heartbeat on smartwatch shutterstock_344624564You invested time and resources to implement your nonprofit’s fundraising Sustainer Program. You used direct mail, online, telemarketing, and maybe even mobile to recruit recurring donors. You engaged a segment of loyal supporters who provide you funding on a predictable basis.

All your program tactics are running smoothly on autopilot: cash in the bank and electronically processed.

But when was the last time you performed a real checkup on the health of your sustainers?

For some people, having an annual physical examination is a source of reassurance. Others see it as an alarm system, to catch health problems before they become serious. Innovairre’s Sustainer Program Audit is like a routine examination that takes the pulse of your recurring donors to monitor your investment and performance, to ensure continued vitality and growth.

Recently we were selected to provide full-service fundraising for a mature nonprofit charity that formerly managed all facets of its program internally. To assess their current digital strategy, our team scanned their Sustainer Program by enrolling online as a member.

Here’s what happened, in chronological order:

1. Online Enrollment 

First, we searched the charity’s website for the online giving donation form and selected the monthly giving option. We enrolled online using the generic donation page and selected the gift to be made in memory of a deceased family member.

Immediately afterward, we were transferred automatically to another web page to confirm the enrollment:

“Stephanie Wilcox, please confirm that you would like to gift [charity name]: $ 10.00 USD. This amount will be charged to your credit card ending in XXXX. You will be enrolled into our Monthly Giving program. This recurring gift may be canceled at any time by contacting the [charity name] office at XXX-XXX-XXXX. You will be sent a confirmation message to the email address slwilcox@innovairre.com.”

The organization’s regular, unbranded logo was displayed with personalized text requesting confirmation of the monthly amount pledged for enrollment; information about the credit card charge authorization; and instructions of how to cancel the recurring gift.

ASSESSMENT: The online enrollment confirmation was missing the Sustainer Program logo branding as well as compelling content highlighting the benefits of the program and how monthly donations to the nonprofit play a vital role in fulfilling its mission. While the direct mail invitation included an offer for a backend premium as well as other important incentives, these were not mentioned online. Those elements could trigger an even higher monthly gift amount.

2. Website Thank You & Confirmation

Directly after we confirmed our monthly enrollment online, we were sent to another web page that contained a very short, personalized thank you note – again without the branded logo displayed – and the following short text:

“Stephanie Wilcox, thank you for your enrollment into the [program name] with a monthly $10.00 USD gift to [charity name]! Your message has been noted. For reference, your confirmation # is [long character string]. If you have any questions contact the [charity name] office at the number below. Thank you for your gift!”

ASSESSMENT: The web page thank you was missing the Sustainer Program branding and failed to reiterate and expound upon the value of becoming a sustainer. Instead of a specific acknowledgment of the memorial gift, it included the vague reference, “Your message has been noted.”  With a committed, captive donor, this is a missed opportunity to deepen the connection and bond.

3. Email Thank You (via Payment Gateway) 

Immediately after the online acknowledgment, an email was sent from an email address that contained part of the nonprofit’s name but with the extension of their payment gateway provider instead. The subject line was: “Periodic Bill for Order A-189c85fc-dfb1-437d-a1c0-ef8a31c2715a Approved.”

Unlike the prior web thank you, this purely transactional communication from a questionable unknown source conveyed a very businesslike tone. In addition to being the third unbranded message since enrolling in the Sustainer Program, the text referenced me as a “customer” instead of a special donor, provoking in my mind an identity crisis and doubt about the charity to which I had just pledged my recurring support.

ASSESSMENT: While compliance regulations result in less flexibility with some payment gateways, the nonprofit’s recognized name, address, contact information, and branding should be incorporated if at all possible.

4. Email Thank You (via Nonprofit)

Our checkup was almost complete as we received the third thank you within minutes of joining as a sustainer. This was the fourth Sustainer Program communication and the second email from “info@[charity name].org” with the subject line: “Thank you for your gift!”

This email included:

  • Personalized thank you for gift in the amount of $10.00 USD to [charity name]
  • Confirmation number from the payment gateway (received already in first email)
  • Confirmation of enrollment in monthly giving program
  • Notice that a backend premium would be sent
  • Phone number to call with questions
  • Mention of memorial name in which the donation was made
  • Typographical errors

ASSESSMENT: This email was missing key components of an effective thank you letter:

  • The organization’s logo
  • An opt-out to receive the backend premium – or have it sent to someone else
  • Valuable incentives available and benefits that would be bestowed upon me as a monthly giver – as mentioned in the direct mail sustainer invitation letter
  • Opportunity to strengthen the connection, or prompt my own outreach, by posting my comments via social media such as Facebook to show my commitment to the charity

5. Checkup Results

While the direct mail invitation appeal letter to join the Sustainer Program carried the designated logo of monthly giving program, that branding was missing entirely from all of the online communications.

What’s more surprising is that these communications were also missing the signatory of the charity, a well-known and publicized figure and personality in their direct mail, events, and social media. When messages are signed by authoritative representatives of nonprofits, they build credibility and relationships.

Overall, these communications presented redundancy as well as an inconsistent image of the charity and its Sustainer Program: branded versus unbranded content, lack of depth, and conflicting tone of voice.

PRESCRIPTION – for this patient and all fundraisers

Take active steps to retain your sustainers and increase their long-term value by streamlining communications that nurture strong branding, provide relevancy, and foster consistency as part of the digital strategy moving forward.

To start the special giving connection immediately and advance a consistent, multichannel experience, it’s critical that the Sustainer Program name and logo be included on all relevant interactions. Once a donor becomes a sustainer, they will continue to receive select email solicitations and campaigns via direct mail. So it’s important that they are recognized as part of the Sustainer Program on all channels. Take advantage of digital print to maximize personalization and branding for small quantities. Go back to basics and include the signature, title, and even photograph of the nonprofit’s representative.

Recurring donors are natural spokespeople for your charity, so provide them with opportunities to share your mission and message among their friends, neighbors, and family members. Many will network and recruit more like-minded donors on your behalf. With the vast array of social media and outreach, the growth of your sustainer pool could be just a click away.

Read the vital signs to ensure you’re using the best fundraising practices to cultivate and steward the sustainers you’ve acquired, because the competition is right around the corner!


Besides raising significant funds, the committed gifts of your recurring donors continue to create reliable, sustainable cash flow with upgrade potential. Your sustainers are propelled to develop deeper, more meaningful connections with your charity and may even donate a major or planned gift that protects the long-term health and future of your mission.


Schedule a Sustainer Program Audit with Innovairre today to re-examine your strategies to ensure the best health regimen, investment, performance, and continued vitality of your most loyal supporters.

Stephanie Wilcox is a Fundraising Director at Innovairre Communications, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. Contact us at Answers@Innovairre.com; subscribe to our newsletter here; and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.