Congratulations! You just secured a first-time gift from a major donor. You invested your time, energy, and resources into building the relationship – and it paid off. Now what?

Many organizations make the mistake of hyper-focusing on cultivating a donor prospect (the work that goes into the relationship before a donation arrives), only to leave stewardship by the wayside (the work that goes in after a donation arrives). However, stewardship, or the relationship-building and communication that comes once a donor supports your organization, is one of the most critical elements of a successful donor relations program.

According to the Fundraising Report Card, on average, only 33% of donors who gave in 2020 renewed their gift in 2021. Donors today have more philanthropic options than ever, and with so many worthy organizations, competition for funding is stiff. That makes our job as development professionals increasingly challenging (yet rewarding!) as we do everything in our power to keep donors invested in our organization’s work. In the most successful examples, a one-time donation can become a recurring monthly donation, a lifelong annual donation, and even a generous legacy gift. The key to unlocking these transformational donor relationships is savvy stewardship.

Stewardship is nuanced, personal, and all about strengthening the donor’s emotional connection to, and engagement with, your organization. It’s about building trust, sharing accountability and successes, and creating opportunities for donors to contribute to a solution. When creating a stewardship plan, consider these four simple steps on the path to securing long-term relationships with your organization’s donors:

  1. Acknowledge – Express gratitude for your donor. Acknowledging donors includes sending thank you notes and tax receipts in a timely manner, recognizing the donor on your website and annual report, amplifying their generosity on social media or other platforms, sending personal touchpoints from board members or staff, and other ways of making the donor feel appreciated. Pro-Tip: Everyone is different! Ask your donor if and how they would like to be recognized. While some may like their names up in lights, others will prefer to remain anonymous or use their gift to honor or memorialize someone they care about.
  2. Inform – Update your donor on the progress and impact of their gift. Many donors have reporting requirements that allow you to share updates about your work and how you’re using their donation. It’s important to always meet the donor’s deadlines and expectations for how to use their gift. Informing donors also involves sending regular communications such as impact reports, newsletters, client stories, photos, videos, and more. Donors care about their philanthropic legacy – help them demonstrate it by sharing how their gift is directly solving a problem and making an impact in the community.
  3. Involve – Create opportunities for personal and meaningful interactions. Creating opportunities for donors to immerse themselves in your organization can be accomplished through volunteer initiatives, site visits or tours, board membership, and more. When it comes to engagement, it’s important to listen to what donors want and care about, and then create tailored and personalized activities for donors to get involved. Stewardship is not one-size-fits-all and is more likely to resonate when it is personal and meaningful.
  4. Celebrate – Spread joy and delight your donor. Go beyond the basics of acknowledging your donors by making them feel special and part of a larger community. Share in your collective successes through donor appreciation events, invitations to your annual gala, and special touchpoints like holiday cards, birthday cards, or donor anniversary cards. These feel-good opportunities go a long way in forming lasting bonds with your donors. 

To organize your organization’s stewardship efforts, it’s helpful to create a stewardship matrix. An example of a stewardship matrix can be found here. In our example, we organize our stewardship activities by category (acknowledge, inform, involve, and celebrate). This helps to ensure your stewardship program is well-balanced and comprehensive, appealing to the donor’s diverse needs and wishes. We also segment our donors by giving level, so larger donors receive the extra benefits and attention that their gift calls for. However, you can also segment donors by demographics or other categories (i.e., parents, alumni, students). 

For an even more robust stewardship matrix, you can take it one step further by adding in a timeline (frequency of each activity) and/or the person in charge of carrying out each activity (staff person or board member). After all, stewardship is a perpetual journey that should involve all levels of your organization, from board leadership to your executive director, development team and program staff.

Need help? Give us a call!
Long-lasting and meaningful change requires savvy organizations working together with motivated and caring donors. When it comes to donor stewardship, My Philanthropy Team has proven success in boosting donor retention rates through comprehensive stewardship programs that deeply resonate with donors. Ask us how we can support your organization in transforming one-time donors into lifelong advocates of your work!

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