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Engaging grassroots donors with a sustainer program: 4 tips

October 06, 2022
Three nonprofit professionals assemble around a table to discuss how to engage grassroots donors with a sustainer program.

For nonprofit organizations, the key to raising the necessary funds to advance your purpose and continue making an impact is to diversify your fundraising programs.

From major gifts to micro-donations, contributions from individuals often make up the largest portion of Americans’ charitable giving. If you’re looking to increase donations from grassroots donors, sustainer programs can be an effective way to appeal to these passionate supporters. Sustaining gifts, or gifts that automatically occur on a regular basis, are convenient, customizable, and fuel lasting relationships with donors.

Let’s walk through four tips for attracting and retaining grassroots donors with a sustainer program.

1. Ensure flexibility, convenience, and privacy in your sustainer program.

Having the ability to donate the same amount on a predictable cadence allows small-dollar donors to support your organization’s work in a way that’s convenient and accessible for them. You can take this a step further by incorporating specific features that enhance efficiency for both your staff and your donors.


While many nonprofits and donors understand sustainer programs as monthly giving commitments, that’s just one way for supporters to give regularly. If you can, offer other intervals for sustainers to give, such as each quarter.

Additionally, allow donors to update and customize their sustainer participation options online, such as their sustaining gift amount. By making it easy for them to make adjustments or even opt out of the program whenever they desire, you’ll help more supporters feel comfortable and eager to join your sustainer program.


Sustainer programs provide added convenience to donors, who can effortlessly give the same amount on a regular basis, and your nonprofit, since you’ll be able to predict how much revenue you can raise thanks to the consistent giving pattern.

Your organization can save itself and its donors even more time by staying on top of donor information or employing credit card updater services. This way, you can retain the support of donors regardless of any changes to their payment information.


Nonprofits can build a positive experience for every sustainer by giving them a chance to customize the level of privacy associated with their gift and your gratitude. 

For instance, one sustainer may enjoy having their name listed in your annual report or in your donor honor roll, but another might prefer to remain completely anonymous. One supporter may be touched to hear their name mentioned in a thank-you at your gala event, but another may prefer to avoid the spotlight. Make sure you’re capturing your donors’ preferences so that they have the chance to support your cause and receive the level of recognition they prefer.

2. Showcase the specific impact of a grassroots donor’s gift.

Individual donors at the grassroots level are likely motivated not just by your nonprofit’s purpose, but by its effect on the people you serve. Therefore, it can be profoundly meaningful for a donor to learn that their $40 sustaining gift provided childcare for someone on the day of an appointment, or that their $80 donation secured lodging for someone traveling out of town with few resources.

Centering the people who receive sustainers’ financial support is an effective way to ensure grassroots donors see the impact of their gifts and choose to continue them year after year.

3. Harness the power of younger grassroots donors. 

Revamp your nonprofit’s sustainer appeals to reach potential donors of different ages and interests. Younger donors in particular may find it more feasible to make a smaller contribution on a regular basis than a lump sum at the end of the year. 

Consider adjusting your appeals to attract a younger audience—are you using up-to-date and inclusive language? Can younger supporters visiting your online donation page find themselves represented as donors, or does most of the content on your site discuss planned giving and major gifts alongside imagery of older supporters?

According to research by Fidelity Charitable, Millennials feel motivated to give based on shared values with a nonprofit. Frame sustaining gifts in a way that portrays younger supporters as donors to broaden the reach of your nonprofit’s sustainer program.

4. Leverage automation in your sustainer program.

Automated sustaining gifts are particularly appealing to busy supporters who must stick to a budget. Concurrently, they save your staff members’ time and ensure that gifts can be processed even when they’re not in the office, such as during weekends or holidays. Additionally, automation can optimize your nonprofit’s sustainer program by:

  • Following up with prompt and personalized gift acknowledgments.
  • Sending consistent stewarding messages to supporters.
  • Diversifying communications across multiple channels.

With the right automation features in place, your organization can build meaningful, lasting relationships with grassroots donors without expending significant time or resources to do so. While sustainers’ gifts may come in automatically at intervals throughout the year, regularly recognizing their impact ensures that they continue to feel valued for their contributions.

Securing reliable funding with sustainer programs

By focusing on flexibility, customization, and automation, your nonprofit can make sustainer programs more accessible and appealing to donors of all income levels. 

Remember to collect relevant data such as your monthly recurring revenue and the number of sustainers increasing their gift sizes each year. By evaluating this information, your nonprofit can unearth important insights for improving your sustainer program and retaining grassroots donors’ support moving forward.

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