checked boxMessaging and Benefits

Build Your Communications

Before you can build an effective communication plan, it's important to understand why people choose to become sustainers. It's not just one reason. Some people feel a deep passion for your station and want to be sure they're there for you always. Some see the sustainer option as an easy payment method, a way to simplify their giving. And some see it as a way to make a donation more affordable by breaking it out over time.

That said, the most important concept in maximizing sustainer participation is the idea that it's simple, easy and consistent.

Solidifying Your Message

Building an effective sustainer program is an exercise in marketing. The message must be clear, simple, compelling, and consistent. While there are many ways to expand out the story of the value of becoming a sustainer, every pitch should be built on one basic, fundamental formula.

The word "installment" should no longer be a part of your station vocabulary. Installment giving that ends after 12 months should quickly become a thing of the past because it's a program that requires extra work for the membership team and results in unfulfilled pledges from your donors. Referring to sustaining donations as "regular monthly gifts" or "ongoing monthly payments" for example, is far better.

Use this simple Sustainer Grab and Go Pitch Sheet to form the basis for your messaging. Many other messaging samples can be found in the on-air, direct mail and telemarketing sections.

Name Your Program

Deciding what to call your program is a vital initial step as it will help set the tone for design, marketing and promotion, and will also ensure consistency across your fundraising program.

Since sustaining programs are becoming more ubiquitous nationwide, and particularly in public radio, it can be important to consider the names other organizations in your viewing area employ, and then launch your program using similar terms in order to get a boost off of their marketing too.

Also consider that if your station is a heavy user of PBS Pledge Events, it will likely be most effective to name your program in a way that matches seamlessly with this important and prominent means of fundraising.

Some stations use a more formal program name like "Sustaining Circle." A small handful go creative with something like "Evergreen Friends." The vast majority use some version of "sustainer," "Sustaining Member," "Monthly Donor," or similar.

You may opt for a more innovative name if you wish your program to stand out from traditional membership, more like a donor club. Or you may opt for the simpler approach in order to more seamlessly pair program branding with the overall station brand. While the recommendation is towards simple and clear, the key is to decide what your station will use and then be consistent with it on every platform, all year round to get the maximum power from your efforts.

It is essential to NOT name or label your program with any sort of "green" or "eco-" name or promise. Being green and receiving no mail is not what motivates sustainers to join your station, and in doing so, you're only shrinking your future opportunities to raise more money from these generous and committed donors.

Don't promise sustainers that they will receive no mail, or that their membership is "green" or paperless. In doing so, you are simply removing the opportunity to maintain relationships and foster future upgrades or additional gifts. It's OK to occasionally mention that they will receive fewer renewal notices in the mail because the ongoing nature of the program keeps their annual giving simple. However, because direct mail is a vital element of any successful membership program, the last thing you want to do on the air is to train your viewers to dislike it before they even find it in their mailbox.

The bottom line is that you want to make it as easy as possible for a prospective sustainer to understand what you're talking about when you make the pitch for them to join in. Cleverness over simplicity and clarity can kill off your marketing efforts very quickly because you've made it more difficult to connect with people. and the consistent use of the name you choose is a key element in accomplishing this goal.

Set Your Benefits

Offering special incentives or perks to sustaining members is a strong way to both provide benefits and create opportunities for touch points across the year. Additional detail is provided in the retention section. Here are some key elements to make decisions about before launching your communications plan:

  • Will sustainers be automatically included in prize drawings (be sure to check gambling rules first – some states do not allow automatic opt-ins)?
  • Will sustainers receive invitations to station events?
  • Can sustainers select a thank you gift each year?
  • Will member benefits continue uninterrupted, such as member cards?
  • Will sustainers receive pre-sale opportunities to concerts and festivals?
  • Will sustainers receive discounts or free entry to select community events?
  • Are there any sustainer-only communications or other benefits that should be promoted while asking for a gift?

PBS Passport

The addition of Passport as a benefit for donors at a particular giving level, and particularly encouraged for sustainers as a monthly video on demand service, is a compelling new draw for sustainers, but presents a unique dynamic with donors, both with its own successes and challenges. Passport has shown to be a strong acquisition tool for stations especially with younger donors. It’s important for stations to use a range of channels to promote Passport and sustainervgiving. Using the station website, social media, email, and display ads are all ways that PBS stations have found success. Passport can provide donors with an immediate benefit and a concrete way to not only support the station and the programming they enjoy but experience more of that great content.

Learn more about how Passport is playing into sustainer programs so far in the Passport section.