Don't depend on your supporters to remember to update their own information when they receive a new card - part of the reason that they are sustainers is that they like the ease and automation of a monthly process that they don't have to think about, and they often won't remember that replacing their credit card could stop that process.
To make sure that you're not missing out on donations because of replaced credit cards, be sure that you are using an automation tool such as EveryAction's credit card updater, which enables our database to get updated member credit card numbers directly from their bank, meaning that a monthly donation can continue to process without any action needed on the card holder's part. For other circumstances that cause failed donations, such as a donor cancelling their credit card, set up an automated email response that will let them know that their donation failed to process and prompt them to update their credit card information. It takes less time and effort to maintain a current donor than to attract a new one, so make sure you're using the right automated tools to maximize the lifespan and value of the donors you bring in to the program.
Find unique ways to say thank you
As with any type of donor, thank them right away with an automatic email. For monthly donors, it is a great idea to have a separate welcome series of email communication specifically to introduce them to the monthly giving program, giving you more opportunities to show your gratitude for their support and demonstrate the impact of their donations. Always acknowledge that they are sustainers in your communications with them, to let them know that their participation in the program is valuable and appreciated.
Once you have thanked them, show them the impact of their donation. Monthly donors give because they believe in the long-term potential of your organization's work, so keep them updated on the campaigns you are running and the progress being made as a result of their support. When emailing them about work that has been accomplished, say "you" more than you say "we," to give your donors credit for the the work that they are responsible for funding and treat them as part of your team.
When showing them the impact of their donation, look for compelling, emotional narratives to highlight why their participation in your monthly giving program is important. Be as specific as possible when telling donors where their money is going, and vary the messenger who is thanking them, such as staff, board members, or even recipients of your services. Remember, attracting monthly donors is only half of the battle - thanking them and maintaining them as loyal supporters is what will make your efforts worthwhile in the long run. Accomplish both, and you'll be on your way to a thriving sustainer program.