Monthly Donors: Who Are They, Really?


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Headshot for Alexa Langford from One&All.

Alexa Langford is Vice President of Giving Sciences at One & All. She leads the agency’s team of data scientists and insights analysts. Alexa works closely with other members of the Giving Sciences team, clients, internal account service, Media and Creative teams, and strategically aligned vendors, to manage and deliver innovative analytics solutions on time, on target and within budget. Alexa’s expertise includes analyzing data from a variety of integrated channels, generating actionable direction from findings, predictive modeling, and product development.

Sustainer. Monthly donor. Recurring donor.

Whatever you call those who participate in your monthly donor program, the most sought-after supporters for any social-good organization are those who consider their charitable gift giving as a regular monthly expense. But unlike recurring payments for streaming service subscriptions, car payments, or unlimited metro cards, the monthly cost of a recurring donation can feed families, preserve land, or even help keep a nonprofit’s doors open.

As Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “Commitment is an act, not a word,” and the best way to show commitment to causes you believe in is by showing up all year, not just when the issue is trending.

Who Actually Decides to Sign Up for Recurring Donations?

When looking at gifts of less than $10,000—which, let’s be real, is the giving ballpark most of us are in—sustainers have a long-term donor value (LTV) that’s typically about 5 to 8[1] times that of a single-gift supporter. While it varies by sector, for our network-based clients, this translates to between 3-20 percent of total revenue under $10,000, and this percentage has grown every year we’ve tracked it. Sustainers also have a much higher retention rate, usually upwards of 90 percent once established.

But who are they?

Based on who is advertising their commitment to making recurring donations on X, you might think that most sustainers belong to the Gen X/Gen Z/Millennial cohort, and in fact, younger donors do have slightly higher rates of sustainer giving: 43 percent of Gen Z-ers and 53 percent of Millennials give monthly[2].

Still, when we look at the statistics around preferred channels of giving, seniors (75+) actually have the highest sustainer giving preference at 8.5 percent. We just don’t see that preference trickle over into actual action as often as we do with younger donors.

One reason for this could be social media and its impact on getting people to sign up for recurring donations since it magnifies an organization’s reach. While social media usage by seniors has increased from 3 to 4 percent since 2005, they’re still far outnumbered by younger users, especially those in the 18-29 age bracket, which currently make up 84 percent of social media users.

The solution isn’t to get more seniors on social media. But we should figure out better ways of reaching them so that their desire to make recurring donations can be realized. Making sure your online donation platform is optimized for ease of giving is an important first step. Is the offer to become a sustainer clear? How many clicks are required to sign up on your website as a monthly donor?  Post-conversion, are you thanking your new sustainers for their ongoing partnership? Qgiv’s donation forms make streamlining this experience a breeze—you can even tailor your thank-you receipts using the platform’s conditional content blocks.

Even the Committed Can Be Persuaded to Spruce Up Their Relationships with Additional Gifts

It’s important to routinely remind your single-gift supporters that sustainer giving is an option. But it’s also important to remind your sustainers that single-gift giving is still on the table for them, too!

A statement we’ve heard countless times is, “Well, I won’t solicit my sustainers. They’re valuable and I don’t want to bother them.” However, 35-40 percent of sustainers typically give additional single gifts on top of their sustainer donations[3]. These single gifts tend to be 3-4 times that of the monthly sustaining gift.

Kind of seems worth the initial discomfort of a nudge.

November and December are the most common single-gift months in a non-disaster period. It’s important to continue to communicate to your sustainers so they have ample opportunities to give. A lower cadence of messaging may be appropriate, but don’t exclude them from your fundraising communications completely. Segmenting your email file in order to send sustainer-specific communication is one step nonprofits can take to this end.

Take Stock of Your Current Monthly Donor Program

It’s not debatable. Sustainers are an important and growing segment of supporters for social-good organizations. Being aware of your sustainer metrics and tracking them over time is the best way to determine if your current sustainer strategy is working. You might find that your organization only has 5 percent of revenue coming in from sustainer gifts or that only 20 percent of sustainers are making a single gift.

In Conclusion.

Monthly sustainers are some of the most valuable supporters your organization will have. In order to accelerate growth, it’s important to better understand who these donors are—do you know what drives them? Are your assumptions about age demographics accurate? Are you segmenting and watching sustainer-specific metrics?

Once armed with the data, you’ll be able to identify any gaps or opportunities within your current monthly donor program and make the necessary changes to grow this group of supporters in an intentional and strategic way. If you’re new to Qgiv and curious as to how the platform can help you get there, reach out for a demo.

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