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April 21, 2017

Donor Journey Part 2: Stewardship and Annual Sustainer

In 2009, Sam and Martha gave $2,000 through a direct mail appeal.  Since this was a big jump from their usual gift amounts of $250–$500, the Major Gift team took notice: Wow, they’ve been giving 16 years.  They’re very committed, and we need to get to know them better.  That’s when Karen, their assigned Major Gift Officer, started reaching out with phone calls, sending notes, and thanking them for their giving.  Sam and Martha weren’t used to being specially recognized in any way for their contributions, they simply believed in The Salvation Army’s work.  In fact, the couple increased their next Christmas gift to $10,000, because they trusted that The Salvation Army was Doing the Most Good.  They were already committed!

We believe a donor truly becomes YOUR donor once they’ve made an ongoing commitment to you.  Like Sam and Martha, they give gifts to support your mission because they believe in your organization, and want to be part of your good work.

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Transactional vs. Sustainer Donors

Of course, many donors will choose to remain in the transactional camp — they give because of one specific opportunity or set of circumstances, but remain unsure when or if they’ll give again.  That’s to be expected, and those donors and their donations are still valued.

But a committed donor — a “sustainer” — is a donor who has decided that your work is worthy of her ongoing investment, and she will maximize her own sense of value and worth through her investment to your cause.

Further, a sustainer donor is not necessarily a monthly donor, though they can be.  A sustainer simply commits to giving regularly (annually, two times a year, quarterly, monthly, or even 100 times).  They choose their preferred giving frequency in exchange for something they value — which is being your partner in doing transformational work.

Donors want to know their gifts make a difference, and that they are appreciated.  What they enjoy most through their involvement with The Salvation Army is a sense of relationship and a higher purpose that is honoring of all parties.

The TrueSense Approach

We practice these principles every day — both in how we serve our clients, and also where we guide them in taking steps for growth.

For 15 years, we’ve been offering our clients an opportunity to enter into a committed relationship with donors through our Donor Design — “sustainer” — strategy.  Donor Design allows a donor to commit to giving an amount of their choosing, at the frequency they desire, in exchange for less mail — with the provision that they will receive all the nonprofit’s newsletters, be given an annual summary of their giving, and be given the opportunity to participate in one or two key campaigns.  Donors become part of a special group recognized for the life-changing commitment they have made.  The result of this strategy is 95 percent retention rates — and the type of satisfaction that has caused donors across the country to write letters to newspaper editors, wishing that all charities would take this approach!  In addition, donors often exceed their giving commitment with gifts over and above their agreement.

For 11 years, we’ve been making thank-you calls to our clients’ donors.  We built a model and hired callers to do nothing else but thank donors over the phone, and write notes of appreciation and affirmation for the donor’s kindness and generosity.  That’s how you show that you respect donors!  To listen to some of our conversations with donors, click here.

How do you turn a Transactional Donor into a Sustainer Donor?

Stewardship is a vital part of developing your organization’s relationship with your donors and guiding them along the Donor Journey.  A successful stewardship program:

  • Provides appropriate recognition and appreciation for each gift.
  • Keeps the donor informed and up-to-date about the use of her gift.
  • Communicates to the donor your organization’s needs and new priorities, while also cultivating her for the next gift.
This is #2 in a series of 5 posts about the Donor Journey. Check back to learn more about Sam and Martha and their Donor Journey with The Salvation Army.

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