Sustained Giving: Systematizing Donor Loyalty | npENGAGE

Sustained Giving: Systematizing Donor Loyalty

By on Jan 29, 2013


Armed with a topic for my blog this week—sustained giving—I Googled around to see what nonprofit organizations were actually calling the “sustained giving” part of their fundraising program. The results were interesting and have inspired me to muse a bit about why some nonprofit organizations aren’t doing everything possible to encourage ongoing giving and, in turn, donor loyalty.

First, a definition:  Sustain, according to Merriam-Webster, is to “give support or relief to.”  Rather generic. I dug further, consulting “To keep up or keep going as an action or a process.”  This seemed closer to how I would define sustained giving.

Looking online, I found that, to some organizations, “sustained giving” was synonymous with “annual giving”, simply referencing “ongoing support” without referencing a specific system or process to manage these gifts. However, I also noticed that other organizations promoted “sustained giving” as a much more systematic effort.

Sustained Giving Example: Wings of Cancer Foundation

Circle of Friends

Sustained Giving, Sustained Dreams

Establishing an affordable, regular donation schedule can enable givers to plan for long term giving and enable the Wings Cancer Foundation to fulfill its mission to provide hope, education, research and support without charge to anyone touched by cancer. Setting up an automatic monthly withdrawal from your checking account, savings account, or credit card is a safe, easy way for your gift to have continuous impact.

If an organization hasn’t implemented a system to encourage sustaining support, they might be relying too heavily on assuming donors will respond to frequent solicitations.  They are, in essence, hoping for the best in spite of significant research supporting the fact that donor renewals can be ineffective and costly. (Consider a 2004 study by Sargeant and Jay suggesting that an organization will lose 50% of its donors between year 1 and year 2; up to 30% thereafter.)

On the other hand, some nonprofits embody the “action or process” definition, establishing a system of soliciting and collecting support.  A monthly giving program to retain donors, now common at many organizations, encourages loyalty and helps create a predictable and consistent income flow.

A personal observation: Recently, when making an annual gift, I asked to make it in two payments and to receive a reminder when the second half was due.  Surprisingly, I was told, “Sorry, we are not ‘set up’ to do that.”  In the end I gave half of what I had planned and I haven’t felt overly inspired to give again.

In addition, I often suggest to consulting clients that they establish annual giving payment plans, such as monthly or quarterly, as a way to encourage gifts from younger constituents.  I’ve been amazed at how many times I have been told that it isn’t “cost effective” to bill 12 or 4 times for a relatively small gift.

Shortsighted and definitely not donor-friendly, these responses squelch donor loyalty and convey the message, “It isn’t worth the trouble.”  I beg to differ. Given the somewhat atrocious levels of donor retention as well as the high cost of attracting new donors in the first place, it just seems to make sense to invest in a system or process that can truly encourage sustained support.

What does “sustaining support” mean at your organization? Do you have—and promote—convenient payment plans that can make ongoing giving both efficient and convenient? Let me know!


Laura Worcester, senior consultant at Target Analytics, joined Blackbaud in 2001.In her current role she advises nonprofits on utilizing screening results in identifying and evaluating best donor prospects. In 25+ years of fundraising experience, Laura has served as the chief advancement officer for numerous organizations and managed her own consulting business, providing grant writing services to arts, educational and health care organizations. She’s presented at development conferences and has been a regular contributor to Blackbaud’s blogs with selected posts being reprinted in journals such the NonProfit Times. A traveler since her study abroad days in Denmark, Laura’s committed to passing this enthusiasm on to her teenage daughters. Her family’s travel adventures were just featured in a neighborhood magazine in her suburban Milwaukee community. Contact Laura by email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *