4 Keys to Attracting and Retaining Grassroots Donors with Your Sustainer Program

September 6, 2019 | Grace Duginski
4 Keys to Attracting and Retaining Grassroots Donors with Your Sustainer Program

Mission-driven organizations know that they can’t simply rely on a handful of foundation funders to sustain their work – from major gifts to donations the price of a cold brew, contributions from individuals can add up to make a pretty big difference, and sustainer programs in particular are a natural match for passionate grassroots donors. Sustaining gifts (gifts which recur on a regular basis) are convenient, endlessly customizable, act as fertile ground for relationship-building, and can direct donors’ giving energy in an especially impactful way. Keeping these qualities in mind, here are four ways to make your sustainer program as effective as possible: 


Showcase the impact of a donor’s specific gift. 

Individual donors at the grassroots level are likely very motivated not simply by your mission as an abstract idea, but by its effect on other people. It can be profoundly meaningful for a donor to learn that each month when they gave to a logistics fund, for example, their $20 bought someone gas for a long car trip; their $40 meant someone had childcare for the day of an appointment, court date, or other important event; or their $80 purchased lodging for someone traveling from out of town with few resources. Centering the people who receive sustainers’ financial support is both humanizing and an effective way to ensure grassroots donors continue their gift year after year. 


Ensure flexibility, convenience, and privacy. 

The ability to donate each month or quarter can increase supporters’ ability to give on a regular basis. Nonprofits can also meet donors where they’re at by giving them the chance to customize their level of privacy — whether a donor wants their name listed in the annual report or would prefer to remain completely anonymous, they have the chance to support a cause they feel passionately about on their own terms. 


Harness the power of younger donors. 

Revamping or customizing your appeals can help you reach potential sustainers of many different ages. Specifically, younger donors may find it more feasible to give a smaller donation each month rather than a lump sum at the end of the year, so consider adjusting your content to attract a younger audience. Is the language being used up-to-date and inclusive? What does the tone feel like? Could younger supporters visiting your online donation page see themselves represented as donors, or does most of the content on your online donation page discuss planned giving, stocks donation, and major gifts? Framing the act of giving in a way that leads younger supporters to identify as donors can translate to a more successful sustainer program. 



The effortless nature of a set-it-and-forget-it recurring gift can be very attractive to busy supporters who must stick to a budget. They have the comfort of knowing their gift will hit their credit card on the same day of each interval, while nonprofit staff are freed from performing a daily rote task which would otherwise eat into their valuable but finite hours. On top of time constraints on staff, gift installments due to be processed on weekends and federal holidays would need to wait for human attention unless a computer was to process them on days staff were out of the office. (Yet another point for the robots.) 


Making your sustainer program accessible to people of all ages, creating flexible opportunities for all kinds of supporters to participate, and using it to feature and humanize those most affected by your work make a lot of sense in theory, but actually putting this into practice in the above ways can result in increased support for your organization without sacrificing valuable staff time. 


For a full course in building an effective sustainer program, download our Advanced Monthly Giving Guide.