Why Segmenting Your Sustaining Donors Is Crucial for Growth


More and more organizations now have a sustaining donor (monthly, quarterly, etc. donor) program. That’s great!

Unfortunately, there can be a tendency not to continue appealing to them.

But should you continue asking them for money? Can you send an appeal to your recurring donors?

The answer is a resounding: YES, YES, YES! If you don’t, you’re missing out.

The typical small shop that I have worked with sends two appeals a year and perhaps two newsletters in the mail. They may be sending one email newsletter a month and perhaps six of those include appeals for money, typically around Giving Tuesday and year-end.

If you ask me, that’s really not a huge number of appeals. In fact, if you’re only mailing one or two appeals a year, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table – especially from recurring donors!

You MUST absolutely continue to reach out to this group of your most loyal donors. Just think about it: these donors have invested in you! They care about you. They trust you.

If you stop appealing to them, you exclude your best donors.

But it’s not enough to just lump your sustaining donors in with all of your generic appeals. A much better approach, now that you’ve secured these wonderful, ongoing donors, is to create a segment just for them, so that you can always appeal to them in a unique and special way.

For some of the organizations I work with, their sustainers are the top responders to appeals every time. For one of the organizations I work with, 59% of their sustainers makes at least one extra donation a year, but many give even more often than that. Just think the money you would lose out on if you didn’t ask!

Here are a few tips:

Create a special, personalized version of the appeal just for them. If you are sending an appeal to everyone in your database, your recurring donors (at least) should get a unique variation. There are many ways to achieve this: alter the content, write a personal note on the top of the letter, send it out first class, etc. Make them feel like it’s an exclusive piece (because it is!). It works like a charm.

Recognize them as a member of your sustainer program name. Always address them as a sustaining donor. Not only will it make them feel special, but it will remind them of their support.

Here’s just a simple example:

“Thank you so much for your ongoing support as a member of sustainer program name. I’m pleased to send you our latest update (tell you a story about…) While you already help with your recurring donation, perhaps you’d be interested in giving a special donation to make a difference to “story” today. Thank you! “

Use the opportunity to explain why their recurring gifts are so valuable. And, if you’d like to go even fancier, include a little buck slip in the appeal with a similar type message, totally branded with the sustainer name.

Steward them separately. Creating a special segment for your recurring donors will empower you to do something special just for them. You can send a special success story, an exclusive video, a holiday card with a special thank you message or even a birthday card. Consider inviting them to exclusive events, like the opening of a new facility before the public gets to see it.

Be sure to keep their preferred communication channel in mind, and honor any requests (like no direct mail, no phone calls, etc.)

Having a special segment will also allow you to upgrade current sustainers to higher levels.

Keep your sustaining donors involved and engaged and they’ll love giving additional gifts when you ask them.

How do you engage your sustaining donors? Let me know in the comments below!

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to the Cape and Islands United Way.

Erica Waasdorp
Erica Waasdorp is President of A Direct Solution, located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Erica lives and breathes direct response and fundraising and can be considered a Philanthropyholic. Erica published "Monthly Giving." "The Sleeping Giant," the "Monthly Donor Road Map" and many other resources on Monthly Giving. She blogs, presents in person and via webinars and she helps her clients with appeals, direct mail and monthly giving. She is a Master Trainer for the Association of Fundraising Professionals and she was the US Ambassador for the International Fundraising Congress (IFC) and she has planned numerous conferences and workshops. Erica loves traveling with her husband, playing golf, dancing, reading, barre classes and more. They have a little tuxedo cat Mientje, two boys and three grandkids.
By |2017-06-10T18:14:50-04:00September 29th, 2016|Donor Management, Monthly Giving|


  1. Linda January 18, 2019 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    Curious as to what percentage of a donor base should be or is recurring donors?

  2. erica waasdorp January 19, 2019 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    hi, the question as to which percentage of a donor base should be recurring/sustainers depends on :
    a. how many donors you have to begin with
    b. how aggressively you’re trying to generate new sustainers.

    Based upon some studies a while back, some orgs that raised 2,000,000 or less, they had 9 to 11% of donors giving monthly… larger organizations typically love having at least 5% but of course always growing with a goal of at least 20%. I have seen orgs that have 60% of their donors give monthly though.. it all depends. The more the better…

    I hope this helps.

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