What Have Your Sustainers Done For You Lately?

Guest post by Layne Gray, Vivanista

Many nonprofits have three categories of membership: “Provisional,” “Actives” and “Sustainers.”  You many not use these labels at your organization, but their characteristics are very common.

A Provisional member goes through some form of training or orientation before becoming an Active member.  A Sustainer is an individual who has been their Active obligations for a minimum number of years.  As members in good standing they are given the right to stay affiliated with the organization but without having the requirements of being an Active.

Vivanista proposes several ways to re-engage Sustainers:

Set Up a Sustainer Council

Assuming there are enough Sustainers in the organization to justify it, a Council could be created. It is recommended that the Sustainer Council Director sit on the Board of the organization so the Sustainers have a voice and the Actives are kept abreast of the importance if this silent majority.

Roles on this council include:

  • Director. This is the Sustainer who heads the Council for a given period of time, such as a year, that matches the fiscal year of the overall organization.
  • Communications Chair. This individual is charged with reaching out to all Sustainers through the various communications vehicles: mail, email, eblast newsletters, etc.
  • Event Chairs. If various events are implemented, as suggested below, these individuals are charged with managing them.
  • Finance Chair. Manages any monies that go through the Sustainer group.
  • Special Interest Group Chair. If Clubs are developed, this individual manages those Club coordinators.
  • Advisor. This role can be given to a Past President or a past Sustainer Council Director. It provides the current Council Director a sounding board and re-engages individuals who have held leadership roles in the organization.

Make Social Events a Point of Connection

Charitable volunteer organizations ask for multi-year commitments so by the time Actives become Sustainers, they’ve forged friendships with others who share their passion. Hence, providing purposeful opportunities for them to get together is usually met with positive enthusiasm.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Kick-off event. As a new year starts host a fun Sustainer-only event. Provide a compelling keynote speaker as well as an opportunity for Clubs. Popular Club ideas include Bridge, Wine, Book, Bunko, Golf, Travel, Parenting, etc.
  • Holiday Tea. The holidays are a perfect time of year to bring Sustainers together. To add impact the Tea can honor someone or some group, like (A) new incoming Sustainers, or (B) Past Presidents of the organization.
  • Sustainer of the Year Luncheon. Create an event that honors an individual who has contributed greatly over the previous year to the organization. This provides a role model to other Sustainers. The honoree could be selected by the President of the organization or by the Sustainer Council.This event also is an opportunity to create a mini raffle. For example, guests could donate a nominal amount to win (A) free Dues for the next year, or (B) a free ticket to the next fundraiser.

Sustainers as Fundraisers

Some Sustainer groups may be willing to spearhead their own fundraiser.

For example, the Junior League of San Francisco Sustainers successfully produce an event called WATCH – Women At The Center Honors. The Luncheon honors two civic leaders, one of whom must be a Sustainer of the organization. Besides financial success WATCH has demonstrated the impact the Sustainers have had on the community beyond their past contribution to the organization.


Sustainers have accumulated a lot of experience and expertise during their tenure as Actives.

  • Advisory. Selecting Sustainers with specific talents to act as Advisors to Active committees can be beneficial especially for fundraising event committees.
  • Mentoring. Positioning Sustainers as mentors for Provisionals can have a positive effect on both groups. For example, small end-of-year Provisional dinners could be hosted in Sustainer home(s); Sustainers would sign up for these at the Kick-off Event. Perhaps one Sustainer for every 10 Provisionals.

Do you have any suggestions on how to engage Sustainers back into your charitable organization? Share your insights below and perhaps you can pick up some ideas you weren’t aware of, too.

* This article was written by Layne Gray, Founder of Vivanista, an online network with a mission to incite charitable fundraising volunteers to share insights and tips with others doing the same around the country.

(Photo: Vivanista)