March 30, 2020
Discipline: Membership

Sustainers are the engine of membership, and now is the time to demonstrate for your sustainers what it really means that you consider them “partners in membership.” During this time of crisis, it’s essential that you bring your sustainers in close so they know how essential they are to all you’re doing to help your community in this moment.


Transparency is at the core of public media values because it builds trust. Carry that value into everything you do during a crisis, especially with sustainers. Consider treating sustainers almost like board members. Reach out regularly to let them know what’s happening at the station. Direct specific asks toward them. Highlight special upcoming programs they’ll want to tune in for from home. Share insights about recent stories, including photos and first-hand accounts from reporters and hosts about what it’s like to operate virtually right now. 

Most importantly, let them know that their support is what makes everything you’re doing right now possible.

Review all existing communication pieces, including acknowledgement letters, declined-card letters, etc. to make sure your tone is appropriate for this moment of crisis. 

Make sure you have a staffing plan for your member services phone and email channels. Don’t let queries pile up if staff aren’t in the building to respond as they usually do.

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Tell them how they can help.

One of the most therapeutic activities in a time of crisis is to focus on gratitude and service. Your sustainers are looking for ways they can help. Your station has community ties that you’ve spent years developing. Build on these connections to help your members understand all of the things they can do to help the community during this time as well as stay safe.

You can and should still ask.

Don’t be afraid to ask for upgrades in a sensitive way. Sustainers are your most loyal and supportive donors. When you make the case for the tremendous value your station is providing – now more than ever – many sustainers will be eager to contribute.

Watch your metrics closely.

Keep an eye out for canceled sustainer plans. Code these cancellations separately so you can approach them intentionally to resume their membership when the time is right. Watch for increases or decreases in monthly giving amounts, or any significant drops in overall revenue so you can investigate what occurred. Maintain your stop-loss activities for expired credit cards. 

Look for flexibility.

Some credit card processors are now offering the option to pause a monthly donation for a few months. Talk with your processor to see if this option is available. You might lose a few months of revenue, but that can be much better than having to reacquire the donor later. 

In many respects, the relationship you have built with monthly donors over the years was for this very reason – to have strong relationships with your most loyal donors, and to help stabilize revenue during challenging times. Working with them like the trusted partners they are will only be a positive during this tumultuous time.

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