You know that sustained giving is important. And so does your leadership team. But, there’s a big difference between understanding its importance and actually creating a successful recurring giving program.

The good news is it can be done—even on a limited budget and with limited resources. However, you and your staff must commit to investing the time and talent needed to develop the program. Remember, building a program is a marathon, not a sprint. It all begins with the strategic plan: What are your goals? How will you implement them? Who will you target? These are all questions that should be addressed in the plan.

Here are seven steps to get you started:

1. Agree on a brand name or strategy

What’s in a name? A lot, if you’re a Capulet or Montague. Many nonprofits have also found names important when it comes to sustained giving. Take the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy®. Its program, the Trail Keeper Club, aligns donor giving with the organization’s mission to turn unused rail corridors into public trails. While brand names work for some nonprofits, they aren’t a requirement as long as your program is tightly connected to your purpose.

2. Decide what benefits to offer

When developing your program, you must decide how to reward your recurring donors. Will you offer premiums? What events will donors be invited to? Sustainers are faithful if you treat them well, and not all are motivated by gifts alone—as always, the primary motivation is the mission. By connecting these donors with other like-minded individuals through unique opportunities—such as special volunteer experiences—you can keep them engaged. . .and giving!

3. Create messages that matter

What is the impact of a $5, $10, or $50 monthly gift? To transform one-time donors into sustainers, you have to demonstrate the value of their contribution to your nonprofit. For example, on the Feeding America donation form, constituents can clearly see how their support makes a real difference.

4. Assign staff and measure your results

You have executive buy-in for your sustained giving program. Now who at your organization “owns” it? In addition to assigning staff, you must also determine what metrics to track, such as the:

  • Total number of active sustainers
  • Average monthly gift amount
  • Average number of months as a sustainer
  • Attrition per month
  • Cost of acquisition
  • Sustainer engagement in other areas of your nonprofit
  • Monthly revenue from sustainers

Tracking results will help you demonstrate success and by doing that, you can justify additional resources for your program.

5. Develop your communications plan

How can you leverage your communication channels—including email, direct mail, and social media—to promote sustained giving? First, start with your website. You can, and should, link your donate button to a sustained giving form like this one from the Ocean Conservancy. You can also use pop-ups or upsell lightboxes, which give one-time donors the choice to opt in to a recurring giving program after they make a payment.

6. Expand your reach

What programs do you have already and where does it make sense to introduce sustained giving? Use your donor database and automated tools like the “finish” and “thank you” pages of Luminate Online to increase your reach.

7. Build the back-end support systems

If you don’t already have a database, it’s time to invest in one. Just as important is payment processing. When selecting a credit card processor, though, make sure that you understand the fees, since many have hidden costs. In addition, every sustained giving program needs an updater service like Blackbaud’s Credit Card Updater. These types of services automatically update data for expired, lost, or stolen credit cards so that you have the most current information on file. This saves your staff time and helps minimize disruptions in monthly giving.

Once your strategic plan is finished and your program launched, it’s time to focus on growing your sustainer base (which is the topic of my next post). For more ideas on sustained giving:


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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