The Sustainer Imperative | npENGAGE

The Sustainer Imperative

By on Oct 6, 2011


David Glass from World Wildlife Fund and I had a blast spending our Wednesday morning with folks at the Convio Summit during our session “All Roads (Should) Lead To Sustainers.”

As we were preparing the content for the session over the last several weeks, we distilled all of the existing research and best practices that we could get our hands on and combined it with data that WWF has collected themselves.  What we ended up with is a philosophy that we have coined “The Sustainer Imperative™.”  We are still polishing up a succinct description, but simply put:  nonprofits should prioritize sustaining giving because the value proposition for the organization is clear, AND because it allows donors to support your mission more effectively and impactfully.  (Look for our book, published by Glass Heaven Convio WWF Publishing Co. LLC, arriving on electronic shelves sooner or later, maybe 😉

You can download our slides to review what we covered.  I’ll also summarize the high points.  And as we said a few times during our session, please do NOT hold your questions – I’d love to see some robust discussion in the comments so we can sustain the great conversation that we had at the Summit.

1. The Sustainer Landscape. Acquisition is getting harder, the number of channels has increased, and donor loyalty is on the decline.  But sustainers have GREATER loyalty, lifetime value, and are more likely to make a planned gift (PDF).  Also, younger people (especially GenX) are twice as likely to donate monthly).

2. World Wildlife Fund conducted a test to see if they could increase sustainer giving via their homepage without hurting one-time donations.  The answer: yes! Check out the slides for the details.  A valuable takeaway from this section was this – anytime you have a question like “What works better, X or Y?” or “Does Z work better than W?” then the best way to answer the question is to run a test.  What worked for one organization might work for another – but it’s possible that due to differences in mission, donor profile and housefile makeup that something else could work even better.  So testing is your best bet.  David threw down the virtual gauntlet to challenge everyone else to conduct the same test.  Will you accept the challenge?

3. Make It Monthly™.  Sustainer giving by EFT/ACH/bank draft is the norm in Europe.  The value proposition is compelling.  If all USA and Canada-based nonprofits educated their donors about how monthly giving helps accomplish the mission by giving the organization revenue you can count on and thus alllowing staff to spend more time educating and advocating for the mission, it could influence the attitudes of donors everywhere.  Giving in the USA could evolve to a place where people think of a montly gift as the default, rather than something extraordinary.  This rising tide would raise all our boats.  Can you imagine how that would change your fundraising?

4. Examples and Tips.  Premiums can boost conversion, and creating a branded program to which people can belong is common.  While these tactics can help, you can also be successful without a name for your sustainer program, as long as you can educate your donors about the dramatic impact their monthly gift would have on the mission.  What’s a surefire way to Not Get Sustainers?  Don’t ask anyone to contribute monthly.  Let me frame it in the positive – ask your donors to contribute monthly! 

Excited?  Want to put a plan into action?  Here’s a simple place to start testing a sustainer ask on your website for people who arrive and want to donate for the first time.  The goal is to find the “sweet spot” for a sustainer ask targeted to new visitors who will make a donation “over the transom,” as it were:

  • Calculate your org’s average online gift from last year, discarding donations that were extremely large so they don’t skew your results
  • Use Google Website Optimizer to test 3 donation forms
  • Form 1 pre-selects as minimum the average gift
  • Form 2 pre-selects a HIGHER amount
  • Form 3 pre-selects a LOWER amount
  • Analyze the results!

So let’s chat – tell us in the comments one thing that you plan to do in 2012 to boost your sustainer fundraising program!


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