Recurring Supporters: Who Are They, Really?

January 26, 2022

Sustainer. Monthly donor. Recurring donor. Whatever you call them, the most sought-after supporters for any social-good organization are those who consider their charitable gift giving as a regular monthly expense, the same way they do their streaming service subscriptions, car payments, or unlimited metro cards. 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. 

So, 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 Twitter, 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. How many clicks are needed to sign-up on your website as a monthly sustainer?

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.

Take Stock Of Your Current Sustainer Strategy.

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.

Once armed with the data, you’ll be able to make changes to your program to grow this group of supporters in an intentional and strategic way. Of course, we’re here to lend a hand if you are need of an assist.

Written by Alexa Langford, VP, Giving Sciences, One & All

[1] Various Human Services and Animal Welfare organizations, through 2020.

[2] Source: One & All national research study of U.S. charitable donors, April 2021. 

[3] Food Banks, 2021 and The Salvation Army Canada, 2021.