Donor Stewardship

Procuring new donors is painstaking work and takes many hours for all development professionals in the nonprofit world. Much like the sales process in for-profit industries, closing on first time gifts can require continuous follow-up, repeat efforts to secure a conversation to close the gift solicitation, while ensuring that the donor feels heard, respected, and valued for their contribution to your nonprofit’s efforts. Closing the gift is not the end.

One could liken the concept of a donor as more than a one time sale. If properly stewarded, they can become a dependable continuous revenue stream. This would be preferable to the chronic chasing of new donors. In all honesty, all nonprofits need to do both. Never stop pursuing new donors, but take great care of the donors you do procure. They are all valuable for far more than their one time gift. This requires the development team to focus on revenue driving efforts and donor stewardship to ensure that there is a continuously strong and active donor pool maintained at all times. This is where fiscal stability can be solidified.

This requires attention to the donors in a continuous and meaningful fashion. They need to know that they are valued, appreciated, and that you consider them special to your cause. Relationship development implemented in your stewardship efforts frequently blossoms into repeat gifts, frequent gifts, and larger gifts. It is critical for your development team to generate best practices as well as customized approaches to activate your donor base and maximize revenue utilizing donor stewardship.

Keep It Simple

Far too often, nonprofits will go far bigger than necessary to show appreciation to their donors. Do not mistake big return gifts for being seen as RESPONSIBLE with the funds donated to your organization. You will frequently notice that foundations are not keen to fund galas or fundraising events. It is far too easy to be a big spender when trying to raise money, only to end up bringing in less than you spent.

There are many major organizations in the USA who have had to close their doors due to such lavish spending. Major opera companies have had to shutter doors due to irresponsible spending, either as a result of their Artistic Director having little consideration for fiscal responsibility or board members determined to attract the biggest donors by throwing the most lavish sets or galas. When you start behaving irresponsibly to get the “big fish,” you become a risk hazard to foundations. They want their money spent wisely and they want to know it is benefiting those who your nonprofit was designed to help or serve. It shouldn’t just be to serve the donors.

As with any truly meaningful relationship, small gestures mean the most. It is the mere fact that you took the time to respect them, acknowledge their value, and genuinely appreciate that they are just as enamored with your organization as you are. Don’t forget, you both want to support this organization. It means something to you both. Keep this at the forefront.

  • Gift officers should send a separate e-mail or call to say thank you beyond the tax receipt or standard thank you letters issued by the organization’s leadership. A thank you from the person who personally procured the donation is more meaningful because that is where the relationship was developed.
  • Sending birthday or holiday cards (as appropriate) can also be another way to acknowledge donors outside of the fundraising cycle. Be sure to take careful notes of any religious preferences when procuring the original donation. Do not send birthday cards if they do not celebrate, nor Christmas cards, if they do not celebrate. Holidays can become a landmine for some individuals, so be considerate in your donor development to identify who would appreciate this and who would be more likely to respond to a seasonal “thinking of you and appreciating you” card. Perhaps a New Years greeting or summer greeting to thank them during your “off” season. You know your cycle and your donors, so you can make the best decision regarding what would be most appropriate. Be considerate, always. Do not assume anything.
  • Include your volunteers in the “thanks” giving cycle. Have your volunteers make a few calls each quarter to thank your key stakeholders and make sure they know you are thinking of them and that everyone in your organization truly appreciates what they do for your organization.

Major Donor Appreciation

As your donor base grows and your gifts grow, you will become more frequently gifted with very large donations that qualify under the “major donor” category. These relationships deserve an additional level of acknowledgement and making a more personalized and targeted stewardship effort is more appropriate at this giving level.

  • Create a thank-you video that demonstrates the appreciation from the program participants to the donors. Testimonials and thank you messages from those most impacted by their generous donation has a far reaching impact in nurturing a continuous major gift from donors who feel compelled to truly do all they can to make an impact. Share these testimonials in social media, marketing emails, and send as personal emails to the donors themselves. Make sure that your acknowledgement includes only those who wish to be identified. Not all major donors want attention.
  • Hold a special informal opportunity for major donors to meet with organization leadership. Meeting the CEO or the board chair reassures the donor that you value their time, their contribution, and their thoughts. The ability to be included in the larger mission and understand the long-term goals of the organization, helps nurture discussions on how they can be part of the future of your organizations’s goals.
  • Donor acknowledgement at programs and events should already be part of your routine, but if it has not been, now is the time to start. It is one thing to financially invest, it is entirely another to feel what it is like to “be” in the heart of the very thing they are fiscally contributing to. That emotional connection to the larger picture helps to procure deeper investment in seeing continuous support and potential contribution growth.

Commitment and Stewardship

Donors should be treated in the same fashion that one looks for a life-mate. The ultimate goal is that everyone is working together to bring to fruition all of the goals of the organization. Thus, nurturing the relationship, including them in the bigger picture, and ensuring they know you are always aware and considerate of their contributions is how you keep the love alive.

  • Stewardship events are more intimate than big galas. They offer opportunity for you to deepen your relationship with donors and for donors to feel comradery with others who are just as invested in your organization’s efforts. These events can be a special breakfast or lunch with 10 or 20 of your top donors to comiserate with your board of directors and organizational leadership. This can also include a discussion panel or panel of program participants to share their stories and how the organization’s efforts have impacted their lives. This can help to reinforce donor investment in future contributions and organizational growth. Be sure to assist in facilitating the networking between your top donors and your organization’s leadership. Not all donors are going to go out of their way to connect with other donors, so assist in this process as necessary. This can also play a key role to get specific donors to collaborate in supporting a key program area you are keen to seek their future contributions to.
  • Including donors in organizational priorities and strategy helps to engage buy-in around the organization’s mission and will help to garner personal as well as financial buy-in to support your organization long-term.

All donors matter – big and small. Do not focus all of your attention exclusively on your top donors. Be sure to have appreciation established for every level of donor in your donor list. The one time small donor may some day become one of your largest supporters. Do not dismiss the new and young, nor the small giver who seems conservative. They are observing you as much as you are observing them. Just as foundations want to see what you are doing and how responsible you are, donors are just as cautious and they want to know how their money is spent and whether it was something that is truly appreciated.

Additionally, you have no idea who they know. If you make the small donor feel special, they may very well have a much larger donor in their close circle that they may encourage to become involved. Treat them all well. Most importantly, customize your approach to each type of donor and individual donor so that you can best maximize impact and overall success for your organization and your donor relationships. This is the most cohesive strategy to ensure long-term health and thriving growth for your nonprofit organization.