FAQ’s for Sustainer Learning Center

How much contact from Sustaining donors should I expect?

Good Question, it’s always best to plan ahead when it comes to staffing. Sustaining donors do tend to require a bit more member services time than traditional annual donors. Between inquiries about premiums, changes in credit cards and general questions you should expect to hear from Sustaining donors three to five times a year. What can help you and your staff is to give donors the answers to many typical issues on your website and make sure that the information is easy to search and discover. Creating a well-designed on-line form to convert to EFT or change a credit card or donor information like an address not only saves your staff time but can make the donor feel like you are delivering on making giving easy for them. Also use your CRM system to track these member services calls so you can see how that changes overtime and if you need to make modifications to your staffing plan.

What should I be sending to my Sustaining donors to keep them engaged?

A good first effort would be to use the Sustainer E-welcome series to reach out to all youe current Sustainers, then keep re-starting the series with new Sustainers who join during pledge campaigns or other efforts. Reminding Sustainers of the benefits of giving is also a great way to keep them engaged. Check out KSPS’s passport picks email that has been effective to get Sustainers logging on to passport and viewing new and engaging content. The best way to make sure you are keeping in meaningful contact with Sustainers is to create an annual plan for Sustainers. There are samples to get you started.

I’m worried Sustainers will watch all the episodes of XZY on PBS Passport then cancel their gift. What can I do about that?

It’s good to think of potential problems in order to create plans to respond. First, don’t let that hold you back from promoting either Passport or Sustainer giving. Your donors know what the best gift is for them to make to your station. You can present options, but ultimately, just lie we say in the scripts, “they are in charge of their giving.” It might happen that some donors watch an entire new show, then call to cancel. Use this as an opportunity to let them know of the other benefits of supporting your station. And make sure this is an answer in your customer service guide.  Don’t let the potential loss of some donors hold you back from making forward progress.

We have an installment plan and a monthly Sustainer plan, should we keep both?

No, retiring your installment plan is one of the best ways to push your Sustaining giving program forward and gives you and your staff time to focus on the important administrative details that come with running a thriving Sustaining giving program.

Do they get rolled over once a year from their join date or annually as a group?

This is really a station decision, but once you pick it stick with it. There are pluses and minus for either one but it’s really a case of what your database and back office staff feel will be the best operations for your station so you can present the best experience for the donor.

Should we send them other additional gift appeals once they become a Sustainer?  If so, how many times a year?

Yes, to keep your program thriving it is good practice to ask for an additional gift during the year. Take care to not promise Sustaining donors that once they become a Sustainer they won’t be asked for contributions again.

How do we most efficiently and effectively recapture their information if they lapse?

The best way to keep Sustaining donors giving each month is to get them signed up for EFT. For your Sustaining donors using credit cards to make payments to help get them back on track a multi-communication strategy will help. There are some samples that can get you started for emails and letters to reach out to your donors. Many stations also use telemarketing companies to make calls to lapsed Sustainers with good success. Keep track of what methods are best to recapture the gifts and then invest more heavily to get even better results over time.

How should we acknowledge their gift at the time of joining, and once a year?

Acknowledging your Sustaining donors is very important, they shouldn’t feel left out once they’ve made a lasting commitment to your station. Sending a thank you letter promptly after the gift (within 5 days) is the first important step. There are some acknowledgment letter samples for you to get some inspiration. Then as a part of your Sustainer Annual Plan think about how often you are thanking these special donors in a meaningful way.

What percent of the donor file are Sustainers at other stations? What should be our goal?

Goals are important in fundraising and it’s good to not only know what other stations are doing but what your stations baseline is and know where you want to grow. The data from Target Analytics for public television shows that in 2017 the average station had 22% of their Sustaining donors on EFT payments and had a 13th Month Retention rate of 56%. Knowing where you are at the baseline and then setting incremental goals tied to specific actions can help you meet and exceed these averages.

How should we coordinate Sustainer or one-time giving asks in on air pitching without compromising the other?

Balance is important in the messages that you use on-air, but it’s best to lead with a Sustaining gift ask. Taking time to explain what a Sustaining gift is and how it can help both the donor and the station will help you in the long run. When promoting thank you gifts start with the Sustaining gift then mention the one-time amount. For specific examples take a look at the on-air script samples.

How often should we ask for an upgrade to their monthly gift?

For Sustainers who are not yet paying by EFT, using the conversion ask to also ask for an upgrade can be a double win for your program revenue. Beyond that ask one to two times a year making a thoughtful ask to increase their monthly support – with a solid case for why – is a good practice.

How can I best use Telemarketing in a strong Sustainer plan?

Telemarketing can be a strong tool in creating and strengthening your Sustainer plan. First, for conversion on annual donors to Sustaining donors many non-profits have seen fantastic results by using telemarketing. Second for EFT and upgrade asks, you can read about IPT’s great results using telemarketing.

What are some ideas to continue to cultivate and steward the Sustainers once they join?

Program update emails, postcards, appreciation events, update phone conferences from the GM – the sky’s the limit with the ways you can use the activities and achievements of the station to show your Sustainers not only that you appreciate their gift but also to show the impact that it is making in your community. There are some fantastic resources that can help get you started.

Should Sustainers get any special benefits that one-time donors do not?

If your station decides to give unique benefits to Sustainers it’s very important to make sure that those can be reliably and sustainably delivered to your Sustaining donors. The worst scenario is that you promise a special benefit to Sustainers and then fail to deliver it over time. Sometimes it can be best with Sustainers to surprise and delight.

Are there ideal times in the fundraising calendar to ask for upgrades?

Test and find out for your station. Typically you want to use times where donors in your community are active in giving. If everyone in your area avoids giving in summer, then take heed and avoid that time. If there’s a city or county wide giving day that activates the community broadly then use that enthusiasm for giving to make a strong upgrade ask.

Most of our new Sustainers come from on-air pledge, should we be trying to acquire them by mail as well?

First off, that’s completely expected. Most of the new sustaining donors on your file will come through pledge events. Through testing most stations have found that for mail solicitations to convert annual donors to sustaining donors the technique that has some success is the “Pre-R1” package — where a letter is sent to the donor before the regular renewal cycle begins with a specific ask to become a Sustainer. Acquisition mail with a Sustainer ask has not been successful for most stations.