Cultivating More Sustainers

We all know the value of sustaining donors. A strong sustainer program is one of the most effective means   for ensuring stable, long-term revenue growth – and so it’s the desire of any organization to cultivate more relationships with active, monthly givers. In fact, if we had a choice, we’d probably want most of our donors to be sustainers! But the problem nonprofits run into is that sustainers are often difficult to acquire and convert from the first, second, or even third ask. Why? It’s not always someone’s natural inclination to make that kind of commitment right away – the more likely situation is that someone might give once, take some time to engage with your organization and fully understand the mission, and then if all the stars are aligned; eventually make the decision to become a sustained giver. It takes work from our end, but cultivating sustaining donors is certainly worth the effort.

So what are the ways to make this happen – nurture and cultivate someone into a sustainer? And even more important, how can we become more effective at identifying them from the start?

Look Within

The first and best place to look is your organization’s current sustaining donors, because they’ll be able to tell you a lot about what a potential sustainer might look like. Understanding the donor profile of sustaining donors; how they’re different from single-donors, and ultimately what content caused them to convert is the key to fostering and converting more future sustaining donors.

Let Your Data Tell the Story

Looking at the different content and messages used to cultivate these high-value donors is key, but it’s their data that might uncover even more value. What story does the data tell? – i.e. what kind of characteristics do these donors display? What kind of behavior are they showing, both on an offline, and through what channel(s) are they most responsive? What about the personality and lifestyle traits of these identified sustainers – do they more often belong to one socio-economic group versus another, or are they clustered into a few select geographical areas? Analyzing this kind of data will lend insight into targeting the appropriate audiences segments that are most likely to convert to sustaining donors; and at the same time, identifying those donors that are least likely to covert and should instead receive different offers or no offer at all.

Test Against the Data

Based on the information gleaned from your donor data, an effective technique for leveraging the insights is to give these different clusters, or donor personas, a score. In this case, that score is ultimately based on the person’s propensity to convert as a sustainer – for example, a 1 might signify the highest propensity, a 2 the second highest, and a null score for someone that doesn’t necessarily show a propensity to convert.

Our teams took this approach with an organization whose goal was to identify and engage more high-value audiences that would likely join a monthly giving program. Our direct mail marketers narrowed in on an acquisition audience segment that fell into the “sweet spot” of sustaining givers. We then carried over the scores – 1, 2 and null – to the organization’s house file, which were utilized during the next house sustainer invite direct mail campaign.

The Results

In this kind of testing scenario, the hope is that the data will, in fact, tell the correct story. In our case, the names that were assigned a score of 1 or 2 converted much higher in the sustainer invite campaign – combined, both scores showed a conversion rate of 1.77%, compared to the “null’ conversion rate of 0.93%. And as a result of implementing the data-driven scores, the team saw a total conversion lift of 89%. What the campaign ultimately told us was that while it may still be difficult to acquire sustained givers from the first touchpoint, there are likely many names already in the house file that are likely to convert as a sustainer if connected to the right content, messaging and marketing channel. An interesting behavior we also learned was that potential sustainers engaged first through direct mail actually showed a propensity to convert online. It indicated that in any kind of campaign, or with any type of audience, a consistent omnichannel approach is crucial for meeting the donor in their moment of highest intent to give.

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