Eric Johnson, SVP of New Business Development  ●  12/18/2020

Sustainer Donor Success During the Pandemic and Beyond


heroic fundraising featured image woman sustainer give computer online

Had fictional anchorman Ron Burgundy been a fundraising consultant, he no doubt would have said, “Sustainers … they’re kind of a big deal.”

A big deal indeed, Ron. A big deal indeed.

Sustainer donors — people who give on a recurring and ongoing basis — are especially important in the midst of the pandemic because:

  • Compared to one-time donors, they’re an extremely reliable source of revenue
  • They’re far less likely to lapse, assuming payment data is kept current
  • They provide a pool from which major donors and planned giving prospects can be identified for further cultivation


But sustainer giving programs aren’t automatically successful. They require ongoing investment, a long-term focus, and a number of important foundational building blocks, such as:

  • Payment Management — an ability to handle a variety of payment types like credit cards, including EFT, PayPal, and Venmo.
  • Automatic CC Updater Service — automated communications with credit associations to ensure updated account numbers.
  • Ability to Process Partial Refunds — quick corrections to donors’ inadvertent overpayments or duplicated monthly gifts.
  • Flexible CRM Database — a recurring gift module, as well as monthly offer integration, with your donation forms.
  • Clear and Consistent Rules — assurance that all business units within your organization treat and track sustainer donors in the same way.
  • Commitment and Patience From Leadership — building a sustainer program takes time, and that ROI is measured across years, not months.
  • An Abundance of Impact Stories — even more than one-time donors, sustainers need to consistently hear how their dollars are being used to enable you to pursue your mission.


A Successful Balance of Fundraising Channels

When it comes to sustainer donor acquisition, conversion, and retention, each organization is unique and must use their own performance data to determine the right multichannel recipe for finding and engaging their valuable sustaining donors.

Furthermore, while there are six traditional channels (direct mail, digital, phones, DRTV and radio, peer-to-peer, and face-to-face) for sustainer acquisition, we have seen a shift during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, face-to-face has been greatly hampered since the national shutdown in March, while digital investments and testing continues to grow for many organizations. Additionally, direct mail spending was reduced by some groups leading up to Election Day, while reports of strong phone performance have come from many.

Regardless of the exact channel mix for your organization, what was true before the pandemic remains true today: The best strategy to acquiring sustainers is meeting them in whatever channel they prefer.


Saying “Thank You” to Your Donors Is Especially Powerful Today

While retaining sustainers has always been important, many organizations are putting even greater emphasis on retaining donors acquired during the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, we recommend being especially proactive in expressing gratitude to donors: Be deliberate in thanking sustainers for stepping up during these challenging times. This will help boost retention once normalcy returns (whatever “normalcy” will look like!).

Similarly, capturing updated credit card information and converting more and more sustainers to EFT now will pay dividends in the future.

Finally, be sure to consider your sustainer donors as potential prospects for your organization’s mid-level, planned, and major gift efforts. With careful data analysis and audience segmentation, you are likely to find a number of fertile opportunities for white-glove treatments and one-on-one donor engagements.

Stay classy, fundraisers!


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