Donors are essential to our nonprofit organizations. Without them, our organizations would not exist. When donors give, they place their trust in us and expect us to work towards achieving agreed-upon outcomes. The least we can do is acknowledge their donation promptly and provide assurance we will use that gift as they intend. What we need to focus on is how to create a donor stewardship plan and develop gift acknowledgements that make the donor feel valued.
My recent stewardship experience as a donor
In late 2020, I made gifts to four local organizations whose causes I care about. Organization #1 never sent me a thank you letter. This was 2020. They should be doing better than that. Organization #2 sent me a three-sentence thank you letter which was really a tax receipt. It was completely missing a story or any heartwarming text that made me feel my donation was valued. Organization #3 sent me a brief personal thank you email from the development director. I was pleased she reached out and recognized me when my gift came through. Finally, organization #4 delivered a great, heart-warming thank you letter that I loved. The letter talked about specific clients of the organization and a need that my gift helped meet.
Do you have a plan?
Do you have a donor stewardship plan that helps your donors feel thanked and valued? Are your stewardship practices effective? If you just send a brief thank you letter after a gift arrives, you’re missing out on valuable opportunities to help your donor feel connected to your organization and a vital part of your success.
Stewardship is our entire cycle of donor communication and relationship-building activities. We thank the donor, report on progress with activities and programs the donor has supported, and lay the foundation for possible future gifts. Stewardship and good donor relations help us turn that one-time or first-time donor into a loyal and consistent supporter.
Better donor stewardship isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a core development practice. And, it makes financial sense. Happy donors that feel appreciated and valued become donors that stay with your organization. Consistent, long-term supporters. And it’s far cheaper to keep a good donor than to find a new one. Better stewardship helps improve the bottom line of your organization because it increases donor retention. Let’s work on how to create your donor stewardship plan.
How to build your plan
If you’d like to have better relationships with your donors, here are some activities to think about as you create your donor stewardship plan. Ideally you should look not just at gift size or total annual giving, but relationship, longevity and commitment. Is there a donor that has given smaller gifts over a long period of time? They are demonstrating ongoing, long-term commitment to you, and are worthy of dedicated outreach. Is there someone who is really passionate about your work, attends your events, donates, and volunteers their time? That person may be worth additional outreach as well. Your stewardship plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should be filled with actions that are meaningful to your donors.
Here’s a simple chart to help you define which actions to take, and who should take those actions. To learn more about this topic, check out part 2: Your Donor Stewardship Plan, part 2
|Stewardship Actions||Timeline||$1-$999||$1,000-$9,999||$10,000+||Who’s Responsible|
|Thank you call to first time donor||48 hours||X||X||X||DD|
|Add to LinkedIn & invite donor to follow organization on social media||48 hours||X||X||X||DD|
|Add to newsletter mailing list||1 week||DD|
|Add to e-newsletter mailing list||1 week||DD|
|Formal gift acknowledgement/thank you letter from CEO||1 week||X||X||X||DD/CEO|
|Personal thank you call or personal thank you note from CEO||10 days||X||X||CEO|
|Personal thank you call or personal thank you note from Board Chair||2 weeks||X||Board Chair|
|Handwritten thank you card from a student, teacher, or client||2 months||X||X||DD|
|Invitation to tour the faciity or program site and meet clients/students||3 months||X||X||X||DD|
|Personal thank you video from CEO||semi-annually||X||DD/CEO|
|Share updates on programs or campaigns that donors have supported||semi-annually||X||X||X||DD|
|Top donor update letter on a nonprofit’s impact from CEO||semi-annually||X||X||CEO|
|Annual impact report w/ personal note||annually||X||CEO|
|Personal thank you video using your iPhone or other devices||annually||DD/Marketing Director|
|Invitation to a donor appreciation event||annually||X||X||X||DD|
|Invitation to program-related event (graduation or student performance)||annually||X||X||X||DD|
|Invitation to Gala fundraising event||annually||X||X||X||DD|
|Thanksgiving or Valentine’s Day thank you call||annually||X||X||X||DD/CEO|
|Recognition in the newsletters, annual report or other medium/event||annually||X||X||X||DD|