5 crucial questions to answer before you launch a sustainer program

When I first became the EVP/COO at Food for the Hungry in 1992, the folks responsible for major donor fundraising believed our most generous givers should not be asked to sponsor a child through the organization’s child sponsorship program.

They thought doing so would cause the donor to give smaller major gifts.  The underlying assumption was that a major donor’s gifts to child sponsorship would be substitutionary. Put another way, they believed major donors couldn’t make the distinction between their major gifts and a monthly child sponsorship contribution.

Of course, this is totally false.

A donor who contributes $25,000 at the end of each year, for example, views their commitment to a sustainer program of small monthly gifts as being unrelated to their much larger contributions. In the case of child sponsorship, you can find many reasons why a donor might want to get involved.

They may feel a more personal connection to the ministry by writing to the child. Or they may see it as an opportunity to teach their own children about giving to help the poor. Admittedly, child sponsorship is a unique sustainer program. But the principle applies to other kinds of sustainer programs.

With one important caveat.

A sustainer offer must be more than just another way to generate monthly gifts for your operating budget. That’s an organization-centric approach. Rather, you must create a rationale for why you need monthly contributions — and it must make sense to the donor. That’s a donor-centric approach.

In other words, the donor needs to perceive the sustainer program as a unique aspect of your ministry. This requires some effort.

Start by asking yourself these 5 crucial questions:

  1. What unique ministry program will we be able to accomplish if we create a cohort of monthly sustainers?
  2. How will the donor’s gifts be used to benefit the lives of other people?
  3. What benefits will the donor receive (less overall mail, monthly updates on what their gifts accomplish, special president’s insider reports, etc.)?
  4. What motivates your donors to give in the first place?
  5. In what ways can the donor use your sustainer program to teach their children or grandchildren about giving to help others?

The answers to these questions will help you create messaging that taps into donor motivation.

A sustainer program can offer your ministry important benefits, not the least of which is a predictable and stable source of revenue. Build it correctly, and you’ll experience the benefit of this source of revenue for years to come.