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Best practices for sustainer program communications

October 11, 2021
A nonprofit employee meets with a monthly donor in a casual setting.

Sustainer programs are popular with both donors and nonprofit organizations for good reasons. Donors that sign up for a sustainer program can give on a routine basis without having to go through the process of re-entering their credit card information each time. For nonprofits, sustainers are a reliable source of income each month.

Of course, to attract more sustainers, your nonprofit needs to talk to your supporters about your sustainer program. 

To inspire other nonprofits, we asked our partners to share their messaging and communications best practices for recruiting and retaining more recurring donors. Here are a few tips from ALRAS Digital and Raise the Roots.

ALRAS Digital

Alfredo Ramirez is the founder and president of ALRAS Digital—a modern digital and communications agency challenging conventional strategies with equitable solutions that drive campaigns beyond the finish line and into the minds of decision-makers and supporters. To our question, he responded: 

The growing interest from donors and nonprofits alike in sustainer programs is an opportunity to test and do something different. When it comes to recruiting and retaining more sustainers, the challenge presented to nonprofits and their partners is not just about how to keep their current supporters, but how they can improve their relationships with them.

With testing, nonprofits can experiment and improve on what communications work best for their sustainer audience. Although every list and organization is different—as are the communications between them—some of your testing should include transparency about the financial commitment they’ve made to your organization, asks to increase the contribution or update the frequency of their gift, and general playful messaging (e.g., “This is your monthly reminder that you are helping us support/accomplish XXXX.”)

Because we’re coming up on year-end fundraising, any testing and implementation should begin right now, before fundraising kicks into high gear. Use your technology to your advantage, even if it is a simple A/B test.

The general business rule is that acquiring new customers can cost five times more than retaining existing customers. Use this as an opportunity to retain and upsell existing donors! Who knows? You might find that this will cause an unexpected surge from a base of supporters who already know and like you and your organization.

Raise the Roots

Brandon Fuller is the owner and Chief Strategist of Raise the Roots—a digital agency partnering with Bonterra Donor Engagement’s Fundraising solution users to leverage this powerful platform for successful advocacy, fundraising, and engagement campaigns. He shared the following strategies to improve sustainer programs: 

Your fundraising platform can support your sustainer efforts in several ways. So what are some steps you can take now to communicate transparently with your sustainer audience and build relationships?

  1. Provide an online gift management method: Reassuring your donors that they’re in control of their gifts is an important step in building trust with them. If your platform offers a self-service portal where monthly donors can alter or cancel their gift, that works. You may also provide an email address where recurring donors can request that their gift be canceled or altered.
  2. Update your thank-you email: Ensure the thank-you email that gets sent after each gift includes the donor’s recurring gift amount and frequency information, plus instructions on how to alter or end their gift.
  3. Confirm their successful or failed recurring gift payment: Each time your nonprofit processes a recurring gift payment, email donors to let them know. Most fundraising platforms offer this type of automated notification, so it shouldn’t require extra work from your already very busy team!
  4. Display clear language on donation pages: When a donor chooses to make a monthly gift, include clear language on your calls to action that reinforce to donors that they’re making a monthly commitment. Simple switches like adding “/monthly” to your ask string can make a big difference and prevent any unwanted surprises.

My advice is to begin by addressing the low-hanging fruit first, then tackle more challenging parts of your sustainer fundraising strategy with your team and your fundraising platform.

Attract and retain more sustainers

Establishing, scaling, analyzing, and messaging donors about your sustainer program should be a streamlined process that earns your nonprofit reliable revenue. Talk to our team at Bonterra to learn more about how our platform and partner ecosystem can help you make the most of your efforts.


  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing
  • Fundraising ideas