Top 10 Trends in Philanthropy #6: Monthly Giving (Donation Ideas)

One of the biggest trends over the past few years has been the rise of monthly giving, also known as sustainer programs.

Open your favorite internet browser and type in “monthly giving” and you’ll find that everyone’s talking about it. Turn on your favorite NPR radio station during their pledge drive and you’ll notice the shift from “Make a $20 gift” to “Make a pledge of $20 per month.” The smart fundraisers there understood that they were leaving a lot of money on the table.

There are numerous benefits to such donation ideas.

Donors like them because it makes supporting their favorite organizations a lot simpler. Monthly giving affords donors an easy way to increase their support without having any meaningful impact on their budgets. And perhaps more importantly, they feel closer to the organization and appreciate the deeper relationship.

Sustainer programs are also great for nonprofits. Obviously there will be increased revenue. That year-end donor who gave $35 could suddenly be giving $420 a year.

Once your program scales to a certain size, you’ll enjoy predictable monthly revenue. Your donor retention and your retained revenue rates will certainly increase.

Perhaps more importantly, a sustainer program will give you many more opportunities to really engage your donor.

Donation Ideas – New Research

There’s a lot of research about the value of monthly giving programs. These days, I’m really impressed by new studies coming out of the Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact. Their Sustainers in Focus series is a must-read for any fundraiser. Part One details a very compelling longitudinal research study. Part Two offers best practices, which I’ve incorporated below.

Best Practices

Here are some best practices to guide you in designing and implementing a monthly sustainer program.

Technology. There are a few technology issues to be aware of.

Virtually all of today’s CRM systems for fundraising have this functionality. If yours doesn’t there are plenty of vendors out there. Network for Good is one of them (don’t read any sort of endorsement here!).

Make sure your system takes EFT (electronic funds transfer) and credit cards. The fees for EFT are significantly less than they are for credit card transactions.

You should also subscribe to a credit card updater services. This will automatically update credit card expired cards. This will save you the hassle of tracking down your donors. Your time talking to donors should be spent in positive ways.

Brand the program. Blackbaud’s research shows that it’s important to give your sustainer program an identity. Obviously, it should be consistent with the rest of your organization’s brand. The point here is to make your donors feel special — like they are part of an important club — because they are. The HRC Partners program of the Human Rights Campaign is a great example.

Steward, steward, steward. One of my mottos in fundraising is “If you don’t know how you’re going to thank and steward your donors before you ask for your very first gift, then don’t even bother asking.

It’s important with the sustainer program to have special acknowledgements and welcomes for your monthly donors, and to have regular communications and engagement opportunities throughout the year. Figure this out before you introduce your program.

Make monthly giving the default,  not the option. Most nonprofit websites have suggested gift amounts. Black baud’s research shows that you should make monthly giving the default, and let people opt out. So if your website has options for $25, $50, $75, $100 gifts, switch that up to be $25 monthly, $50 monthly…you get it. Be sure to include language on your landing pages about the difference that monthly gifts can make in the lives of the people your organization serves.

Ask, ask, and ask. Obviously you should ask for those monthly sustainer gifts. Consider these ideas:

  • As you conduct your direct marketing outreach to existing donors and prospects, ask for the monthly gift.
  • Ask your multi-year, single gift donors to become sustainers. Consider a special outreach with an invitation to these loyal donors to join your sustainer club.

A couple of years ago, I read a case study about the monthly giving program from one of the national organizations. This group employed a multi-pronged approach. When a donor made a gift, the acknowledgement letter softly introduced the idea of monthly giving. Then 30-days post gift, they sent another acknowledgement that more directly offered the option of joining the organization’s sustainer group.

Some nonprofits might find it aggressive, but then again, many nonprofits I’ve encountered are way to passive in their solicitations. If the practice works for national organizations, it can work for small groups as well.

As public radio and television found, you’re leaving money on the table when you ignore the power and possibility of monthly giving.

Donation Ideas

For some other ideas about monthly giving, check out my previous post on the topic.

Glenn is a fundraising strategist who loves working with small- to mid-size organizations that want to innovate and grow.

Check out his website at, and to find out how he can help you, email him at

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