Launching the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's First Sustainer Campaign


After raising a whopping $1M for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology during a short-term End of Year push, we wanted to keep the momentum going at the start of 2019. We have worked with the Lab since 2012 to build their digital fundraising capacity and increase annual funds raised year over year. While the Lab has a large and loyal audience dedicated to supporting their conservation efforts, the Lab did not have a dedicated program for supporters to give on a monthly basis. 

We introduced a sustainer acquisition campaign in the early part of this year, layering in monthly giving on top of a well-established and successful digital fundraising program. We centered our upgrade campaign around becoming Discovery Partners – thoughtful, compassionate and generous people and members of a caring community of donors who are committed to providing the science, tools, and resources to protect birds every day.


New Sustainers


Total Annualized Revenue


Increase in Monthly Recurring Revenue

“Media Cause's thoughtful, data-driven strategies have helped the Cornell Lab grow its email list and soar beyond its online fundraising goals year over year.”

Melissa Tinklepaugh Manager of Online Fundraising, Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Donation Form

The campaign kicked off with a mid-month cultivation email featuring a donor engagement survey. Upon completion, respondents landed on a tailored, monthly donor acquisition donation form. The donation form highlighted the opportunity to become a “Discovery Partner” and emphasized the impact a monthly gift would have on the Lab’s research and science programs. We also highlighted a match offer as an additional incentive to give monthly.

Premiums, Goals and Deadlines

Over a series of emails, we elevated the status of Discovery Partners, highlighting the match offer and the impact of a monthly gift. We prominently offered two premiums – a copy of Living Bird magazine and a Cornell Lab journal.

We introduced the deadline and goal midstream, which was successful in driving additional new or upgraded monthly gifts. We increased our goal from 200 to 350 sustainers mid-campaign, far exceeding both goals at the conclusion of the campaign.

Upgrade Effort

Our upgrade efforts followed a long-form stewardship approach appeal with a liftnote resend. The tone was institutional in nature, and included a re-introduction of “Discovery Partners.” We sent two messages for the upgrade effort, bookending regular appeals. These messages led to 68 upgraded monthly donors with a 2.6% overall response rate.


The Lab’s first sustainer acquisition campaign far exceeded expectations, securing over 3x the original sustainer goal and making a strong case for building a robust monthly giving program. Next, the Lab plans to test Discovery Partner acquisition through new channels, and to incorporate ongoing sustainer campaigns into their annual fundraising strategy.

One major takeaway regarding monthly gifts? Ask! Many donors are primed for monthly giving, but without being asked, they won’t have the opportunity to raise their hands to get involved with your organization in a deeper and more impactful way.

Ready to drive growth and impact through digital strategies?

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