If you build it, they will come. Or at least that’s what should happen. But when you’re talking about recurring giving, what worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams doesn’t always work in the nonprofit world. In fact, despite careful planning, your sustainer program may eventually hit a plateau—making it seem nearly impossible to raise more money or acquire more donors.

However, with a little patience and an ongoing investment of time and resources, you can grow your program and continue using it to sustain your mission, both now and in the future. Here’s how.

Make Giving Easy

To convert one-time donors into lifetime givers, you must make it simple. Start by ensuring that your recurring donation form is secure and easily accessible from every page of your website.  If prospective constituents can’t find it, they can’t join your sustained giving program. You should also leverage upsell lightboxes. These pop-up messages appear automatically when donors are making a one-time gift, giving them the option to turn that one-time gift into a recurring gift.

Provide donors with a way to securely manage their gifts and credit card information online. After all, this is what they expect. By creating a “My Account” page—like the Gift Service Center in Luminate Online—you can allow constituents to select their preferred method of communication (email, direct mail, or phone), opt out or in to mailings, modify their gift amount, or even skip a monthly payment.

Be Responsive

More than half of all web traffic comes from mobile devices, though we do most of the design on desktop and laptop computers. Make sure your recurring giving form is responsive—that is, it automatically detects the web visitor’s screen size and changes its layout accordingly. Responsive donation forms have 34 percent better conversion rates than non-responsive forms. That’s amazing—and it makes sense. After all, trying to stretch and scroll through a donation form that is optimized for a laptop computer is a frustrating experience—and makes the donor more likely to abandon the form. With Luminate Online, you can click a box to make your donation form responsive. It’s that easy.

Don’t Stop Asking

While you should limit the number of appeals you send to your sustainers, you shouldn’t remove them entirely from your giving campaigns. It’s not all or nothing. Instead of a hard ask, try a soft ask that doesn’t include a specific donation amount, especially when your nonprofit has an event that calls for rapid response. Timely, well-written appeals have actually boosted constituent engagement. So too have follow-up emails sent to those who initially opt out of sustained giving over the phone.

At the end of the year, why not provide donors with the option to increase their monthly gift? If you’ve successfully demonstrated how their support matters and kept them engaged, then increasing their commitment to your nonprofit should come naturally. If you prefer to keep the upgrade ask as part of your spring campaign, you can instead request that sustainers make a “13th gift” or a “baker’s dozen” by making an extra contribution at the end of the year.

Regardless of how—or how often—you ask, make sure to always say “thank you”.

Make It Fresh

Donors pay attention to the content you send them, which means that they will notice and tune out recycled content from year to year. You can motivate your current sustainers to increase their gifts by continually offering fresh, new content that is connected to your mission and the impact sustainers have. In addition, you can capture the attention of donors and prospects who have yet to become sustainers with fresh and exciting content. Be bold, take risks, and try new messages and images! You never know what might be the next Great Big Idea that inspires your donors—stories, premiums, or demonstrated impact. Keep it mission-focused and you won’t go wrong.

Automate Your Processes

Just like for-profit companies, your nonprofit should look for ways to streamline processes through automation. This will save you time and also make your outreach more effective. One way to do this is by using autoresponders. These auto-generated emails, configured in your online fundraising software, are often sent in appreciation of a gift. But, they can also be used to alert sustainers of an expiring credit card or to request feedback when a monthly gift is cancelled. If that happens, take advantage of the opportunity to collect valuable input on your program and why the donor left. Then use that feedback to make adjustments.




To request updated credit card information, International Justice Mission takes advantage of autoresponders


In addition to autoresponders, you can—and should—take advantage of credit card updater services like the one that Blackbaud offers to Raiser’s Edge and Luminate Online users. Through these types of services, data for expired, lost, or stolen credit cards is updated automatically so that the gift continues to process. If this sounds unusual, know that credit card updater services have been in use for more than 20 years for recurring payments in the for-profit industry and are currently leveraged by companies like Netflix and Symantec, among many others.

This can save your staff a significant amount of time on donor outreach and data entry, allowing them to focus their efforts on recruiting new sustainers. It also minimizes the likelihood that you’ll lose the gift, which can happen when monthly donors are contacted for new credit card information.

While it will take time and commitment to grow your recurring giving program, the return on investment is well worth the effort. For more tips on sustained giving, click here to download the white paper: Sustaining Your Mission: How to Build and Maintain a Successful Recurring Giving Program.



Sally Heaven is a senior client success lead at Blackbaud specializing in sustained giving, online fundraising, email marketing, and advocacy. In addition to presenting on sustained giving at last year’s bbcon, she has hosted numerous webinars and user group sessions on the subject. Prior to Blackbaud, she worked at Convio and GetActive®. She also spent seven years as the deputy field director of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

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