5 Ways to Optimize Sustainer Programs through Merch

Fundraising for your nonprofit or political organization is a complex equation. Let’s face it — you need predictable cash flow to keep your organization afloat and working towards its goals. 

One-time donations are great, especially when they come at a particularly impactful moment. But they are also a less stable and reliable source of funds. 

Members who pledge to give monthly contributions are the bread and butter of your organization. They stick with you — through good times and bad. This more predictable cash influx is vital. 

So how do you sustain that relationship? 

Merch. But not just any old merch. For this situation, you’ll need to up your game. 

Why you need sustainer members

The supporters who commit to a monthly donation in perpetuity are called sustainer members. And these sustainer members solve a big problem for nonprofit organizations. As a whole, charitable giving ebbs and flows with some level of predictability. Seasonality has an effect on giving — people are more charitable during the holiday season or when current events are especially dire. But individual donations make it harder to strategize, plan ahead, and allocate funds. 

You’ve likely seen campaigns for one-time donations at the end of the year, perhaps on Giving Tuesday. It’s to help organizations achieve the year-end goals during a time people are feeling the most charitable. Usually, these campaigns offer something tangible — a shirt, sticker, or coozie — in exchange for a one-time donation. 

But overall, nonprofit organizations rely on sustainer members who give a fixed amount at a fixed cadence to provide a foundational funding. Membership giving is much more fruitful for the organization in the long term.

Sustainer members commit to donating. And while $10 or $15 seems comparatively small, over time, these donations become stable and predictable funds that keep nonprofits running. 

How merch supports sustainer programs

Here’s where merch comes in. Unlike the supporters who shop in your web store, sustainer members aren’t making a donation in exchange for a product. In fact, many membership programs are run completely separately from a web store. 

While both web stores and sustainer membership programs leverage merch to achieve their goals, the way product is leveraged differs. In a web store, supporters shop and make decisions. For a merch model, the product is used as a gift, to thank supporters after making a donation. Ultimately, product for sustainer memberships aims to:

  • Incentivize donors to become sustainers

You can use products to incentivize donors to commit to a monthly donation by offering a small item for free. Typically these items — like a sticker or a membership card — are sent within a few weeks to a month after donors sign up. This seems similar to a traditional web store transaction in a sense, but the motivation is different. Instead of making a purchase that acts as a donation, the supporters first donates, then receives a token of recognition after the fact. 

  • Build a connection

Sustainer members aren’t a one-and-done. They obviously feel a sense of commitment to your organization — why else would they sign up to donate monthly? However, these relationships aren’t a one way street, which means you have to do some leg work. Merch incentives foster a connection between your organization and your supporters. As the months turn into years, sustainer members continue to donate. Rewarding them for their support with desirable merch cements a long-lasting bond.

  • Build brand awareness 

Strategically, you want to turn your committed supporters into a network of referrers. Through branded merchandise, your supporters help raise awareness for your organization, whether it’s by bringing a coffee mug to the office, toting a reusable bag to the grocery store, or having a bumper sticker proudly displayed on their car

5 ways to maximize sustainer membership programs through merch 

To not only incentivize but impress monthly giving members, keep in mind that your merchandise needs to stand out, not feel cheap and disposable. 

Keep these 5 tips in mind to shape your program: 

  1. Create giving tiers for a sense of belonging.

Group sustainer members into tiers. This system allows you to reward donors incrementally with gifts that increase in value as giving levels increase. Beyond incentivizing donors to reach the next level, it creates a sense of community and belonging. Plus, when supporters reach the highest tiers, they’ll have built-in bragging rights (which is good word-of-mouth marketing for your organization!)

  1. Source ethically-made merch that aligns with your mission. 

If you are using merch to connect with your audience, you have to make sure it connects to your mission, too. Think about it — if someone is donating $20 a month to an environmental protection organization, do they want a plastic trinket that was shipped halfway across the world and all the emissions that come with it? A reusable, domestically-produced glass water bottle aligns better with their values. 

  1. Use high-quality branded merchandise to show supporters they are valued. 

More significant ongoing donations require higher-end products. There are two reasons for considering the highest quality merchandise for these supporters. First, these gifts generally recur each year, so over time, these products should hold up and continue to provide value to the donor who receives them. Second, the quality of the gift itself can incentivize more giving. In a tiered model, someone may just set their donation and forget it until they realize they could receive something like a Pendleton wool blanket, if they up their contribution to the next level. 

  1. Keep it exciting, so the branded merchandise get used.  

If you search for “sustainer program gifts” you’ll find one answer: tote bags. While tote bags are a go-to because they are useful (and often environmentally friendly), we urge you to think outside the box. Consider what’s right for your audience and what other organizations are doing. A tote bag is the “de facto” sustainer gift right now. If it’s valuable to your audience, great. But what about reusable metal straws? What about a wireless phone charger? Something different will get used more and is less likely to take up space in the back of a closet.  

  1. Brand your products for optimal awareness.  

As much as possible, make your sustainer products branded and easily recognizable. Again, this is an opportunity to leverage your supporter base. Merch can raise awareness and start conversations, so while the primary focus should be incentivizing supporters to continue sustaining memberships, don’t forget the importance of your organization’s brand. 

Sustain your sustainer programs with products

Using products for a membership program is a little different in execution than an ecommerce store for supporters. For both, the primary concern is raising money. However, they differ because web-store shoppers choose the products they want to purchase, while sustainer members receive the item directly from your organization, essentially as a gift. 

Quality, ethics, and value are always important when thinking about your inventory. But those factors are especially vital for sustainer members — because a gift is a reflection of the giver as well. It’s a responsibility not only to pick and buy the right goods but to design and ship them successfully. 

F.I.I. helps customers with a vertically-integrated solution that streamlines the entire process. To support your sustainer programs, we help you identify USA, union-made, and eco-friendly products, handle the logistics and manage inventory and customer support. All your team has to do is provide the information and promote your program. 

Sustainer programs play a big role in hitting your fundraising goals. Stepping up your merch game will make big strides toward attracting and retaining the members who give generously. When done right, your products serve an important purpose: incentivizing and rewarding the members that sustain your organization.

More on This Topic

Learn from Us

get insights delivered to your inbox.