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December 10, 2019 Douglas Shaw & Associates

Foundations matter. And the best time to fix a faulty foundation is before you start building on it. When it comes to building a monthly donor program (aka a sustainer program), this is especially important because all your assumptions will get cemented into the foundation of its structure.

Why Build a Monthly Donor Program?
A well-designed monthly donor program increases long-term donor value, while limiting the monthly ups and downs of regular donation revenue. As you deepen your relationship with your sustainers, you’ll often find them to be your most enthusiastic volunteers and advocates.
How to Build a Monthly Donor Program

Here are a few time-tested tips for getting it right from the start:

    1. Invest in research. In the long term, your program will be immensely more profitable if you build it around the facts rather than your assumptions. To that end, investing in professional research can yield profound insights. Yes, it comes at a cost, but the long-term value of optimizing your future monthly donor program will pay for itself many times over.
    2. Target the right donors at the right level. Not every donor should be a candidate for your program. Most organizations today are bringing in monthly donors at around $30 – $35 per month, depending on the program. That means the average annual value of a monthly donor translates to $360 and $420 per year. For a donor who gives $30 two or three times a year, becoming a sustainer is a massive upgrade. But for a donor who has historically given $1,000 at fiscal year-end, joining a monthly donor program will likely be a downgrade.
    3. Keep your monthly donors in appeal mailings. Does the rest of your file get 12 to14 mailings a year? Try including your monthly donors in several strategic mailings a year. Don’t forget, these are your super-fans. If you give them a good reason to give over and above, many of them will take you up on it and thank you for the opportunity!
    4. Create an on-ramp for pledgers. Don’t limit your program to auto-recurring monthly donors. This is an area where many organizations make a detrimental assumption. Because they want their monthly donor revenue to be reliable, they create a program that requires monthly donors to be auto-recurring donors. This impulse is understandable, but also leaves money on the table . . . a lot of it.

Because organizations want their sustainer revenue to be reliable, they create a program that requires monthly donors to be auto-recurring donors. This impulse is understandable, but also leaves money on the table . . . a lot of it.

Recently we compared the average annual value of sustainers from four similar organizations. Each program contained a mix of auto-recurring and non-recurring “pledge” donors. After removing a handful of outliers, the annual trend held true across all monthly donor programs. The average annual value of a non-recurring donor is 21% greater than an auto-recurring donor!



Take-away . . . don’t write off your pledgers! Give them a place in your sustainer program!

There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Learn from the successes and failures of other organizations, invest in research upfront, and build a monthly donor program that will benefit your organization for decades to come!

Our team is happy to help advise you on what strategy may work best for your organization, but you’ll never know unless you try.

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