Thursday Thoughts | Best Practices for Sustainer Program Communications
Welcome to another installment of Thursday Thoughts, a dedicated space for our friends in nonprofit sector leadership to reflect on reports, statistics, and other trends—because when our community shares knowledge, we can all do more good. Check out our last installment here!
Sustainer programs are growing in popularity—M+R’s Benchmarks for the year 2021 found that recurring giving grew by 24 percent over 2020. This isn’t the only data point backing up this finding, either: our friends over at National Audubon Society actually ran a sustainer-first GivingTuesday campaign in 2020 and grew their recurring donor base by an incredible 900 percent!
Given this trend, we asked some of our partners, what are some messaging and communications best practices to help nonprofit fundraising and engagement staff recruit and retain more recurring donors? Here are a few tips from Alras Digital and Raise the Roots.
The growing interest from donors and nonprofits alike in sustainer programs is an opportunity to test and do something different. When it comes to recruiting and retaining more sustainers, the challenge presented to nonprofits and their partners is not just about how to keep their current supporters, but how they can improve their relationships with them.
With testing, nonprofits can experiment and improve on what communications work best for their sustainer audience. Although every list and organization is different, as are the communications between them, some of your testing should include transparency about the financial commitment they’ve made to your organization, asks to increase the contribution or update the frequency of their gift, and general playful messaging (e.g., “This is your monthly reminder that you are helping us support/accomplish XXXX.”
Because we’re coming up on year-end fundraising, any testing and implementation should begin right now, before fundraising kicks into high gear. Use your technology to your advantage, even if it is a simple A/B test.
The general business rule is that acquiring new customers can cost five times more than retaining existing customers. Use this as an opportunity to retain and upsell existing donors! Who knows? You might find that this will cause an unexpected surge from a base of supporters who already know and like you and your organization.
Alfredo Ramirez is the founder and president of Alras Digital—a modern digital and communications agency challenging conventional strategies with equitable solutions that drive campaigns beyond the finish line and into the minds of decision-makers and supporters.
If you’re looking to invest in your nonprofit sustainer program, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the idea of needing to message an entirely new audience, but don’t panic. It’s likely your organization is already meeting some of these best practices. Additionally, your fundraising platform can offer guidance on ways your technology can support your sustainer efforts, and chances are they’re ready to answer your questions.
So what are some steps you can take now to communicate transparently with your sustainer audience in order to build those relationships?
- Provide an online gift management method: Reassuring your donors that they’re in control of their gift is an important step in building trust with them. If your platform offers a self-service portal where monthly donors can alter or cancel their gift, that works. You may also provide an email address where recurring donors can request that their gift be canceled or altered.
- Update your thank you email: Ensure the thank you email on your donation page includes their recurring gift amount and frequency information, plus instructions on how to alter or end their gift.
- Confirm their successful or failed recurring gift payment: Each time the recurring gift processes, email donors to let them know and include those gift alteration instructions. Most fundraising platforms offer this type of automated notification, so it shouldn’t require extra work from your already very busy team!
- Display clear language on donation pages: When a donor chooses to make a monthly gift, include clear language on your calls to action that reinforce to donors that they’re making a monthly commitment—simple switches like adding “/monthly” to your ask string can make a big difference and prevent any unwanted surprises!
Nonprofit staff are already stretched thin, especially with year-end around the corner. My advice is to begin by addressing the low-hanging fruit first, then tackle more challenging parts of your sustainer fundraising strategy with your team and your fundraising platform.