Supercharge Sustainer Retention from Face-to-Face Fundraising

Part Two of a Two Part Guide: Boosting Donor Retention from Day One – Top 10 Tips for Non-profit Organizations


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

Part One in the Supercharge Sustainer Retention from Face-to-Face Fundraising series was published on September 19, 2019. Part one of this series was the top 10 tips from Professional Fundraising Agencies to boost donor retention from day one.


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-profits have been working on this best practice list and came together at a recent meeting of the Professional Face-to-Face Fundraisers 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 and beyond.

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 information is accurate with a welcome or verification call. 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. 


  1. Data quality is essential!

Make sure the information your canvassers are collecting is accurate and reliable. Electronic systems used in face-to-face acquisition should have built-in checking and validation measures, and this information should be verified and stored for future use and data interpretation. 


  1. 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 and various payment types (visa, Amex., direct debit, etc.) can avoid missed payments for frequencies other than monthly.  Ensuring that payment processing and receipting works as planned will help to meet your new sustainers expectations.


Fundraiser Training


  1. 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 to work toward one common goal – fundraising. 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.


  1. Support vendor staff retention

Work with your professional fundraising agency to support retention of fundraisers. The longer fundraising staff stay with your selected agency, the more invested they become in your program. By providing great training and celebrating the successes of the canvassing team, it encourages your top fundraisers to stay connected with your mission and program. One easy way to ensure that the professional fundraising agency receives fresh, relevant program information for fundraiser training updates and has some effective ways to motivate the fundraisers is by ensuring that you send out regular updates (online and offline) to the agency and any types of campaign swag (stickers, posters) that will help keep your program in the forefront of their minds to inform donor conversation and show your appreciation for their work on the campaign.  Everyone enjoys being rewarded for a job well done.  


Donor Journey and Customer Service


  1. Personalized thank you letter

A personalized thank you letter from the canvasser can add to the connection with the new sustainer. It reminds them of how good they felt when first signing up with your organization and the letter will come when it is critical to reinforce the sustainers’ commitment to a long-term gift – within the first couple weeks.


  1. Confirm the relationship as soon as you can

While the new sustainer is still feeling the strength of the connection with the fundraiser, 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 the expectations set by the fundraiser at the time of sign-up.  Typically, organizations try to get these messages out as soon as possible – within 48 hours of acquisition, if possible.   


  1. 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 with the fundraiser to a positive connection with your organization and mission. Some people sign-up because of the personality of a passionate and effective fundraiser.  This is one key benefit of face-to-face fundraising however; it is very important to strengthen the sustainer’s connection with your mission and that process begins with a timely and effective welcome package.


  1. Stewardship and engagement

 Give your sustainers a wide range of opportunities to engage with your organization across multiple channels. Design a stewardship and engagement process or plan 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.   Simple additions to your existing plan for sustainers might be to set aside space on your website dedicated to your face-to-face fundraising campaign or schedule donor care team trainings that will allow inbound calls to be handled appropriately.  These things will allow sustainers to feel connected to your organization through their experiences.   This will confirm that inquiring sustainers just had a great conversation with one of your official face-to-face fundraisers and more importantly, it confirms that they made the right decision to do so and get involved.  

  1. 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, email or phone, testing in face-to-face can be useful too. Test some options with the professional fundraising agency and their teams and collaborate with them to identify which messaging resonates with your sustainers most. Realize that your face-to-face acquired sustainers may react differently than those coming from other channels. You will want to track those reactions as much as possible.

Then, do the same for subsequent messaging after the point of acquisition. What works for them? How often should you communicate with them? And how should you communicate with them?  Make sure to track and report on the data that tells you when to connect and when to suppress!

Wrap up

These 10 tips from professional fundraising agencies and top 10 keys from non-profits 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 sessions.

The PFFA is the self-regulatory association for organizations utilizing or working in and with face-to-face fundraising approaches and has more than thirty member organizations including non-profits, Professional Fundraising Agencies and affiliate 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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