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June 12, 2018

4 Creative Tips for Talking to Your Sustainers

communicate with sustainer donors

In the first blog post of our six-part series on sustainers, TrueSense Marketing SVP Marcy Auman reminded us, among other things, that the most important part of sustained giving is that it is continued giving. Jamie Veltri, VP Acquisition & Media, then surveyed the broad field of sustainer acquisition across multiple channels, including DRTV, Face to Face, radio, direct mail, and phones. She pointed out that sustainer acquisition works best when the organization emotionally describes the impact of the donor and demonstrates real need.

The unique role of telephone for acquiring, cultivating, and upgrading sustainers was covered by Kurt Worrell, SVP Donor Engagement Team. Kurt emphasized how important a branded sustainer program is to successful sustainer growth and to demonstrating stewardship of sustainers’ trust. Then Digital Strategist Samantha Jasnos provided some real-time tips for acquiring and cultivating sustainers online and reminded us that some sustainers prefer the ease and simplicity of automated payments.

These posts lead us to the question: What’s the creative secret to communicating with this transformational donor cohort?

There are four powerful creative principles that are paramount to developing effective multi-channel communications with sustainers, whether in acquisition or cultivation. Employ them when you speak to your sustainers, and you will go a long way to ensuring they stay engaged.


1. Exclusivity

One of the recognized emotional drivers of fundraising is that of exclusivity. Seasoned fundraising creatives know that making the donor feel she is one of a small and appreciated circle of friends results in a more engaged relationship between her and her organization.

This is no gimmick. In fact, a sustaining donor who has raised her hand and committed to continued giving IS among your closest circle of supporters. Therefore, conveying that fact in every way possible makes sense. In addition to telling her this, show her. As an example, you may want to:

  • Affirm your relationship with her by recognizing her anniversary of giving.
  • Reach her by phone on occasion to thank her.
  • And above all, honor the agreement you made with her by demonstrating you listened to her preferences and opinions about her relationship with you.

Which leads us to …


2. Quid Pro Quo

Sustainers adopt continued giving for a variety of reasons beyond simple commitment and enthusiasm for your cause. Some may want to feel more actively engaged. Some may understand that continued giving increases their impact. Some may want to modulate their budgeted charitable giving. And some may prefer the simplicity of automated giving.

Whatever the motivation, sustained relationships share one commonality: an implied contract. Simply stated: “If you solicit me less and can guarantee my gift has impact, then I’ll commit to regular giving.” This agreement MUST be honored by organizations for sustainer trust to flourish and for their engagement to deepen. Still, this implied agreement flows two ways.

First, and most obvious, organizations really must pull the sustainer out of the bulk of their annual giving/cultivation appeal cycles. They must communicate with her at the frequency and in the channel she prefers. And they must regularly provide evidence of her importance to their mission.

Second, organizations now have license to (respectfully) speak to her commitment if her giving stops, without fear of alienating her, giving them a reason to communicate about her credit card expiration, gently remind her about missed gifts, realign her giving frequency, and periodically check in with her in order to confirm her wishes are being satisfied. Count on these communications to occur, and use them to deepen, not alienate, your sustainer relationships.


3. Impact

The implied quid pro quo contract speaks to your responsibility to shield your sustainer from excess solicitations—but it does not mean that she does not want to hear from you. Like most high-value donor cohorts, your sustainer wants to know that her support has demonstrable impact on your mission. This means she needs to receive communications that articulate that impact. Newsletters, prospectuses, program updates — many of which parallel regular or high-value donor communications — routinely carry the kind of “impact” demonstrations that sustainers also appreciate. And because these multi-channel communications often live in other fundraising programs areas, some economies of scale and budget may be available for sharing with sustainers.

Bottom line: At every communication opportunity, from supporter benefits like calendars, to affirmational thank you calls, to annual giving statements, even to monthly acknowledgements, don’t forget to introduce content that reinforces your sustainers’ positive impacts on your programs.


4. Brand

Though we list it here as a creative principle, a sustainer “brand” (in this sense we are referring to a named sustainer program) is a tactic that clarifies and simplifies sustainer acquisition, and reinforces the principles of exclusivity, quid pro quo, and impact.

Naming your sustainer program, in effect, names your sustainers. And really, would you want to be publically identified as a “sustainer?” A name allows your sustainer to see herself as part of a cadre of impactful heroes, not someone recognized by her giving frequency. This distinction underscores your contention of her exclusivity. And as you seek to acquire sustainers, it frames your quid pro quo value proposition: namely, “We’ll solicit you less if you commit to regular giving,” and, even more implicitly, “As a member of this group you’ll be treated in a different way than others.”

A name also allows you the opportunity to inexpensively “brand” those impact communications — newsletters, prospectuses, program updates — under a unique sustainer umbrella which, in turn, reinforces the powerful driver of exclusivity.


Sustaining givers elect to do so for various reasons, and those reasons need your attention and listening skills, both during the acquisition process and as you further cultivate your relationship with them. Using a dedicated and intentional creative strategy greatly increases your chance of growth and health for this critically important donor segment. The goal?

A “branded” sustainer program, supported by the principles of exclusivity and impact, and a rigorous commitment to honor your quid pro quo relationship. 


This is the fifth post in a six-part series about sustainers — donors who have committed to support your organization at any interval through any channel. Subscribe to Heroic Fundraising to have fresh fundraising insights delivered to your inbox monthly.

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