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

October 6, 2022 | Grace Duginski
4 Keys to Attracting and Retaining Grassroots Donors with Your Sustainer Program

Fundraisers at mission-driven organizations know that relying on only one avenue for funding the mission isn’t sustainable—the key to successfully raising the money your organization needs to operate programs and advance your mission is to diversify your fundraising programs.

From major gifts to donations the price of a cold brew, contributions from individuals often make up the largest portion of Americans’ charitable giving. If you’re looking to grow your grassroots donors—a segment many nonprofits struggle to retain—sustainer programs in particular can be a natural match for these passionate supporters. Sustaining gifts, or gifts that occur on a regular basis, are convenient, customizable, and fuel connections for long relationships with donors.

Here’s how showcasing your sustainers’ impact, offering them flexibility and convenience, inviting younger donors to participate, and automating some of your processes can help you attract and retain grassroots donors.

Showcase the impact of a donor’s specific gift.

Individual donors at the grassroots level are likely motivated not just by your mission as an abstract idea, but by its effect on the people and purpose you serve. It can be profoundly meaningful for a donor to learn that each month their $20 bought someone gas for a long car trip; their $40 meant someone had childcare for the day of an appointment; or their $80 purchased lodging for someone traveling 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 see the impact of their gift and choose to continue it year after year.

Ensure flexibility, convenience, and privacy. 

The ability to donate the same amount on a predictable cadence offers small-dollar donors the ability to support your work in a way that’s convenient and accessible for them. You can take this convenience a step further with specific functionalities that give donors and fundraisers alike an efficient experience.


While many fundraisers and donors understand sustainer programs as monthly giving commitments, that’s just one way for supporters to give regularly. If you can, offer your sustainers the ability to give each quarter, or at other intervals that make sense for them.


When it comes to sustainer programs, the convenience they offer is a two-way street: donors know they’ll be giving the same amount on a regular basis, and fundraisers can predict how much revenue they’ll be able to raise in a given period of time thanks to that consistent giving pattern. Take the convenience up a notch with features like donor self-service pages, so fundraisers don’t need to connect with donors in real time to collect updated contact or payment information. In fact, fundraisers can save themselves and their donors even more time by enabling functionalities like Credit Card Updater, so that if your loyal donors’ information is lost or stolen and they find themselves needing to cancel their cards, their information will get updated automatically in your CRM, helping you retain those donors.


While it’s true that you can essentially never thank donors too much, it’s also true that donors, even within the same segment, are not a monolith. Nonprofits can meet sustainers where they’re at by giving them the chance to customize their level of privacy associated with their gift and your gratitude. One sustainer may enjoy having their name listed in the annual report or in your donor honor roll, but another would prefer to remain completely anonymous. One supporter may be touched to hear their name mentioned in a thank-you at your gala event, but another may prefer to avoid the spotlight. Make sure you’re capturing your donors’ preferences so that 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 sustainer appeals can help you reach potential donors of many different ages. Younger donors in particular may find it more feasible to give a smaller donation on a regular basis rather than a lump sum at the end of the year, although some research suggests Gen X also enjoys this mode of giving. 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 site discuss planned giving and major gifts paired with imagery of older supporters? Research from Fidelity Charitable in 2021 found that Millennials take an expansive view of philanthropy and emphasize the importance not of specific nonprofit “brands” but of missions, causes, and living out their values. Framing the act of giving in a way that portrays younger supporters as donors in a welcoming way 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 bank account on the same day of each interval, while nonprofit staff are freed from performing a daily rote task that 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 holidays would need to wait for human attention unless a computer was to process them on days staff were out of the office. Automation can also be extremely helpful for busy fundraisers across other areas of a strong sustainer program: making sure your donors receive a prompt and sincere gift acknowledgment, sending them regular stewarding messages that don’t involve donation asks, and sending those messages across the right mix of channels can all become easier and more effective with the right automations in place.

Fundraisers can make sustainer programs more accessible and appealing to donors of all income levels by creating flexible opportunities for participation, honoring donors’ wishes around acknowledgments, featuring and humanizing those most affected by your work, and using the right technology to put these practices into action. Talk to us to learn more about how to build a successful sustainer program to increase support for your organization without sacrificing valuable staff time.

For advice on building an effective sustainer program in the face of changing donor expectations, limited fundraiser bandwidth, and structural forces outside your nonprofit’s control, download our Guide to Managing Change with Sustainer Fundraising!