Top Characteristics Needed to Successfully Run a Nonprofit Sustainer Program
You’ve heard me say this before: ”Assign a driver!”—if you’re serious about growing your nonprofit sustainer program. Just one driver who pulls it all together and who makes sure the car keeps running and is being maintained to keep on running for a very long time.
So, when I mentioned this at a recent conference, an attendee asked me: ”What are the top characteristics someone needs to manage a sustainer program?”
That’s such a great question! I had to think for a minute. My first response was to say: “Hire someone like me,” but of course that’s not always possible.
But let me share with the top skills your ideal sustainer manager should possess to not only be happy in their job, but also make your organization happy because the program will be successful.
A good sustainer manager in my experience has to be: (and not necessarily all in this order):
- A cheerleader for the sustainer program and a monthly donor himself or herself.
- Detail-oriented and a big-picture thinker. You must be willing to be “in the weeds,” while at the same time think of the organization as a whole.
- A problem solver. Trust me: There will be problems, but you’re there to solve them!
- Focused, take-charge, persistent, consistent and a multitasker.
- Able to understand the relationship between systems, fundraising, database, finance, donor support and many other areas as you continuously look to improve these relationships.
- Curious, patient and always willing to listen and learn new things, while holding your ground when needed.
- Trustworthy and also open to criticism. Remember that everything you do is for the greater good of the donors and the clients, patients, children, animals etc. your donors’ gifts support.
A good sustainer coordinator, manager, director at any level knows that it takes a team and collaboration to create a great program and improve upon it. You can never be too arrogant to think you have all the answers, because you never do.
If you’re willing to be curious and ask questions of those who talk to donors or who work the “systems,” you’re so much better off.
When I personally ran a monthly donor program in six countries—dealing across oceans, time zones, banks and vendor partners—I found that the most successful way to solve a problem was by working together and get everybody in a room (or on the phone as soon as possible).
I also worked very hard to ensure that colleagues at all levels within the organization knew that they never had to afraid to bring something to my attention. And as I developed new ideas or new approaches, or started working in new channels, I’d ask opinions from donor support and data-entry folks, for example. Having their insights were invaluable, and they felt valued. That led them to trust me.
I must admit, when I first took this approach, other colleagues didn’t quite understand it, but it sure helped later on. Mistakes happened, but the sooner they were brought to my attention, the sooner we could solve them.
I was very fortunate that this overall approach of always be willing to collaborate across levels was engrained when I worked at Reader’s Digest in Amsterdam as a young woman, just out of college.
No mailing would ever go out without all relevant departments sitting in a room (marketing, systems, data, production, postal, customer service) and reviewing all of the ins and outs of a campaign. And the minute an appeal dropped, we’d put on our jeans and spend a few days opening and sorting the mail and working with those who entered in the data. It was not only fun, but it was oh so educational. It definitely increased collaboration, trust and future problem-solving.
It’s still one of my favorite memories and a work style that has benefited me throughout all my many years of direct mail and sustainer programs.
So, now that it’s your time to take on a sustainer program, forgot about your title for a minute and work with anybody within and outside your organization, who can help you understand the relevant parts of the process and help you grow your sustainer program to higher levels. Together, you will do more!
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.