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6 Tips For Creating The Perfect Donor Stewardship Plan

Published: Nov 7, 2022

Donor stewardship refers to the steps a nonprofit organization takes to progressively deepen relationships with donors after they give a gift. The donor stewardship plan means having a tight-knit plan in place for thanking, communicating, and interacting with donors in ways that solidify their support over time.

The donor recognition process involves managing gifts, updating donors on the progress and impact of the campaign, and easing them into the next cultivation cycle by actively involving them in your organization’s work.

A donor stewardship plan is important for the financial stability of your organization, and the best way to have them come back is to create a delightful experience. While there are several stewardship techniques nonprofits can use to boost retention, those who succeed have a plan in place to make sure that it’s a part of their day-to-day functioning. In this post, I’ll share 6 tips to craft your own donor stewardship plan.

What is stewardship in fundraising?
Nonprofit stewardship or stewardship fundraising refers to a relationship-building strategy between your organization and donors. It aims to form a strong bond with supporters to motivate them to donate repeatedly. A proper donor stewardship plan can ensure consistent and reliable contributions from donors.

Segment your donor database

In a recent study published on Sage Journals Home, new insights into donor behavior reveal that varying donor segments respond differently to charitable appeals. The research indicates that highly engaged donors, characterized by extended tenure and/or substantial, recent, frequent, and evenly distributed contributions, exhibit heightened responsiveness to interventions. The findings suggest that charities can enhance the effectiveness of their campaigns by incorporating these insights and tailoring their approaches based on the specific characteristics of distinct donor segments.

Segmenting your donor database will help you determine how to communicate with them and create a meaningful and relevant stewardship strategy. 

First, you’ll need to categorize your donors into different donor levels, i.e., new donors, loyal donors, and major donors, and then segment the database. For example, if you want to move up the donor pyramid, then segmentation should be done on the basis of gift size. This makes it easier to craft a targeted donor stewardship plan.

Donor pyramid for stewardship fundraising

You should segment your donors according to these categories:

  • Gift frequency: Knowing how often a donor gives to your organization will help you create a better plan to appeal to their generosity.
  • Communications with your nonprofit: Understanding a donor’s preference regarding communication can help you reach out to them most effectively. For example, some donors prefer phone calls, while others may prefer email.
  • Demographics: Demographic characteristics will help indicate how a donor may respond to your communications.
  • Average gift size: segmenting based on gift size will give you a better idea of who your major donors are, giving you the ability to move donors up to higher levels of engagement strategically.

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Communicate regularly with supporters as part of your donor stewardship plan

donors are most inspired to give via
The channels donors are most inspired to give via.

According to a survey, 48% of donors consider regular email communications as the most effective method to keep them engaged and encourage repeat donations. Social media communication follows at 18%, print communication at 16%, handwritten notes at 12%, and phone calls at 6%. This highlights the significance of email as a preferred and impactful channel for donor engagement and retention.

Communication plays a big role in a donor stewardship plan. Once a donor gives to your organization, regularly communicating with such new donors must be your top priority. This is why you must have a clear-cut communications strategy that encompasses everything from thank-you letters to follow-up reports. This way, you can keep donors engaged without bombarding them.

While communicating with donors, it’s important to strive to make genuine connections with donors consciously.

The best way to make genuine connections with donors is through peer-to-peer conversations. These conversations add personal touches to your overall communications strategy, which matters a lot regarding donor retention.

When donors receive a personal text from actual volunteers, they’ll be more inclined to respond. The back and forth through texts will help build a stronger relationship. Through these tools, your staff members or volunteers can handle thousands of conversations simultaneously. Also, automatically include personal donor information in your texts to create a more personalized experience.

Remember, this is the ingredient that gives donors a “wow” experience which prevents them from forgetting you and thus must be a part of your donor stewardship plan.

Actively involve donors within your organization during nonprofit stewardship

A positive correlation has been identified between donor engagement and donor giving. This implies that as donor engagement increases, there is a corresponding increase in the level of donor giving. This finding underscores the significance of actively involving donors in order to foster and enhance their financial support.

