Sustainers – those heroes who commit to automatically giving to your non-profit each month – are money in the bank, quite literally, month-after-month and year-after-year. There is really no smarter strategy to secure the financial future of your non-profit then by investing in sustainer recruitment today!

Here are some of the benefits of sustainer recruitment:

  1. You will have a steady stream of income. Recurring donations provide a reliable source of income during unpredictable times (like now!) You can count on this income month in and month out, regardless of the fundraising environment. You won’t need to worry about the seasonal lulls in giving. 
  2. Your retention rates will be dramatically higher. Monthly donors have a much higher retention rate. New donor retention rates average less than 23%. Monthly giving programs typically enjoy retention rates over 80% after one year and 95% after five years, according to a Blackbaud study. 
  3. Donors will give more. Yes, sustainers are making smaller gifts, but their total giving over any given year will be larger. According to Network for Good’s donation data, the average recurring donor will give 42% more in one year than those who give one-time gifts.
  4. You’ll make the lives of your donors easier. Donors sign up once, and their gifts are made automatically and at a frequency of their choosing. This gives donors both flexibility and convenience. Donors are already used to a monthly payment schedule as many pay their bills this way and subscribe to monthly services. So monthly giving is easy for donors to understand and incorporate into their lives.
  5. You will lower your costs. You will save valuable resources because you will be able to mail these donors less frequently. 
  6. Sustainers make great prospects for Planned Giving. Sustainers have demonstrated their loyalty and commitment to your organization and are more likely to put your organization in their Will. 

So how do you go about recruiting sustainers?

First things first, YOU need to commit to making recurring giving a priority. That means you need to sell the strategy to the appropriate people within your non-profit to ensure you have the buy-in necessary to recruit sustainers and make the program a success.

Next, take some time to put together a written, donor-centric plan for your sustainer program.

You want to think through aspects of the program such as:

  • What are your goals? 
  • How will you measure and evaluate the program?
  • Will you have a name for the program?
  • Who you will recruit?
  • What ask amounts will you use?
  • Will you offer both EFT and credit card?
  • What backend systems will you use to process the gifts?

Recurring Program Name and Benefits

Do you want to name your sustainer program? Most organizations find that it is beneficial to give the program a name. Why? When you brand your sustainer program, it demonstrates to your monthly donors that they are part of a community and part of something bigger than themselves. It also makes them feel special and valued.

You may want to create a special benefit or benefits that are only for donors who join the sustainer program. This will add a little more motivation to encourage the switch to recurring giving. There are any number of backend premiums you can offer. The best ones will be those closely aligned with your organization. 

Another inexpensive benefit to consider is special insider access. Donors love learning and having access to information they can’t get anywhere else, whether through mailings, phone calls or videos. Another option is to offer a concierge type of service for sustainers, similar to what might be offered to your higher giving donors. 

Dedicated Housefile 

There are lots of little things that you can and should do to recruit sustainers, like adding a checkbox to all of your reply forms. However, you aren’t likely going to successfully recruit large numbers of sustainers without a dedicated campaign. 

Start by scheduling one dedicated sustainer recruitment house file mailing per year, and then add in additional mailings after you have proven success with the first one. 

This dedicated mailing should focus solely on inspiring donors to become a sustainer. You aren’t casually mentioning the program or giving donors the option. The whole purpose of this package is to recruit sustainers.

You want to explain to the donors the benefits for them if they join as a sustainer. This may include the convenience, flexibility and their ability to better budget for their donations. You may also want to explain how this will mean they receive fewer solicitations, thereby saving the organization a significant amount of money and allowing their donations to go even further towards the mission.  

Another key is to explain why you need recurring gifts and the impact they have. Many non-profits have success by utilizing language such as “your $X donation will provide Y meals for hungry children,” as an example. The more specific you can be, the better. 

Main Donation Form on Web Site

This is another big one. By switching over the default ask on your main donation page, you can recruit many sustainers. The key is to make the sign-up process for donors as easy and friction-free as possible. Make sure you have thought through all the backend processes to support this change.  

Who should you recruit?

Recency and frequency should be the main determinants on who to recruit. As you know, donors who just gave are the most likely to give again so it makes sense that they are also the most likely to join your monthly donor program. Donors who already give multiple gifts in a year are prime prospects for recurring giving. Frequency is more important that the size of the gift.  

Pay special attention to donors who give smaller amounts regularly. Those are donors that can be profitable for your non-profit if they become a sustainer. They might otherwise be ignored, so don’t let them slip through the cracks for sustainer recruitment. 

One successful technique is to send new donors a dedicated sustainer mailing soon after their first gift. Introduce them right away to the program while their interest in your organization is high. The sooner you can convert a donor to your monthly giving program, the more they will give to your organization and the higher your retention rate will be.

Determine how much to ask

You want to use the giving data you have to determine the ask string, rather than defaulting to one ask string for all donors. Looking at the donors’ total giving over the past year is often a good starting point. This will take into account those who already give multiple gifts in a given year. This will also ensure you aren’t accidently downgrading donors when you ask them to join. 

You also want to make sure you aren’t asking for too much money, which will lead to very few sign ups. Remember, you can always ask sustainers to increase their donation amount. 

Be prepared to test and test some more. 

EFT versus Credit Card

Many non-profits only offer donors the option to be a sustainer using their credit card, and don’t offer the option to give via electronic funds transfer (EFT.) This is a big mistake. 

Donors tend to change credit cards often, so it can be hard to keep up with accurate information which leads to missed donations and lower retention rates compared to EFT. 

Here is some helpful information from a Blackbaud study:

“Typically, organizations had credit card sustainer retention ranging from 69% to 84% and EFT retention ranging from 88% to 94%.

EFT fulfillment also reduces the number of rejected transactions. One organization in our study that documented this aspect of sustainer administration carefully found that its conversion to EFT reduced transaction rejections 92%, from 6.3% for credit cards to 0.5% for EFT.

Recruiting sustainers is truly a win/win for the donor and the organization. Donors love the ease and convenience of recurring giving, and the idea of receiving fewer solicitations. Donors who become sustainers give more and have much higher retention rates. On top of all that, a sustainer program will lower your costs! 

Spend the time now planning your sustainer recruitment efforts and executing on them throughout the year. Recruiting sustainers today is the key to securing your organization’s financial future.  It’s money in the bank.