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How your nonprofit can attract and retain monthly donors

October 22, 2020
A nonprofit representative greets a donor with a hug.

Monthly donor programs, also called sustainer programs, are a low-effort yet high-impact way to increase donor retention and donor lifetime value. At the same time, they also provide a steady and predictable stream of revenue that can help your nonprofit more accurately budget and plan for the future. 

To build and maintain a successful sustainer program, you’ll need to go beyond just adding a button to your donation form. It takes intentional time and effort to create an effective and profitable program. 

If you’re ready to start growing your sustaining donor base, here are a few tips to get you started.

Make monthly giving a prominent option everywhere you fundraise

A great starting point is to feature “make this contribution monthly” options on all of your donation forms, from paper donation slips at events to your online forms. The key to a robust, flourishing program is to not stop there. Instead, make sure that you are actively promoting a sustainer option as a part of your overall fundraising and marketing efforts. 

In fundraising, you can only get what you ask for, so don’t be afraid to specifically request monthly donations. Create fundraising emails that encourage supporters to sign up as sustainers, and dedicate a website page or section of your donation page to educating about the program. To see your sustainer program grow, ask consistently and specifically.

For example, take a look at this donation form you’ll find on Greenpeace USA’s website. Its simple, clean design allows for an easy donation process for donors. Even when a user selects the one-time donation option, they’ll still have the chance to check the “monthly donation” option at the top of the form. Greenpeace puts monthly donation asks front and center on its website, increasing its chance of generating long-term financial support from recurring donors.

Make monthly giving a club that people will want to join

Branding your program in a way that feels like an exclusive membership is a great way to attract donors. So Others Might Eat (SOME), an interfaith, community-based organization that works to alleviate poverty and homelessness in Washington, D.C., provides a great example of how to implement this strategy. They have a page dedicated to promoting their monthly giving program, which they call the “Helping Hands Circle.”

When branding your sustainer program, go beyond giving monthly donors a special name or title. To convert them into loyal supporters, you’ll need to treat them differently than your regular donor base. Segment monthly donors from your email list, and brand all of the emails to the monthly donor group so that they know they are receiving exclusive communications. Remind them that they should be proud to be members of your program by highlighting the work you are accomplishing through their contributions.

Keep up with changes to billing information

A stolen wallet or expired credit card can be an obstacle for you and your monthly donors. For example, your supporters may not remember to update their billing information when they receive a new card. After all, part of the reason that they are sustainers is that they like the ease and automation of a monthly process that they don’t have to think about, so they might not remember that replacing their credit card could stop that process. 

To make sure that you’re not missing out on donations because of replaced credit cards, use a tool that enables your database to automatically update credit card information directly from members’ banks. This way, a monthly donation can continue to process without any action needed on the cardholder’s part. 

For other circumstances that cause failed donations, such as a donor canceling their credit card, set up an automated email response notifying them that their donation failed to process and prompting them to update their credit card information. Because it takes less time and effort to maintain a current donor than to attract a new one, make sure you’re taking advantage of automated tools to maximize the lifespan and value of the donors you bring into your program.

Find unique ways to say thank you

As with any donor, thank your monthly donors right away with an automatic email. Create a dedicated welcome email series to introduce them to the monthly giving program, giving you more opportunities to show your gratitude and demonstrate the impact of their donations. Always acknowledge that they are sustainers in your communications with them to reinforce that their participation in the program is valuable and appreciated. 

Along with thanking them, regularly show them the impact of their donation. Monthly donors give because they believe in the long-term potential of your organization’s work, so remember to keep them updated on the campaigns you are running and the progress being made as a direct result of their support. When emailing them about the work your nonprofit accomplished, say “you” more than you say “we” to treat them as a part of your team and give them credit for helping to fund that work. 

Look for compelling, emotional narratives that highlight why their participation in your monthly giving program is important. Be as specific as possible when telling donors where their money is going, and vary the messenger who is thanking them. For example, you might convey your gratitude through staff, board members, and even recipients of your services. 

Remember, attracting monthly donors is only half of the battle—thanking them and maintaining them as loyal supporters will make your efforts worthwhile in the long run. Accomplish both, and you’ll be on your way to a thriving sustainer program.

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