Previously posted by NonProfitPRO Today on August 14

At the recent Bridge Conference, I enjoyed several wonderful sustainer sessions. During one of those, someone asked about the automatic sustainer upgrade process some nonprofits are apparently using.

My hair immediately started standing up straight! What happened to being donor-centric?

Automatic sustainer upgrades are really all about the nonprofit, but frankly, if you’re offering this, you’re not only leaving money on the table, but worse, you could be jeopardizing the future of monthly giving for you and other organizations!

The last things we need are concerns and complaints about older donors who are being “taken advantage of.” We’re walking a fine line here!

I know about automatic upgrades in the for-profit world. For example, when we put solar panels on our roof, we knew the annual percentage increase every year when we signed on the dotted line.

So, unless your donor signed a pledge form when they joined agreeing to an automatic upgrade every year of a certain amount, I would absolutely advise against automatic upgrades.

Monthly donors who commit and know what they’re doing when they join are going to stay with you much longer, and they’ll have a much better sustainer donor experience. You’ll get far fewer complaints!

In my experience, why would you even want to do an automatic upgrade? You’re much better off sending a letter, sending an email and making a phone call asking for the upgrade, and you’ll get a lot more money.

Let’s look at an example. If you have 5,000 sustainers and you get a $2 automatic upgrade, that’s $120,000 a year more. Yes, it’s a lot of money. But how many monthly donors cancel when they receive the letter that you’ve automatically upgraded their gift?

With an upgrade campaign, you can reach out to your sustainers, thank them for their ongoing support and ask if they’re willing to increase their gift.

Here’s what you can expect: If you send a letter asking for an upgrade, you can get 5 percent to give you $8 more a month. With an email, you may get 1 percent of your sustainers with email addresses to give you an upgrade in that amount, and if you call those you can reach, you can get 30 percent of sustainers with phone numbers to give you $8 more a month. That is $144,000 or so more money a year!

But better yet, you know that they’re committed to this new amount. And it also allows you to update the credit card information you have on file, so retention will improve as well.

You’d still only have to send them a thank you letter confirming their upgrade. Yes, the non-automatic upgrade is a little bit more work. And yes, it does cost a little bit of money, but it’s also a much safer bet for the future of donor experiences and overall monthly donor acceptance and growth!

Note: Automatic upgrading is not the same as auto-renewal. In essence, a sustainer who gives via credit card or EFT automatically “auto-renews” every month. Membership organizations that offer members to pay their membership in monthly payments typically auto-renew every year, but they’re not automatically upgrading the amount they give without asking the donor.