Three New Year’s Resolutions to Retain Monthly Giving/Sustainer Donors


2020 presented several challenges, and people are looking forward to a fresh start in this new year. Last year did teach us a few new things. There is the obvious – wearing masks, learning good handwashing skills are critical, gaining confidence in doing business through video conferencing/Zoom meetings and most notably, many nonprofits learned who their loyal friends are – monthly giving/sustaining donors!

These time-tested donors are committed to your mission and are showing they can be counted on to provide dependable, steady, year-round income, even in times of crisis.

Monthly giving donors stand out because they have higher year-over-year retention rates than your non-sustaining donors after their initial gift. They are much more invested in their gifts’ impact and continue to give more through multiple channels than one-time donors. Trends have shown a steady increase in monthly online giving over the past five years, and in 2019 it increased by 22%. We anticipate in 2020 monthly giving will be even higher.

The successful Bed & Bread Club® program we manage nationwide for The Salvation Army reflects the average member’s pledge amount as $304/year. Additionally, these members give $494 on average across all channels, and 45% of these Club members give through multiple channels. Nearly 80% fulfill what they said they would give within a one-year period. Over 35% give an extra direct mail donation outside their Club donation each year.

Last year created a whole new set of variables to donor response. For some of you, first-time donors to your organization may have become new sustaining donors.

According to Giving USA, “Some organizations are experiencing a positive uptick in new donors to aid their mission, including new sustainer donors. Many of the organizations experiencing this influx in 2020 have never dealt with these types of ‘challenges’ before.”

“Some organizations are experiencing a positive uptick in new donors to aid their mission, including new sustainer donors. Many of the organizations experiencing this influx in 2020 have never dealt with these types of ‘challenges’ before.”

The question is, will these new monthly giving/sustaining donors be retained over time? Or does the fact that organizations acquired them during times of crisis, a.k.a. reactionary times, mean they will always be reactionary givers?

Some new sustainers may end up being more loyal to your cause than those currently on your data file.

According to Blackbaud Target Analytics®, in the months following the November 2016 election, sectors that acquired a lot of reactionary donors did not see large-scale attrition. The influx of new sustainers in 2017 resulted in a spike in retention rates in 2018. In 2019, retention rates fell behind 2018 a bit but were still historically high, and in most cases, still significantly higher than 2017 rates.

Trends presented at the 2020 donorCentrics® Sustainer Summit illustrated that organizations with clear, direct and consistent messaging for sustainer acquisition benefitted most. 60% of new sustainers acquired in the 2017 post-election were still giving in 2019. Compare that to 20% of single-gift donors acquired during the same 2017 timeframe that were still giving in 2019. (Discover more key findings from the 2020 donorCentrics® Sustainer Summit).

Here are several Strategic Fundraising Resolutions to make 2021 a strong and prosperous year:

  1. Go above and beyond to thank your sustaining donors. Donors expect the standard tax-receipt thank you, and that it will arrive in a timely manner after they give their donation. Think how much more impact you could make by calling them or sending a personalized hand-written note. Try to set aside one hour per week to express gratitude towards your donors.
  2. Set a vision for the future. Translate immediate, short-term needs into long-term, community-based goals. Remember, they joined your sustainer club to be part of something bigger than themselves. Paint a vivid picture of your plans moving forward.
  3. Be flexible. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that circumstances can change without any notice. Make sure they know you care and value them. It’s important to make it easy for donors to be able to change their pledge amounts. It’s better to keep them supporting you and your organization at any level (even if it’s lower than it had been) than to lose them.

Remember, sustaining donors have made an ongoing financial and philanthropic commitment to your organization. Use these three resolutions as a starting point for your commitment and pledge back to them.