Upgrading Sustainers — Time to Meet the Challenge

Date Published
07/07/2020
Author
Kathy Giles

More and more nonprofits are attaining growth in their sustainer or monthly donor file. For many organizations, sustainers now make up 25% or more of their entire donor file, and some sustainer programs are reaching a majority at 50% and above. Meaning, they provide a larger and growing portion of total annual revenue.

Sustainers are an important part of a balanced fundraising program, improving donor retention rates and allowing for dependable revenue that is essential for organizations to fulfill their mission. Because of sustainers, revenue can be planned for, and they help level out the revenue ebbs and flows that can happen throughout the year.

However, there is also a feeling of “set it and forget it” when it comes to sustainers because their gift is automatic — and this is where you must be careful.

Because sustainers are donors.

These are extremely loyal supporters who choose to give monthly. But they still need to be stewarded, cultivated, and acknowledged for the part they play in moving a nonprofit’s mission forward.

Monthly donors also need to be asked to give more — they need to be able to upgrade their annual gift amount. This can be an additional one-time gift and/or an increase in their monthly donation amount. If you do not actively ask this donor segment for an annual-gift-amount increase, i.e., if you “set it and forget it” year-over-year revenue will be flat, making growth very hard.

As your sustaining file grows and generates a larger portion of total annual revenue, the need to increase revenue from sustainers becomes essential for overall growth.  

Here is an example:

  • An organization has a total of 200 donors, 100 of whom are sustainers. The organization’s total annual revenue is $24,000.
  • Each sustaining donor gives $10 monthly, which equals $120 annually.
  • Total revenue from the 100 sustainers is $12,000, or 50% of all revenue.

If no changes are made to how much these 100 sustaining donors give annually, how will the organization increase year-over-year revenue?

  • Lean on the one-time gift donors, placing the burden to grow solely on this segment. But growth would be limited because these donors constitute only half the file.
  • Acquire 100 new sustainers giving $10 per month for an additional $12,000 annually. Adding new monthly donors will increase revenue from sustainers as well as provide overall revenue growth. But to maintain this rate of growth, the organization will need to double the number of new sustainers each year, which may not be sustainable in the long term.

In this example, the organization is allowing half of its file to just sit, providing no additional revenue year to year, while relying heavily on acquiring new sustaining donors to deliver the needed increase in revenue.

The new donor growth is wonderful, but the questions become:

  • How long will this rate of new sustainer growth last?
  • What happens if the sustainer donor segment that makes up a large majority of the donor file generates the same amount of revenue each year?

Upgrading revenue from sustainers needs to be part of the annual plan, especially when they make up 25% or more of both the donor file and annual revenue. By engaging these donors properly and providing them with opportunities to invest further in the mission they already support, they will deliver an exponential rate of year-over-year growth.

So, don’t be afraid to ask sustainers to give more: a special additional gift and/or an increase in their monthly gift. These donors are already committed, but they need your help to identify how to strengthen their loyalty. 

About the Author:
Kathy Giles
Account Director, Agency Services

Role at the Company

As an Account Director with Agency Services I work with clients to develop their direct response, annual giving, and membership programs. I am responsible for the strategy, budget, creative oversight, planning, and results reporting for each campaign as well as ensuring we are meeting all client expectations. I also work to build the client relationship to not only retain the client, but to also look for opportunities to increase activities with clients, through any of our three business areas. And new business is always on the radar!

What excites you about your work at AFG?

With the three divisions, we have more opportunities to support our clients. We can extend the services offered to provide more full-service-oriented solutions to current and prospective clients, allowing AFG to become more involved with a client’s program. This also allows for more growth and learning, on a personal note.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

To feed my love of stories and storytelling, I went to school for film production, with a concentration in documentary film. I have had the opportunity to work on a few documentaries including one for the United Nations on the history of interpretation where I was able to visit several embassies and spoke with the amazing people in the UN Interpretation Service.

Today, I get to tell the stories of the non-profit clients I work with.

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