Building Your Sustainer Program



Monthly giving, or recurring donations, allows your most dedicated supporters to give to your organization on a regular basis. These donors – referred to most commonly as sustainers – tend to give weekly, monthly, or even quarterly. Developing and maintaining a strong monthly giving program is an important investment that can have a vast impact on the long-term financial health of your organization.


First, some quick stats on what a typical sustainer looks like. The average monthly gift ranges from $51 via credit card, and $60 via EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) from a donor’s bank account. The Education sector has the largest recurring gift at an average of $71.76, while the Environment and Animals sector has the lowest at $33.35. Last but not least – organizations with 15,000 to 25,000 donors on file have the largest share of their income as monthly gifts, at an average of 9%!


While building and managing a sustainer program can feel intimidating, the indispensable results are worth the work if your team has the capacity and resources to do so. So, consider the following advantages if you’re on the fence about building a monthly giving program:


Increased Lifetime Value

Lifetime value (LTV) of sustainers is first and foremost the greatest advantage to your organization. A foundation for your fundraising program’s success, these donors provide a higher return on investment as they tend to give up to 7 times more annually. Since you can count on these donations, they can be incorporated into a budget or cash flow to plan for your organization’s future from a more informed perspective.


Higher Retention

New donor retention rates average on less than 20%. Monthly giving programs, on the other hand, typically reap the rewards of retention rates of over 80% after the first year and even 95% after five years. Ultimately, you’ll get a much better return on your donor acquisition investment if you convert one-time donors to be recurring ones.


Convenience – For Everyone

Sustainer programs simplify giving. Many of us have automatic payments in day-to-day life – our gym memberships, streaming subscriptions, even mortgages. Adding a recurring donation to an already existing list of automatic payments feels simple and easy. Not having to remember to write and mail a check every month and enabling donors to sign up for automated giving instead adds an important level of convenience. 


There are also advantages for your development team, as most automated payment systems allow you to send receipts and also feature reporting capabilities, making it easier to track donor data. 


While the details of building a sustainer program from scratch can vary based on the organization, there are some overall best practices on creating the strongest monthly giving program you can. But, first and foremost,  make sure your data and donor management system are top shape. Having a robust and reliable fundraising software is essential to make monthly giving a reality. 


If you’re ready to start building your program, here are some topline tips on getting started.



Monthly donors are great – but where can we find them? Well, using data to identify the right target audience is the first step. The best way to convert sustainers is to focus on prospects who have the best potential. Take a look at your donor database and identify who might be most interested in a monthly giving program by looking for donors who give smaller amounts more regularly – think less than $100, an average of 3 times a year. Frequency is more important than the size of the gift. Otherwise, look for long-time donors, or other especially engaged supporters, who are also likely to be candidates to join a sustainer program.


Brand The Program

A key aspect of creating a monthly program is to brand it. Its name will be an important piece of the puzzle, as this program should be called something that aligns with your broader mission. Not only will this strengthen its brand, but it will make donors feel as though they’re a part of something special. It’s important that the name is different from your organization, because you’d like to differentiate the two and provide a sense of exclusivity.

Can your monthly giving program reflect the story you want to tell of the impact of long-term giving? One example is Doctors Without Borders monthly donors who are called Field Partners. The name evokes imagery of working on the ground alongside their team, and showcases that this group is just as invaluable to their work as their own members.



An integrated, multi-channel approach tends to yield the best results for getting the word out about giving monthly, but should be digitally focused. Showcasing your monthly giving program on your website that explains the benefits (a premium when you first join, invites to exclusive events, an exclusive monthly newsletter) is important as a value proposition for your donors. You might also include a nudge on your donation page that encourages page visitors to opt in to make their contribution recurring.

Other than a direct ask to potential prospects, there are other subtle ways to weave monthly giving into your already existing online or offline programs. For example, you might consider adding a “Give Monthly” call to action in the footer of your emails along with a sentence or two that explains the importance of monthly giving and what it can help your organization accomplish. At the very least, be sure to include a monthly giving option on all donation forms, making it easy for donors to turn their one-time gift into a recurring one with just a click of a button. 


Show The Impact

It’s always important to show donors the real impact of their contributions. Showcasing the difference monthly donors can make to your organization’s mission is incredibly important when persuading them to join your sustainer program. A common practice includes tying in common donation amounts to an end result – for example, when joining Charity Water’s monthly program, they highlight that a $40 monthly donation will give 12 people clean water every year. This is a powerful way to help donors conceptualize their impact and visualize the people that their donations are helping. 


Build & Maintain The Relationship

Good donor cultivation is key to ensuring high lifetime donor value. An issue some organizations run into is treating recurring donors the same as one-time donors. But this relationship should be unique. Monthly giving stems from both passion and convenience; sustainers both care deeply about your organization’s mission but also appreciate the atomization of their payments. 

It’s a good practice to separate your monthly donors into a different segment, so as to semi-regularly send materials such as newsletters and appeals that are particular to them. That way, they won’t get your regular appeals asking for donations since they’re already consistently giving. Making sure this key group receives thank you messages, program updates, and other strategic communication will make them feel appreciated and committed for long-term support.



So, there you have it. Sustainers are undoubtedly a key part of any healthy fundraising program. You’ll raise more money, worry less about cash flow, and gain time to share the impact that your donors are making. Ready to level up your monthly giving program? Check out the amazing resources from my friend and colleague, Erica Waasdorp of A Direct Solution. She’s definitely the Monthly Giving Program expert!


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