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February 3, 2018

Digital Fundraising: The Secret Sauce in Your Sustainer Programs

At TrueSense Marketing, we believe donors who have committed to recurring gifts — sustainers — are truly heroic donors, capable of transformative relationships with their chosen charities. Therefore, we prioritize our fundraising strategy for sustainer donors. And we prioritize that strategy in every channel, including digital. According to the 2017 Blackbaud Luminate Online Benchmark Report, sustainer giving grew 20.4% over the prior year. And when viewing online revenue holistically, sustainer revenue comprises 11% of the total pie.

Some donors like writing a check each month and prefer active involvement each time they make a gift to their favorite charity. One sustaining donor told us she prefers writing checks because it makes her feel like she is “actively involved in giving,” versus an automatic credit card gift each month. But many embrace the ease of being able to automate their commitment. Many individuals today enjoy the paperless manner and simplicity of recurring online subscriptions like Netflix or Hulu, and they treat their recurring gifts to causes in the same manner.

Because sustainer programs have the capacity to double a program’s overall revenue, the option to give on an ongoing basis — whether that is monthly, quarterly, or annually — should be readily available. Make sure that each donation form is equipped with a recurring option — and that the choice is front and center.

 3 Tips to Optimize Your General Online Donation Form:

  1. Default to Recurring.
    Pre-selecting the monthly option on your donation form can increase conversions. The donor is already on your website and is ready to make a gift. Capitalize on that moment by asking for a recurring gift.
  2. Change Your Ask String.
    According to the 2017 Blackbaud Luminate Online Benchmark Report, the average online gift fluctuates between $33.73 (sustainer donation) and $104.78 (first-time donation). Therefore, the ask-string should fluctuate too. Your default amounts for a one-time gift could be $50, $100, $200, and $500. While your monthly amounts could be $20, $30, $40, and other. If you have a specific offer for your organization, use that in the ask string as well. And if your transaction platform allows for the flexibility to add text under the ask string, include that tangible offer for the donor to conceptualize. 

    rfbo sustainer ask-string
    Example of a sustainer ask string from an online donation form.

  3. Brand Your Sustainer Donor Program.
    Donors want to feel like they’re part of an exclusive club. Give your program a name that fits with the mission of your organization, and add the program logo and name to your form. Skimming content is the name of the game in today’s world, and donation forms are no exception. Be proud and showcase your program.

The general donation form on your website is one of the places to highlight sustainer giving. Make sure your website houses more information about your program within the Ways to Give section. Take the opportunity on a dedicated landing page to explain the benefits of becoming a committed donor to your cause. Showcase donor testimonials, benefits of joining the program, why their ongoing commitment matters, and ways they can join.

Monthly giving may be the most widely known sustainer option, but it isn’t the only one. Let the donor tell you how they want to commit. You can then direct individuals to this dedicated landing page through online (and offline!) newsletters, sitelink extension within your paid search ads, and posts through social media channels.

There are also ways to incorporate a sustainer ask into communications with your existing constituent base.


How to Upgrade Your Current Transactional Donors into Transformational Sustainer Donors

  • Welcome Series.
    Whether an individual comes onto your file through volunteering, a newsletter sign-up, or as a first-time donor, including an ask in your Welcome Series is the perfect opportunity to capture that commitment.
  • Ongoing Appeals.
    Provide the option to give one-time or give monthly in your calls-to-action. As Jerold Panas notes on the GuideStar blog, “People don’t give money because they should. They give money because you asked.” So ask! One thing to remember when looking at campaign metrics year-over-year: If you push for recurring donors, your campaign revenue will most likely decrease from the previous year, because the average gift will be lower. But don’t be discouraged, because your overall online giving will increase.
  • Dedicated Sustainer Appeal.
    Use email as an opportunity to show your existing donor base how they can further their relationship with your cause. Take one of your yearly appeals and turn it into a sustainer-focused appeal. Dedicate each element of that campaign — email, homepage banner, Facebook ad, and organic posts — to move that donor from transactional to transformational.


This is the fourth 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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