How Do You Manage a Large Sustainer Program?
Last week, NonProfit PRO organized a webinar called “Effectively Managing a Monthly Giving Program that Exceeds the Thousand-Sustainer Mark,” sponsored by CharityEngine.
The organization featured was the Wounded Warrior Project, and the focus was on how they acquired sustainers and then managed those sustainers (the back-end). It was exciting to hear from such a big organization, and it brought me back to my days of managing a large sustainer program in six countries, with six country offices and vendor partners to consider.
But, you may say, your sustainer program is not that large yet. That’s okay! The principles from the presentation truly apply to any sized organization, so here are just a few tips and practical takeaways you can implement in your organization.
Even if you don’t have the budget for DRTV, check out your local cable TV opportunities. Especially if you’re a local or regional nonprofit, you can use local TV for monthly giving as long as you drive people to your website or have them call you to donate. Just make sure you have a compelling ask, a URL, a good message and someone answering the phone.
But what’s even more important: the actual sustainer management. You can do this! In fact, you may very well already be doing this really well. If you’re starting to build your monthly donor program, now’s the time to make sure everything in place or tweak some of your processes to make them even better.
I wrote about silos before, and this came up again in the presentation: Who owns your data? Who is in charge of making decisions about what sustainers receive? How often, and when? Sustainers go across all levels, and it’s easiest if there’s one person (department) in charge and you all agree on that approach.
Here are the five elements of sustainer management, and I’ve included just a few of the highlights mentioned for each:
1. Dedicated Donor Care
Make sure those who answer the phones are familiar with the program, and have scripts ready to answer questions monthly donors may have.
Think about donor loyalty. Allow donors to pause or downgrade their monthly gift, if that fits better rather than lose them altogether.
3. Data Governance/Integration
Make sure you keep in touch with your sustainers and, ideally, in the way they first connected with you. Do a donor survey to find out how they’d like to be communicated with.
4. Managing of Trends and KPIs
At least once a month, check your average monthly gift—how many sustainers you brought in, how many sustainer payments went through, how many cards declined, how many updated or were brought back (because of those wonderful people answering the phone!).
You’ll want to have these numbers at your fingers tips, especially to show others how your program is growing but also to prevent monthly donors from dropping out.
5. Billing Capabilities
If you do have a tracking system in place, you’ll immediately see how many sustainers are making their payment and when.
Because there are so many systems to process sustainers, I’ve seen some “weird” things. For example, I signed up for a monthly gift and the payment was never charged. I’ve seen missed charges because someone left. I’ve seen missed payments and lost sustainers, because of a donor base or online payment system change. All these could prevent funds from actually coming in.
Some systems require you to charge on a fixed day, others allow the donor to choose, others charge on the sign-up day every following month. Make sure you test everything you do and retest it every time you make a change in the process
Finally, as your program gets bigger, check on credit card account updater (recycling). Ask your merchant account or donor base provider if they can add this option. Many of them have it now built in or are considering doing so.
Ultimately, the success of any size sustainer program depends on how many monthly donors are making their gift and if the money actually comes in. If you consider your sustainer management early on or before you charge, you’re well on the road to sustainer success.
Erica Waasdorp is one of the leading experts on monthly giving. She is the president of A Direct Solution, a company serving nonprofit organizations with fundraising and direct marketing needs, with a focus on monthly giving and appeals. She authored "Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant" and "Monthly Giving Made Easy." She regularly blogs and presents on fundraising, appeals and monthly giving — in person and through webinars. She is happy to answer any questions you may have about this great way of improving retention rates for your donors.
Erica has over 30 years of experience in nonprofits and direct response. She helped the nonprofits she works with raise millions of dollars through monthly giving programs. She is also very actively supports organizations with annual fund planning and execution, ranging from copywriting, creative, lists, print and mail execution.
When she’s not working or writing, Erica can be found on the golf course (she’s a straight shooter) or quietly reading a book. And if there’s an event with a live band, she and her husband, Patrick, can be found on the dance floor. She also loves watching British drama on PBS. Erica and Patrick have two step sons and a cat, Mientje.