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A robust sustaining donor program can help your nonprofit thrive through crisis

Focus on building relationships, community, and recurring giving with supporters you can count on through hard times.

Recurring giving can be an important lifeline for your organization during covid-19 and after. In 2018, monthly giving revenue grew by an average of 18.37%, with average monthly donations of $35.46 per month—or $425 per year. (Blackbaud Luminate 2019 report). And yet, according to NextAfter, only 14% of organizations prompt one-time donors to upgrade to a recurring gift during the donation process—a real missed opportunity in itself.

We want to encourage you not only to promote recurring giving more actively, but take it a step further:

Create an organized sustaining donor program that builds lasting community around a common value: commitment to your nonprofit’s success.

Cultivate relationships around “we’re here to support you through these hard times” that include not only monthly donations but also personal interaction and engagement. Reinforce continued support with regular appreciation, feedback on progress toward common goals and opportunities to deepen their engagement.

Get started with goals, research, planning and branding

Start by outlining your goals for this group and how you plan to make the experience uniquely gratifying for its members. Create a name and perhaps a logo for your sustaining donor program to give it a life of its own. Consider creating a separate landing page on your website with options to join with a monthly donation commitment from there. Feature this group with monthly giving options on your donation pages as well.

Do some research: get in touch with existing monthly donors and ask what motivates them to give. Find out what they might appreciate in a sustaining donors community and how they could participate. Evaluate responses and look for common threads, noting what your sustainers have in common and how this understanding could be useful in shaping your campaign.

Plan your campaign intelligently, with specific goals, timelines, and action items. Decide how much and where you’ll promote the campaign, how you’ll measure results, etc. You could segment this sustaining donor program into two distinct levels with different benefits and recognition: smaller-amount and higher-amount monthly donors. Your emails, events and other outreach should be tailored for each of these different subgroups.

Launch and promote your sustaining donor program

Once you have your infrastructure and planning set up, go tell it on the mountain! Publicize your sustaining donors group with social, email and news posts on your website. Invite existing one-time donors, volunteers and new email subscribers to upgrade to monthly and join the group. Ask your key supporters to boost your signal by sharing campaign posts with their social networks.

After the initial campaign push, continue promoting monthly giving with social media mentions, donor spotlights, news posts about events held by/for sustaining donors, etc.

Stay in touch with regular recognition and personal touches

Developing a community that inspires this continued support depends on the value you give back to its members. Show donors this is a desirable community of people who share a common value of being extra-committed to your success. Create benefits that attract members and encourage repeat engagement.

During the initial launch of the group(s), consider offering a gift such as a clever sustaining member t-shirt for people who sign up during the launch campaign. Your welcome email and other communications should also include invitations to connect via social media, email signups, etc. Encourage them to engage with you in other ways that enhance their experience within the group.

Send regular, tailored emails that thank them for their continued support while highlighting progress toward your goal and the impact of their support. Make it as personal as possible, e.g. case studies and short videos of staff describing the program(s) this support helps fund. Include practical reminders like checking to make sure credit card / ACH information is up-to-date. Occasionally ask them to increase their donation amount; often they’re willing to if you ask. Make sure to separate out your sustaining donors from your regular donor pool. Since they’re already giving monthly, you don’t want to annoy them with too many appeals.

Make it a fun and rewarding community with additional benefits and perks

Encourage members to interact not just with your organization, but other members of the group as well. Find ways to recognize members’ contributions and thank them consistently over time. Make them proud to be members and interested in getting to know other like-minded supporters while they support your cause. Consider creating:

  • virtual happy hours
  • virtual brown bags with a featured speaker from your organization
  • virtual committees for specific tasks and projects that need extra support
  • virtual volunteer opportunities (see our previous article for specific ideas)

Pour on the appreciation and continue the engagement when the crisis has passed

We know this crisis will be over someday, and eventually life will return to “normal.” Be prepared to invest extra energy in appreciating and recognizing your community of sustaining donors who stuck by you and helped you get through these times. When we all emerge after covid-19, we hope you’ll be ready for new levels of support with your thriving community of sustaining donors. 

We’re here for you!

If you need help getting your sustaining donor program off the ground, please get in touch!

photo credit: Ashkan Forouzani via Unsplash