The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Strengthen Employee Annual Giving.

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The sustaining pledge is a pledge that goes on until the employee modifies or cancels it. It is a great alternative to an annual pledge.

National Public Radio pioneered this option with its sustaining membership option. NPR characterizes the effects of the option as “a great way to cut down on fundraising costs and provide a steady monthly income to your station.”

After many years of asking employees to renew their payroll pledges on an annual basis, I introduced the sustaining pledge at Normandale Community College. Justifying the benefits of the program with language similar to that used by Minnesota Public Radio for its sustaining membership program, I encountered no resistance. Employees liked having their gifts on autopilot. It allowed the development office to change its messaging from that of making an annual pitch to that of an extended “thankathon” that allowed us to focus on nondonors with the message to “join our sustainers in making a gift.”

When we offered a premium or a raffle, we made sure to include the names of our sustainers in the promotion—and we made sure they knew about it. This follows the practices of public radio stations that offer their sustaining members premiums like magazine subscriptions.

Occasionally, I encounter an aggressive development director who wants to ask for pledge upgrades every year, and thus prefers annual pledges. No problem; it’s easy to tell your sustainers, “You need do nothing to continue your gift, unless you would consider upgrading your pledge…here’s what your extra commitment will buy…”

I would much prefer to discuss an upgrade than I would a pledge renewal—the gift is already made—it’s just a question of the amount. One can imagine a host of marketing touches that could be directed toward promoting pledge upgrades.

Of course you also need to assure your donors that they can downgrade or cancel a pledge with a simple note to the development office. No muss, no fuss. And then get that cancellation notice to payroll ASAP; it’s a matter of program integrity.

Sustaining pledges allow an overtaxed development staff to focus on the margins—new employees and employees who in the past have not chosen to participate. Presenting to a departmental meeting is easier when the language revolves around joining the sustainers. It never hurts to state the percentage of people in the room who are sustainers. Ask one of them to say a few words about how easy it is.

Great Employee Annual Giving programs are built on building the base. Sustaining pledges are the best means by which to build and hold that base. It could be key to your shop achieving and exceeding the 50 percent participation threshold. And once you are exceeding the two-thirds participation rate, you are running a best-in-class Employee Annual Giving program.

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