5 Tactics to Establish a Sustainer Donor Journey and Reliable Revenue for Your Nonprofit
Building a strong sustainer giving program helps grow programs and services with consistent, reliable revenue. But creating a donor journey for recurring donors requires a focused approach.
When John Coogan, vice president of client services at CharityEngine, worked at Wounded Warrior Project, the organization made a shift toward targeting long-term, sustaining donors instead of constantly chasing those who would ultimately remain one-time donors.
Statistics show that despite monthly gifts individually being smaller than one-time gifts on average, when combined over the course of a year, those monthly gifts tend to surpass one-time donations. Therefore, trends show recurring donors are likely going to be more generous than one-time donors.
“If you get that person on file and you keep them informed of what’s going on, it’s highly likely they’ll stay on file and maybe not even think about it,” Coogan said. “The money’s coming out of the bank account or from their credit card and, as long as you’re not doing anything to upset them, as long as you’re keeping them informed, they’ll continue forward and give to you — maybe even in economic downfall when they’re struggling a little bit.”
Coogan, along with Paul Zimmerman, direct response monthly giving specialist at the Wounded Warrior Project, presented, “Keeping the Love Alive: Optimizing the Donor Journey” at the inaugural BridgeTECH, a day of programming dedicated to exploring the intersection of technology, fundraising and marketing hosted by NonProfit PRO, the Direct Marketing Association of Washington, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals Washington, D.C., Metro Area Chapter.
Here are five tactics the duo shared that will strengthen your organization’s sustainer efforts.
1. Send Personalized Communications
To turn donors into sustainers, it’s about continuing the conversation. For a small file, Coogan recommended sending handwritten thank-you cards. That effort becomes trickier after substantial file growth. In that case, email automation can help with personalization at scale.
Having all of your data in one place allows for better personalization tactics, such as incorporating the donor’s name, last gift and birthday.
“The form letter is fine, using the first name, last name is fine, but the more personalized you get, especially with someone who has been a sustainer for let’s say 10 years, the better off you are,” Coogan said.
Organized data will also help your organization segment your donors to create more targeted outreach. Having custom fields that matter to your organization or cause could be a critical option depending on your organization’s segmentation needs.
“You want to be able to have basically a database where you have a single look at that context and see all of the different interactions and ways they are actually connected to the organization whether it be event registrations, receiving emails, [giving] donations, being a sustainer,” Coogan said. “Having that all in one place will allow you to segment and target and be able to launch campaigns that are specific to their interests and their needs.”
2. Show Impact and Gratitude
The donors won’t know what their donation accomplishes if you don’t inform them. They also won’t know it’s appreciated unless your nonprofit thanks them. Incorporate impact and gratitude in simple efforts, such as newsletters, magazines, anniversary cards, birthday cards and, of course, thank-you cards, to retain current sustainers.
“A thank you today goes a long way to keeping folks on the file tomorrow,” Zimmerman said.
That’s why continuously connecting donors to the cause is key. Donors feel good about giving to nonprofits, but they need to remain connected to the cause and may even need to understand what their dollars specifically accomplish.
“I think that’s where tangible giving levels come in handy,” Zimmerman said. “If you can tie something to a specific [dollar amount] — $90 buys an hour of mental health treatment for a wounded veteran. … It’s almost like an ROI, in the sense of ‘I’m doing this. I'm getting that back.’”
3. Offer Further Involvement With Your Organization
Once a donor becomes a sustainer, it showcases their level of interest in your organization and cause. That dedication means they may be interested in becoming an ambassador for your nonprofit and recommending the organization to their friends and relatives. Just keep in mind not all sustainers will be interested in doing anything beyond their monetary gifts.
For those who are, consider inviting them to become a peer-to-peer fundraiser, visit a program — or even volunteer at a program where they are able to interact with the constituents and see their impact firsthand.
“I think that’s a big deal because if that donor doesn’t stay connected, over time, they may just decide ‘This is not for me. I’m going to take this money and invest it somewhere else,’” Coogan said. “Or, maybe they do finally succumb to an economic downturn and they’re not feeling connected enough [to continue giving].”
4. Use Technology to Find Prospects and Reactivate Lapsed Donors
Artificial intelligence (AI) can do more than create content. Many customer relationship management software has predictive analysis capabilities that can determine ask strings, likelihood of donation amounts and more, Coogan said. This technology not only identifies prospects, but also can predict their donation levels.
Another useful tool is a card account updater, which jumps into action when credit cards expire or are canceled after being lost or stolen. If a credit card is declined when Wounded Warrior Project tries to process a recurring donation, that triggers an email requesting updated payment information sent to the donor within 24 hours.
“It’s important to remember that these folks didn't do anything intentionally wrong,” Zimmerman said. “They didn’t call. They didn’t cancel. They didn’t do anything bad. Something just happened. So the love for your organization is still there. There’s just been a complication.”
5. Ask for Extra Gifts
In order to ask sustainers to give an additional gift on top of their regular cadence, it’s vital to get the right cadence and show the specific impact of the extra gift.
“They reconnect to loving your organization every month, and my guess is if you give them an additional opportunity to give an additional gift, they will,” Zimmerman said.
Editor’s Note: To receive updates on all of NonProfit PRO’s events, sign up for our e-newsletter, NonProfit PRO Today. Learn about other 2023 nonprofit sector conferences in our article, “The 2023 Nonprofit Sector Conferences You Don’t Want to Miss.”