Sustainer Programs: One of the Most Valuable Pieces of the Fundraising Pie

nonprofit fundraising

You are familiar with the Field of Dreams quote: “If you build it, they will come,” right? However, what worked in Hollywood, doesn’t always work in the real world, or the nonprofit world, in this case.

Despite careful, strategic planning, sometimes your organization’s sustainer program can hit a wall, making it seem impossible to raise more money or acquire new donors.

Yet, with a bit of patience, you can grow your program and continue to use it to sustain your mission, both now and in the future.


A Nonprofit’s Lifeblood

Monthly sustained giving has become a definitive best practice in nonprofit organizations across the U.S. And the most successful organizations are starting to aggressively pursue sustainers at every chance they get.

Thanks to these invaluable programs, monthly sustainers can indeed be a nonprofit’s lifeblood, providing steady, reliable income, a strong ROI and, most importantly, members who stay with the organization year after year.


Warning: Don’t Trudge Along On Autopilot

It’s tempting to acquire sustainers and let the money automatically roll in month after month. However, it’s important to realize that sustainer programs need special attention and cultivation to ensure the gifts keep coming.

One key factor to keep in mind with a sustainer program is the retention and value of that constituent over time. Sure, some sustainer efforts can be a considerable investment of both time and money, but when you look at the lifetime value of that constituent, it becomes well worth your efforts.

Here are some areas to think about when it comes to boosting your sustainer program:

  • Remember digital and media. The first place to start enhancing your sustainer program is your website. Make your sustainer offer more visible to visitors on your website by featuring a slider, display banners, both targeted and retargeted, that can help attract and educate constituents on making their gift go even further.  Retargeting donors and including sustainer messaging in online thank you’s also can help to educate donors about the cost savings and other benefits of transitioning to monthly giving.
  • Don’t forget traditional direct response. Stand-alone sustainer mailings often work, so it can be worth making it an option. The key takeaway here is to be sure to take advantage of spreading your messaging across a wide range of mailings throughout the year, including a stand-alone package, as well as via inserts in appeals and prospecting mailings.
  • Do the math. Nothing reveals the true impact that monthly donations can have to donors more than concrete numbers and results. In all promotional and solicitation materials, explain the impact that a low monthly donation makes to your mission. For instance, whether it’s a direct impact on one life: “For just $15 a month you can help us feed a child for one month.” Or, “Would you consider $20? This little bit extra can provide this same child with both food and education for one month.” Finally, in some cases, you can show how that donation can benefit the wider cause with something like, “Join our monthly giving program and offset the nearly $20,000 it costs to provide clean water to people living in countries ravaged by hurricanes.”


Commit and Stay the Course

Unlike one-off fundraising campaigns, sustainer programs tend to require consistent, steady commitment. It takes time to acquire monthly givers, the channels needed are often more diverse (direct mail, email, telemarketing, online, in-person) and the resources required to support and maintain it need to be factored in.

At the end of the day, we encourage our clients to stick with their sustainer programs, with the understanding that they sometimes take years to gain traction.

However, with patience, careful planning, and effective branding of a sustainer program, organizations will enjoy repeated, rich revenue from a loyal group of donors who love them, again and again.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

Contact IPM