FYI Blog

Best Practices: Monthly Sustainers

Monthly sustainers can be a nonprofit’s lifeblood – providing steady, reliable income, a strong return on the initial investment, and members who stay with the organization year after year. It’s tempting to acquire sustainers and let the money roll in month after month. But sustainer programs need attention and cultivation to make sure the gifts keep coming, and are periodically upgraded if possible.


Here’s a quick reminder of ten ways to properly steward a sustainer program.

  1. Name. Give your sustainer program a name; donors like to be part of a special group, and to be recognized for their special status.
  2. Recruit. Invite donors to become sustainers within one to three months of their first gift. This is the time people are most likely to sign up for the monthly commitment, so strike while the iron is hot.
  3. Call. Telephone your monthly donors a month or two before their credit cards expire, or at least close to when a card is declined, then follow up with a letter with a stamped reply envelope. In the hustle and bustle of nonprofit work, it is not unusual to let these expires slip, and watch the money walk out the door. Assign a staff person to stay on top of expires with a monthly follow-up process for all declined cards.
  4. Cultivate. Periodically include your sustainers in appeals mailings (especially your year-end appeal), and make sure to send them any cultivation packages to remind them that you know how much they’re doing month after month. If possible, provide them with a few special benefits beyond the typical membership, and assign one person on the membership team who sustainers can contact with questions or changes to their membership.
  5. Reinstate. Whenever you’re recruiting sustainers by mail, phone, or email, add a phone call to lapsed sustainers who won’t be reached through other communications.
  6. Email. While online is not always the most productive channel for recruiting sustainers, occasionally try an email/online strategy to give the program a boost and to complement other channels – with a lower investment than telemarketing.
  7. Upgrade. Don’t miss the opportunity to upgrade sustainers when you call for their new credit card number, and in a stand-alone upgrade call. And in case they’re not ready to upgrade, give sustainers the opportunity to make a second one-time gift above and beyond their sustainer commitment.
  8. Acknowledge. Make sure your sustainers know how important they are to your mission – knowing that revenue is coming in every month automatically makes your job easier. And thanking them helps tremendously in sustainer retention. We recommend mailing a yearly statement with a summary of their giving after year end.
  9. Assess. Evaluate how well monthly giving options are handled on your website and on any related landing pages to make sure these options are visible so people know how to sign up to become a sustainer.
  10. Analyze. Watch for trends in the program and keep an eye on key metrics like retention, and how program performance is (or isn’t) balanced with overall costs. Then make adjustments as necessary.


The bottom line: with focused attention, your sustainer program can grow to become a dependable source of significant income for your organization.