Kurt Worrell, SVP Donor Engagement Team  ●  1/29/2018

4 Ways to Use Telephone Fundraising in Your Sustainer Donor Strategy

Mid-Level-Donor-Persona-Purple.pngWhen it comes to developing and maintaining a healthy sustainer program, telephone must be part of your strategy. There is no replacement for a meaningful, two-way conversation with a donor to understand intent and to explain the importance of becoming a sustainer — all in the pursuit of effectively managing and maintaining sustainer donors.

As Marcy Auman stated in "An Introduction to Sustainer Donors," sustainers are an elite group of donors that cross the threshold of transactional donor to transformational donor through a long-term commitment to support your organization.

There are four ways to use telephone fundraising in your sustainer donor strategy.

1. Acquisition

The number one mistake that most organizations make with their sustainer program is not including a sustainer ask at the point of acquisition. Telephone can be a great tool for sustainer acquisition, particularly for donors that already have a “warm” relationship with your mission, such as grateful patients, pet adopters, volunteers, event attendees, or social media participants.

Our experience shows that through the telephone channel, we are able to acquire up to 30% of new donors as sustainers. Here’s how to use telephone successfully for sustainer donor acquisition:

  • Provide Options Beyond a Monthly Gift.
    To maximize your sustainer acquisition, offer sustainer options besides monthly giving. Quarterly gifts are a very popular option. Regardless of frequency, sustainer average gifts and life-time value far exceed that of a transactional one-time donor.
  • Brand Your Sustainer Program.
    A branded program can clearly articulate why this commitment is a more convenient and meaningful option for the donor. In conversations, we are able to relay the impact their sustaining gift will have, such as committed and predictable revenue, meeting mission needs year-round, saving resources on solicitation streams, exclusivity/being part of an important group of donors, and making giving convenient for the donor. 

2. Maintaining Sustainers

Your sustainer donors drop out of your program at all different times of the year and for different reasons. Are you communicating with them when they lapse? Most likely, your communication calendars have specific windows and events to upgrade and recover sustaining donors. A major benefit to using telephone is that you can time the conversation to maximize your retention.

The most common reason a sustainer drops out is an expiring credit card. Telephone is the fastest, most effective way to make sure you don’t miss an installment. If a donor does choose to drop out of your sustainer program, it is important to know why. A two-way conversation will get to the root cause as to why a donor is dropping out, and gives you the option to resolve the issue immediately. When a transformational donor stops giving, knowing why is invaluable.

3. Upgrading Sustainers

Upgrading your sustainer donors is different than upgrading other donors. Upgrades can be either an increase in gift installment amounts or an increase in gift frequency.  An effective upgrade call will include 3 main facets:

  1. Thanking the donor for their loyalty and commitment.
  2. Reminding the donor of the impact their giving has made.
  3. Asking the donor to increase their participation. 

Not only are these your most loyal donors, they are also some of your most receptive. Take the opportunity to speak with them.

4. Stewardship

Since most sustainer programs limit the number of appeals sent to a donor, it is critical to include stewardship activities in your strategy. Use the telephone to say thank you! Add a stewardship interval to your communication calendars, and recognize your sustainers as they reach donor milestones, such as giving anniversaries, years as a sustainer or donor, cumulative giving amounts, or even more personal messaging around birthdays or other life events.

Sustainers are your best candidates to join giving societies, and are also your best planned and major gift prospects. Loyalty is the number one factor when evaluating those most likely to make a planned gift. And sustainer donors are loyal! As part of your sustainer communication strategy, consider surveys to understand their intent. Telephone is extremely effective when capturing why your donors have made you a priority, and this information is critical as you consider transformational and planned gifts.


This is the third 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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