June 7, 2023
Discipline: Membership

As public media continues to leverage monthly giving to better plan for the future, sustainer programs must be maintained and consistently improved to ensure these ardent supporters continue to give with the ease they intended. By improving the user experience of KERA’s forms, we’ve recaptured more than 17,000 sustaining payments in almost four years, converting a third to EFT (electronic funds transfer or a direct withdrawal from a bank account). Almost a third of our sustainer file has updated their payment through our new form since it launched, a testament to its importance and opportunity. Similarly, in just four years, the number of EFT sustainers we acquired went up tenfold just by defaulting our Passport donation form to EFT.

According to NextAfter, nonprofits will lose approximately 40% of sustaining donors annually, but EFT sustainers are retained closer to 90%. With all these sustaining payments failing, it’s paramount to consistently improve the recapture process while shepherding donors toward giving with the highest retention rate.

Putting Membership in the Hands of Sustainers

At KERA, we were fighting with an issue I know many stations struggle with: We were sending a declining number of sustaining donors through a clunky donation form, which created duplicate membership records that our audience and member services team had to clean up. 

Looking for a way to alleviate confusion for donors and streamline the process internally, I found Minnesota Public Radio’s “Membership Corner,” and used that as a guide to create an improved user experience for recapturing donors’ updated payment information and hopefully switching them to EFT.

From the MPR website, donors can update the credit card on their sustaining donation, change their donation, or switch their donation to EFT or direct withdrawal from their bank account. I wanted to create a process for KERA sustainers to be able to do the same. When I brought this to our swashbuckling digital team, and meekly asked, “Can we do something like this?” They completely undersold what they would soon deliver.

We had been asked for months by sustainers if there was a way for them to update their payment online. If these questions came in while we were planning, building, or testing this form, I often personally called them back to tell them it was in the works.

Once we built the initial form, the aforementioned heroic digital team and I looked for other ways to use it.

We started to query sustainers whose cards were about to expire, and we sent them emails with invitations to update their payment, directing them to the initial form with similar success. We used this new form to encourage existing credit card sustainers to switch to giving via a bank account through incentivized EFT conversion efforts.

But most importantly we gave our sustainers a way to securely update their payment, without waiting for a decline email or another prompt. And by just allowing sustaining donors the ability to proactively update their monthly payment information, this self-serve form has recaptured more than 4,000 sustaining payments, again converting 34% to EFT. We didn’t reach out to these donors about updating their payment; we just gave them the opportunity to update their membership.

Tips for Improving Your Form No Matter Your Budget:

  1. Default to EFT – The increased retention rate of EFT (or direct bank withdrawal) without the processing fees makes EFT the desired method of giving to steer monthly donors toward.
  2. Add value proposition language to the form – Just a small reminder, like WBEZ’s below, reinforces to the donor the importance of their support.
  3. Only require necessary information on the form – Every unnecessary field that a donor must fill out makes them less likely to successfully update their payment. Name, address, email; only require necessary information to process the payment.
  4. Make the form one page if possible – Again, a shorter form will increase conversions. MPR’s EFT conversion and credit card update pages are stellar examples.
  5. Finally: Test, test, and TEST! – Double and triple check that the form works as expected. Then continue to hypothesize, test, and optimize your form.

Importance of EFT

In May 2019, KERA’s Passport form defaulted to a monthly credit card payment instead of EFT. At that time, two thirds of these Passport donors gave monthly, but only between 2%-7% gave via EFT. That month, we defaulted the form to EFT and the EFT numbers immediately started rising.

By December 2019, 20% of sustainers were giving via EFT. In 2020, almost 25% Passport-acquired sustainers giving via a bank account. What’s more, our total Passport donations went down in 2021, but the number of EFT donations increased.

Dedicated EFT Conversion Efforts

It’s important to use the copy on your form to (concisely) explain the benefits of giving via bank account. On-air spots can reinforce this value proposition, and campaigns that offer incentives to switch will successfully convert some donors.  Other donors will need exposure to all three tactics over time in order to get used to the idea of EFT. And that’s totally fine. Keep explaining the value of EFT, make it easy for your donors to switch, and donors will move that way.

Here is an example of one of 90.9 The Bridge’s incentivized EFT conversion campaigns:

Don’t Forget About Direct Mail

EFT can make some donors uneasy. In Kansas City, when I talked with a declined sustainer and mentioned EFT to him he said, “No one gets access to my bank account. Not even God.” He had endured  terrible fraud, and was understandably reluctant to give his account and routing number out again. And that’s fine. Your first EFT conversion effort will attract some donors to switch. You can incentivize this campaign months later to convert more donors. But some donors will ignore these asks and switch months or years later when their card gets hacked.

KERA had 187 sustainers Passport-acquired EFT donors in 2018. In 2021, that number became 1773 EFT sustainers. Just from defaulting ONE form to EFT.

Reinforcing the messaging and stewardship around EFT will continue to improve these numbers as will semi-annual EFT conversion efforts. But simply defaulting your donation form to EFT can help your station retain this support, in ways other tactics struggle to touch.

Sustainers are some of your most reliable donors, but you must make it easy for them. By improving the user experience of these forms, we’ve recaptured more than 17,000 sustaining payments. We used these optimized forms for decline recaptures,  EFT conversions, as well as allowing donors to update their own sustaining payments. Approximately 1/3 of our sustainer file has updated their sustaining payment through these forms in less than four years, and we continue to convert about 1/3 of these payment updates to EFT in the process since its launch. With credit cards constantly declining and expiring, improving your recapture process remains paramount. 


I’m forever in debt to the amazing KERA digital team, especially Senior Digital Developer Justin Bowers. Similarly thank you to the development superheroes at MPR and WBEZ for their stellar digital fundraising work for a long time.