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Amp up your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts with a sustainer program

July 27, 2016


For years, public broadcasting stations have successfully marketed sustaining memberships to their listeners and viewers — and now other not-for-profits are catching on. Properly designed and implemented, a sustainer program can provide your organization with a strong, predictable income stream, raise its public profile and increase donor loyalty.

How they work

Sustainer programs enable supporters to make periodic, automatic donations. Donors provide bank account or credit card information and are billed regularly for an agreed-upon amount. In return for their commitment, donors usually receive sustainer program memberships, with benefits that might include invitations to members-only events.

Research suggests that monthly sustainers give significantly more per year than single-gift donors. They also show higher retention rates and are more likely than not to continue as sustainers when they renew each year.

Administrative challenges

Although sustainer programs make regular giving easy and convenient, they can be challenging for nonprofits to administer. Be prepared to pour time and resources into building a system to capture donor information, process payments and run regular performance and trend reports. Many nonprofits — particularly smaller organizations — outsource this function.

The public face of your program requires just as much attention. You’ll need to regularly thank, reward and update supporters. A members-only newsletter can help instill a sense of ownership and keep sustaining supporters in the loop.

Best practices

If you’re considering a trial run and planning to ditch your sustainer program if it doesn’t produce an immediate or dramatic increase in donations, think again. You probably won’t realize the highest net per donor relative to fundraising cost in the first year of your sustainer program — but that should be your long-term goal.

To make sure you achieve it, thoroughly research this fundraising model and decide whether it makes sense given your mission, financial and human resources, and pool of prospective sustaining donors. Make sure staff members understand how sustainer programs differ from traditional fundraising methods and that you have their buy-in.

For more information, contact us. We can help you review current numbers and project potential costs and income related to various fundraising models.

© 2016

All content provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Matters discussed in this article are subject to change. For up-to-date information on this subject please contact a Clark Schaefer Hackett professional. Clark Schaefer Hackett will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.


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