Of course showing gratitude and recognizing the contribution that your donors make is a crucial element of any stewardship program, but in terms of making your donors feel enthused and engaged about your cause, there is a lot more that you can, and should, do to build a strong and loyal donor base.

As fundraisers, we all know we should be thanking our donors, but in terms of stewarding properly, is sending a thank you letter all there really is to it?

By having a robust strong stewardship plan in place, and then making sure that it is properly integrated across your fundraising strategy, you can ensure that you don’t miss any opportunity to make your donors feel like their contribution is both valued and valuable.

In this three part series, I’m going to share some thoughts on:


What is a stewardship strategy?

A stewardship strategy involves having a systematic approach in place to cultivate and improve your relationships with donors, but it also moves your donors towards a deeper involvement. This deeper involvement may range from them deciding to give more, or to give more regularly, to acting as powerful fundraising advocates for your organization.

In creating this plan, you would typically consider a number of factors to help you to determine what you should be doing, when you should be doing it, who should be doing it and what resources you need to have in place to ensure that you can deliver on your promises.

Why have a donor stewardship strategy?

Having a strong plan in place isn’t just about best practice. Strong stewardship in an organization plan gets results and helps you build a stronger, more successful fundraising program. Here are just a few of the key benefits to stewarding your donors better.

Ultimately, it will cost you less! It can cost five times as much to recruit a new donor than to keep an existing one. This alone should be a strong indication of the importance of a plan.  Given that around half of donors don’t give a second time,  stewarding your donors as soon as they come on board can make all the difference in building donor loyalty, reducing attrition and making your donor recruitment techniques worth the investment.

You will raise more money!  Aside from the obvious financial benefits of being able to spend less on recruiting new donors and tackling donor attrition, donors that are stewarded will give more, sometimes close to 50% more.  In major gifts and planned giving in particular, an essential element for success is how well you cultivate donor relationships.  Giving in relation to both these streams is highly personal, so it requires a highly personalized approach.  Given that these two funding streams have a very high return on investment, can you really afford not to steward your donors properly?

People talk to each other! Donor circles can be pretty small. If you don’t treat your donors well, they are likely to tell others about it, which can affect your reputation. By treating your donors with the utmost respect, and by giving them what they need from the relationship, they are also more likely to help you to reach more people. This is crucial for donor recruitment, particularly at the major gift level.  If your donors have a good experience, it is natural for them to want to share this with others, so that they can also benefit from being involved in your organization.

Donors will remember you.  The last thing you want as an organization is to be forgettable. There are so many truly worthy organizations out there looking to grab people’s attention, so you need to stand out.  When someone is looking to make out or amend their will, it is highly probable that you won’t be in the room with them. This is one of the most important times your organization needs to be front of mind with regard to planned giving, and bequests in particular. Your donor’s focus at that time is unlikely to be on you, so when and if that question comes up of whether to leave a bequest to a charity, you need to be in their mind, and hearts, so that they consider leaving that gift to you.

Download my free checklist to put together a great donor stewardship plan

They will be there for you when you REALLY need them. By treating your donors well, they are also more likely to help you when you are in a crisis. One such example is when one organization I worked with experienced an eight-month delay in receiving a promised major grant from an institution. This had a very serious impact upon our ability to deliver our programs. Beneficiary need didn’t just go away for eight months, we launched an emergency appeal to our supporters explaining the impact that such a delay in funding was going to have on the people that we helped.

The results were overwhelming, and this ended up being the best campaign in the organization’s history. What was particularly heart warming were the comments that we received from donors, who enthusiastically expressed how they wanted to help us, and our beneficiaries, in our hour of need. They truly felt part of our family and as such, they were compelled to step up to make sure that we, and the people we supported, were okay.

It’s the right thing to do!  This isn’t just about money.  It’s about respect for your donors and giving them what they need to feel that they have made a difference. For so many organizations, the donors are the lifeblood that keeps them alive.  Sadly, I’ve heard comments in the past from fundraisers that reduce the contribution of their donors to transactions, and transactions that result in them hitting their targets (thankfully, these incidences are very few and far between). This is not what philanthropy is about, and it should never be what fundraising is about. It’s about creating a partnership, where you, together with your donor, can build a better world.

Related Articles:

Donor Stewardship Part 2: Preparing your organization to run the perfect donor stewardship program

Part 3: Building a donor stewardship plan – the key elements to success

Top 10 donor stewardship “rules” to ensure that your fundraising thrives

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