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Sustainer Giving

For many years, the social good sector has been expanding faster than the rate of individual giving, and the cost of maintaining a donor base, let alone growing it, has exceeded inflation. A healthy sustainer program is one of the most effective ways to counter tough donor market conditions. Sustainer giving is a long-term strategy where donors commit to regularly giving a set donation.

Making the Case for Sustainers

Organizations are increasingly realizing the value of sustainer programs, though this hasn’t always been the case. Since the return on sustainer fundraising is long-term and largely a result of excellent retention strategies, the way to evaluate its potential is to examine year-over-year revenue retention. Whereas donor retention measures the stability of a donor base, retained revenue is the measure of actual income and tells us how much revenue is derived over time from a fixed group of donors.

Source: Blackbaud Institute, Sustainers in Focus

Data from Sustainers In Focus examined multiple donor files and compared the retained revenue of new donors—those who first gave a sustainer gift and those who later converted to sustainer giving—against those who never gave a sustained gift. Overwhelmingly, this data demonstrates that revenue per donor increased in the years preceding to the two years following a donor’s commitment to a sustainer program. Giving increased from 50% to 300%, with even the low end far exceeding the typical return for non-sustaining donors. As a strategy choice, there is substantial value to be had in sustainer fundraising.


Beginning Your Sustainer Program

While it takes energy to start any new program, there are proven benefits to launching a sustainer program. If you’ve made the case and are ready to launch one for your organization, consider these initial steps:

Set your donation limits and create messages that matter. What giving levels do you propose on your website’s sustainer page? Determine the levels that are significant to your organization and leverage them to create messages that matter. Maybe a $10 monthly gift can provide 100 meals and a $25 monthly gift provides 250. Showcasing impact in this way is powerful, allowing a donor to see their monthly impact and make an informed decision about where they give.

Create your communications plan. Think through how you will use your channels, including email, direct mail, and social media to promote sustained giving. You’ll want to devote a section of your website to sustainer giving to invite individuals into the fold.

Build the back-end support systems. You’ll want to make sure that you are accurately capturing your sustainer data. Many programs offer services like electronic funds transfer, or EFT, that automatically withdraw a donation from a donor’s personal bank accounts. Alternatively, your constituent records management (CRM) platform may store your donor’s credit card information to charge an account on a regular basis. For either system, you’ll want to ensure that your tech stack is running smoothly and securely processing transactions.

Develop a plan for measurement. As you would with any new program or initiative, you should be measuring and tracking your results. There are common metrics that you should be looking out for, such as the total number of active sustainers, the average monthly gift amount, the average number of months as a sustainer, attrition per month, cost of acquisition, and monthly sustainer revenue.

For more information on this topic, please visit: Retention and Attrition



There are several proven metrics to help jumpstart a monthly giving program or take your current program to the next level. Always keep in mind the bottom line: Sustained giving works. Consider the following fundamentals:

• Ask new donors to give on a monthly basis. Many supporters might not be aware that this is offered. Prompting this when a donor has made their first gift is ideal since you know that they are interested and invested enough to make an initial donation.

• Convert multi-year, single-gift donors to sustainers.

• Make monthly giving the website default.

• Use a credit card updater service and update invalid credit card data.

• Encourage donors to use electronic funds transfer.

• Steward, steward, and steward your sustainers!