If you want new donors to remain loyal to your organization for the long haul, then you need to recognize them not just for their financial support but for their active contribution to philanthropy. Your stewardship techniques must include these activities and acknowledgments as part of the donor recognition plan.

  • Engage your donors and treat them as active agents of your organization.
  • Focus the engagement around your organization’s mission and how donors fit in and play an important role in furthering your cause. This can include opportunities for them to visit event sites or meet board members and volunteers.
  • Apart from this, you should make it a priority to ask donors for their feedback or opinions on your programs. Listen to what they have to say and follow up. The level of the donor’s support will reflect your ability to listen to their wants, needs, and suggestions.

Using text messaging is convenient for nonprofits to use for this purpose. Donors can quickly answer your survey even if they happen to be on the go, and you can send these personalized texts to all your contacts with a simple click.

An example of a text message-based survey

Read Next: 24 Tested Fundraising Strategies for Nonprofits – Which Ones Are You Using to Raise Money for Your Cause?

Customizing the donor experience

proportion of donors who are much more likely to give a repeat gift depending on various factors

A substantial 41% of donors express a willingness to make additional donations when they receive personalized communication detailing the impact of their support. This highlights the significant influence that personalized messages, specifically focusing on the tangible outcomes of their contributions, have on donor retention and continued engagement.

Customization is one of the donor stewardship best practices recommended by experts. Each and every one of your donors is different; they enjoy different aspects of your organization and give for varying reasons. One donor might support clean water initiatives, while another is intrigued by your education program. Allow each person to experience your mission in their own way while leveraging their passions to create personalized experiences.

You can create personalized experiences for donor recognition with:

  • Personal invites: Personal event invitations effectively show donors that you value their presence in your organization. Use their names and recognize their previous support to boost attendance.
  • Send articles or materials of interest: Actively send donors articles or other material pertaining to their interests. By doing so, you show a personal interest in your donors, which can start a valuable conversation.
  • Volunteer opportunities: Send volunteer opportunities based on interests so that donors can experience your nonprofit’s work. This also gives them an idea of how your organization helps from behind the scenes.
  • Fellowship activities: Give donors the opportunity to build bonds with other donors at your events. This will keep them engaged with each other and will definitely increase attendance at your events.

Show donors the impact they helped create for donor stewardship

Providing an impact report is one of the most important parts of your donor stewardship plan and donor retention. And when you focus your communications around impact, you accomplish two important things. One, you connect with the donor, and two, you show that person the tangible result of their gift.

Donors want to know where exactly their money is going and what your organization will do with it. Appease their concerns by telling them how their money was used. Even if they’ve made a small contribution of $10, send them an email showing how you’ve impacted the lives of the people you serve.

Fully explain how the project unfolds step by step and the impact the donation helped create. Not only will it make them feel wonderful about their involvement, but it will create a high level of trust and spur even more involvement in the future without a direct ask.

For example, organizations like Charity: Water and Red Cross use this method while reporting to donors. This is also one of the main reasons for their strong following. You can use this as a sample for your stewardship plan and build on it according to your needs.

Example of showing the donor the impact their donation helped create

Personalize donor acknowledgment

Example of a donor thank you letter
Example of a donor thank you letter

Research findings indicate that donors who promptly receive personalized thank-you letters are more inclined to sustain their support and contribute in the future. The act of expressing gratitude in a timely and personalized manner has been identified as a key factor in fostering continued engagement and encouraging ongoing contributions from donors.

Thanking donors is the easiest thing that you can do to steward them. It’s not just an expression of gratitude and donor appreciation, it’s a way of building and maintaining relationships.

A great way to set your organization apart from the rest is to make the ordinary experience of acknowledging donors extraordinary.

For example, Team Rubicon created this extraordinary experience when they called their donors to thank them for their contributions. Donors were taken aback and were pleased when they received a personal phone call as they only expected to receive an email or maybe a letter. This is the kind of experience you want to tell friends and family about—the kind of experience that can boost donor retention.

Remember, donor recognition encourages recurring donations and motivates existing donors to play a more active role in your organization.

A well-executed donor stewardship plan is a powerful tool for building donor relationships that will stand the test of time. These tips are meant to engage your donors so that they become more invested in your organization’s work and will help you get a strong start.

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