Supercharge Sustainer Retention from Face-to-Face Fundraising – Part 2

Part Two of a Two Part Guide: How to Boost Sustainer Retention in The First Three Months – Top 10 Keys From Non-Profit Organizations

By Paul Tavatgis & Sherry Bell, Professional Face-to-Face Fundraising Association and Erica Waasdorp, A Direct Solution.

Read Part One: Supercharge Sustainer Retention from Face-to-Face Fundraising

Retention. It’s something every single one of us struggle with. And no matter how a new sustainer came on board (digitally, direct mail, telephone, face-to-face, TV or other), the first three months after sign-up are critical to retaining new sustainers.

But when it comes to recurring donors acquired via face-to-face (also referred as F2F, street, canvassing, door), retention becomes even more crucial.

A group of Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs) have been working on this best practice list and came together at a recent meeting of the Professional Face-to-Face Fundraising Association (PFFA, and shared their extensive experience of holding onto high quality sustainers, and finalized the top 10 keys to doing so.

Here are their top 10 keys, the “must dos” for maximizing recurring donor retention in the first 90 days.

Data Collection

1. Make sure sustainers are the ‘right age’

Know the target age group you are aiming to bring on board and then qualify the age of your new sustainers at the point of sign up. Then make sure this is accurate with a welcome call to verify details. This ‘right’ age may be different for each organization, but this will help you track retention by age groups and requalify new sustainers moving forward. 

2. Data quality is essential!

Make sure that the information your face-to-face fundraisers are collecting is accurate and reliable. Electronic systems should have built-in checking and validation measures, and these should be verified through phone calls after sign-up.

3. Ensure financial processes operate perfectly

If you’ve done all the hard work to inspire new sustainers, don’t lose out on their gifts because of badly implemented financial processes. Make sure your database connection with your payment gateway is working smoothly. And – this is really important – make sure that your process to update credit card details is capturing every change for every sustainer.  A quick check to ensure all recurring payment processes for various payment frequencies can avoid missed payments for frequencies other than monthly.

Face-to-face fundraiser training

4. Get the whole team involved

Bring in your fundraising colleagues and those working on your organization’s program into training sessions for the face-to-face fundraisers. This will mean the fundraisers will have a better understanding of your work and your colleagues will be better informed about how face-to-face fundraising works. It brings the whole team closer together. If you do this right, you’ll have many more people rooting internally for bringing in more sustainers and you’ll generate more loyal sustainers as well.

5. Support vendor staff retention

Work with your Professional Fundraising Agency (PFA) to support retention of face-to-face fundraisers. The longer they stay with your agency the more invested they become in your program. By providing great training and celebrating the successes of the face-to-face team, it encourages your top fundraisers to stay with the program. One easy way to ensure that the PFA gets updates and has some extra great ways to motivate the fundraisers is by ensuring that you send out direct mail updates, newsletters, calendars and any types of stickers or posters that will help keep your program in the forefront of their minds and their conversations with potential sustainers fresh.

Donor Journey and Customer Service

6. Personalized thank you letter

A personalized thank you letter from the face-to-face fundraiser can add to the connection with the new sustainer. It reminds them of how good he or she felt when first signing up and the letter will come when it is critical to reinforce the sustainers’ commitment to a long-term gift.

7. Confirm the relationship as soon as you can

While the new sustainer is still feeling the strength of the connection with the face-to-face fundraiser, make sure to also make sure he or she understands this is a legitimate process. Get your cause connected and reinforced as soon as you can and thank the sustainer by using a text, phone call and letter. Make sure that these messages are consistent with what the sustainer heard from the fundraiser. Typically, organizations try to get these messages out within the first 48 hours after sign-up.

8. Transition from face-to-face fundraiser to the organization’s mission

Start the long-term relationship with the new sustainer and transition them from the personal connection to the fundraiser to a positive connection with your organization and cause. Some people sign up because of the personality of a passionate and effective face-to-face fundraiser and it is really important to strengthen the sustainer’s connection with the cause and not just one person.

9. Stewardship and engagement

Give your sustainers a wide range of opportunities to engage with your organization across multiple channels. Design a stewardship process specifically for your supporters who have come on board through face-to-face fundraising. And do realize that stewardship often starts even before the sustainer receives their first thank you letter. One example is to have a special web page on your site about your face-to-face fundraising campaign where sustainers can go to at their leisure. It confirms that they just had a great conversation with one of your face-to-face fundraisers and more importantly, it confirms that they made the right decision.

10. Test, test and then test some more…

Take a look at your overall messaging. What works in other channels? If you’ve tested some messaging in the mail, via email or phone, this can help. Test some options with the PFA and their teams and work out which story and messaging is expected to resonate with your sustainers most. Realize that your face-to-face acquired sustainers may react differently to those coming from other channels.

Then, do the same for subsequent messaging after the face-to-face acquired sustainer is with you. What works for them? How often should you communicate with them? Make sure to understand the data that tells you when to connect and when to suppress!

These 10 keys from NPOs are gold nuggets gleaned from years of experience by organizations and their partners who are leading face-to-face fundraising efforts in the U.S.

This is just a taste of the expertise that has been pooled through the PFFA’s Work Group program.

The PFFA is the self-regulatory association for organizations utilizing or working in and with face-to-face fundraising approaches and has more than twenty-five member organizations including NPOs, PFAs and service providers.

The PFFA has organized Work Group meetings three times a year since 2015. These Work Groups are a chance for sector experts to meet and to find ways to improve face-to-face fundraising and ensure sustainable fundraising practices in the U.S. well into the future. The power of the PFFA is the sharing and implementation of best practice – which allows for much wider knowledge and experience contributed than any single organization can provide on its own.

If you’d like to find out more about the Professional Face to Face Fundraising Association the opportunity to participate in future Work Groups and learn about a huge range of other benefits, PFFA membership is critical to making your face-to-face program a success. More information – find out more at or by emailing:

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