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Are you ready to take a Sustainer-Forward approach?

First, I’d love to give a huge shout-out to the DMAW as an organization that has had a Sustainer-Forward approach for years.

The DMAW has offered special sustainer tracks during the Bridge conference, sustainer pre-Bridge workshops, then Sustainer Day, Sustainer World and now Sustainer Week, coming up the week of September 27th.

If you’re looking to grow your sustainer program, this week is for you. Every day, attendees will hear real-life case studies and examples from organizations that have taken the sustainer-first or sustainer-forward approach that really moved the needle on their sustainer program. Thank you, DMAW.

Let me distinguish between Sustainer-First and Sustainer-Forward approaches.

Note, I’m going to ignore the sustainer-toe-in-the-water, the sustainer-yes-but, or sustainer-not-at-all approaches as they will not help you grow your program.

What does sustainer-first stand for? The nonprofit is totally focused on growing its number of sustainers first. Most of their budgets and channels are aimed at generating new sustainers. They ask donors for a monthly gift instead of a one-time gift.

Most use face-to-face (canvassing), some use direct response TV, and they focus most of their digital budgets on sustainers. Some have targeted direct mail appeals and tele-fundraising. They often have an easy case for giving just $0.63 a day does this, $12 a month helps bring water to a village in need, $19 a month saves a child’s life or gives a child a smile.

Their organizational mind-set is totally aimed at growing sustainable donors. One-time gifts are considered gravy. There are not that many nonprofits like this, although I certainly wish there were more.

The reality is that’s not always possible. Most Sustainer-First organizations started building sustainer programs years ago and they have the funding to cover the expenses so they can keep growing further. Some are seeing as much as 60% of their revenue come from recurring donors. No wonder they’re excited to keep growing! They see the power of sustainers.

Then there’s the Sustainer-Forward approach. Here the nonprofit is focused on growing its number of sustainers and has a clear long-term approach. They are acutely aware that some donors may just want to respond to appeals and emails while others will indeed convert to recurring gifts. The channels used are usually more ‘affordable’, like mail, email, phone, digital efforts.

These nonprofits are balancing that fine line between growing the total number of donors, with growing the number of sustainers because of it. Most can expect some 15 to 30% of their revenue to come from sustainers initially, but if they stay with that approach long enough, they’ll get to that 50 and 60% of

revenue like the small Sustainer-First group. In my experience, the channels used by the Sustainer-Forward group typically show higher retention rates, but they grow at a slower pace.

During sustainer week, you’ll hear from Best Friends Animal Society how they’re using the Sustainer-Forward approach to grow their number of recurring donors. You’ll be amazed and inspired to hear from the two speakers as their teams share the responsibility to grow, steward, retain and engage their sustainers.

Sadly, in my experience of working with organizations of different sizes, with different sustainer levels and approaches, I still hear too many that take the sustainer-toe-in-the-water or the sustainer-yes-but or sustainer-not-at-all approaches. Often someone in the organization wants to think long-term, but too many others are still concerned about the short-term revenue. That makes it really heard to ever push to the next level. Believe me, I’ve seen it and sadly continue to see it.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that it’s time to make the leap and grow your number of sustainers. I’m very excited that the DMAW Sustainer Week team, consisting of Joanne Wilson, the Humane Society of the U.S. and Karin Kirchoff of K2D Strategies, supported by the wonderful DMAW team, has put together a great line up of speakers who will share how they are taking the Sustainer-First or Sustainer-Forward approach. Now’s the time to convert those small one-time donors to recurring donors. It will take some effort, but it’s oh so worth it! I hope to see you during Sustainer Week!

Erica Waasdorp, President, A Direct Solution, Author, Blogger, Presenter on Monthly Giving

About Erica Waasdorp

Erica Waasdorp is President of A Direct Solution, located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, working with non-profit clients nationally and internationally on appeals and monthly giving.

Erica Waasdorp published Monthly Giving. The Sleeping Giant and her second book Monthly Giving Made Easy came out early June 2021.

She created the Monthly Donor Road Map and several e-books to include the Top 7 Questions about Monthly Giving, the Monthly Donor Retention Play-Book, and more.

Erica is a Master Trainer for the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the former International Fundraising Congress US Ambassador. She regularly presents in person and virtually on appeals, direct mail, and monthly giving.