Confessions from a Donor: I Didn't Donate for 10 Years, but Now I'm a Sustainer. | npENGAGE

Confessions from a Donor: I Didn’t Donate for 10 Years, but Now I’m a Sustainer.

By on Apr 1, 2015


Confession from a donor

I have a confession..

I’ve been an avid NPR listener for 10 years and I’ve never donated, not even once.  

Even though I get my news every morning from the great Morning Editions hosts, Steve Inskeep, Renee Montagne and David Greene and spend my days listening to This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and TED Radio hour, it’s never really crossed my mind to donate. I’ve been enjoying all this great content for free for a decade and didn’t feel bad about it.

It’s not that I turned off NPR during their membership drives; I simply ignored the asks.  I know I’m not alone when it comes to ignoring the donation requests. I believe that NPR’s recent donor campaign mentioned that only 10 percent of listeners are actually donors.

So if I listened to NPR for 10 years, never donated and didn’t feel bad about it, what made me finally decide to become a donor? What influenced me to become not just a one-time donor but a monthly donor—a sustainer?

How I became a sustainer

About a year ago, I was tired of spending $200 a month for cable.  While I’ve always been an avid TV watcher (maybe too avid), I no longer wanted to spend $200 on 400 channels of nothing to watch. Who has the time to surf though 400 channels? Plus, I thought it was about time to get off the couch and find something else to do with my free time.

After several calls with my cable provider, they finally got the picture—I just wanted internet. I didn’t quit TV cold turkey; I became a streamer (for a fraction of the cost).

I know I’m not alone—a lot of people are tired of spending hundreds on cable. Dish TV recently launched Sling TV, a new live streaming service offering ESPN, TNT, CNN and more. It was created with one demographic in mind: Millennials.  Yes, Dish TV designed a service for Millennials based on how they prefer to consume content: over the internet with no contracts.

Besides the fact that Millennials are the new “it” demographic to target, what’s most fascinating to me about Millennials is the impact they’re having on the rest of us.

While I may not be as quick to adopt new technology as a Millennial, this GenXer is enjoying Millennial-centric products and services. Outside of cost savings, what I love most about streaming is the lack of commercials. I didn’t even realize the volume of commercials on TV until I started streaming. During NPR’s membership drives, national and local hosts create fun donation asks encouraging listeners to become donors. (See, I was listening to the donation pleas and knew the membership drive were happening; I just wasn’t acting.)

Then came Ira…

Ira Glass, host of This American Life, made a simple, smart and logical ask.

You listen to NPR because you don’t like commercials. Donate or become a member so that we can continue offering you uninterrupted broadcasts.

I thought to myself, “you’re right, Ira;  I don’t like commercials. That’s one of the reasons why I stream TV. If I don’t think twice about paying for my streaming service, why am I not paying for NPR?”.

It was at that moment that I made the decision to pay for a service that I enjoy so much. And not just once—monthly.

Different messages resonate with different people.

The ask alone—the “please donate”— doesn’t always resonate. It has to be personal. It wasn’t until I was asked to pay for a service I enjoy that it hit home and I felt the need to act.

It’s time we really start catering the Ask to our different audiences. 

There’s not a day that goes by without someone mentioning Millennials. While everyone’s hot to engage with Millennials, I’m not sure we’re catering our nonprofit online experience to their needs. If the ‘donate please’ didn’t work for me, a GenXer,  do you really expect them to work for Millennials? Maybe it’s time to evolve our asks to match our evolving society driven by personal choices.

I’m not going to so bold as to say that generations no longer have their unique preferences and behaviors, but I do believe that we’re all beginning to behave similarly. Even my mom, a boomer, is regularly on Facebook liking posts, updating her status, sharing vacation pics and commenting with “LOL”. And even though she’s been operating under the assumption that LOL means ‘Lots of Love’, at least she’s out there. (LOL to you, too, Mom!)

What do you think? Are the preferences and behaviors of Millennials influencing more than just their generation? Are other generations catching on?

* Parting Thought….

I’m not a fan of the word sustainer. I consider the word sustainer nonprofit jargon. Maybe it’s a word we use in our internal speak, but let’s keep it simple for our constituents. I much prefer the term “monthly donor.” I feel a sense of pride being a monthly donor. It’s a cool status to have, kind of like my silver airline status; getting to board early and always having overhead space is reason enough to stay loyal to an airline.


Amy Braiterman, principal strategy consultant at Blackbaud, supports customers with their peer-to-peer fundraising events with a process she refers to as “data-driven strategy.” Amy’s data driven strategy analyzes how effective event participants are using online fundraising tools and takes those results to develop an event fundraising plan. Prior to joining Blackbaud, Amy earned her fundraising stripes managing events for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Alzheimer’s Association and Share Our Strength. She shares her fundraising know how here on npENGAGE, by hosting educational webinars and speaking at customer conferences

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