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How to Create a Donor Stewardship Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide

donor stewardship plan is a detailed outline of an organization’s processes and strategies to keep donors engaged, show their impact, and build long-lasting relationships.

While there are many different techniques that organizations can use to steward donors, creating a plan ensures that your unique stewardship efforts occur on a day-to-day basis and are as effective as possible.

In this article, we’ll break down the four most important steps to crafting a donor stewardship plan.

Step 1:  Identify your donor giving levels

Start your stewardship plan by identifying different donor levels according to gift frequency, size, and type. These levels will serve as the framework to build your plan around.

While you value and show appreciation for every gift you receive, it’s essential to recognize that you only have so many resources to dedicate to stewardship. Give those who donate regularly and significantly more attention than those who only contribute a small amount once.

While you can get incredibly granular in your donor categories, the following levels are an excellent place to start:

New donors

Because new donors haven’t yet built a relationship with your nonprofit, they typically start with a small gift. However, for many of these donors, this is just the beginning of their connection to your organization. They want to learn more about what you do and the impact you have.

Our recommendation: Build trust with new donors and give them confidence that your organization is a capable partner in making the impact that they want to see in the world.

Loyal donors

Loyal donors have developed trust in your organization and have been giving to your nonprofit regularly, often through recurring donations. While they give reliably, these donors are likely still giving relatively small amounts.

Our recommendation: Cultivate loyal donors through regular communication and diversified engagement opportunities. Then, watch their giving level increase.

Major donors

Major donors have chosen to partner with your organization at a high giving level. They’re fully committed to your cause and need to be given special attention to stay engaged.

Our recommendation: Nurture these donors to give at an even higher level and persuade them to make make a planned gift with personal, one-on-one relationship-building activities.

In addition to segmenting your donors by donation type, you might also create segments according to their communication preferences or demographics. Ultimately, building your stewardship program around different segments will allow you to strategically connect with supporters and increase their giving.

Step 2: Determine your donor stewardship activities

You have a wide range of stewardship methods to choose from when creating your stewardship plan. Start by brainstorming techniques to use with each donor level. Think about techniques around acknowledgment, recognition, reporting, and cultivation.

Use these ideas to get started:

  • Send a personalized gift receipt immediately after receiving a gift.
  • Focus thank-yous on the donor and the difference that they make.
  • Host appreciation events, such as lunches, galas, town halls, and office tours.
  • Report on the impact of donors’ gifts and the work your nonprofit does.
  • Send articles and other information of interest to major donors.
  • Create exclusive giving societies with perks to build a sense of community.
  • Send handwritten cards on dates like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
  • Highlight donors in newsletters and social media.
  • Survey donors for feedback on how to improve engagement.
  • Invite donors to participate in special volunteer opportunities.

Once you’ve created a list of ideas, start marking the ones your organization could implement most efficiently and successfully. Make sure you have a selection of stewardship techniques for each donor level across different mediums and periods of time. Review your ideas until you’re confident you’ve chosen the ones that will impact each donor group most.

Step 3: Document your stewardship plan and matrix

After your brainstorming session and idea curation, you’re ready to put your stewardship plan to paper. Follow these basic steps:

  1. Consider stewardship from the perspective of the donor. What should each type of donor experience be at each stage of the process?
  2. Craft processes, policies, and procedures that will ensure your ideas get implemented. How will your team carry out each step? What challenges will they face?
  3. Create a schedule that clearly outlines the specific points and timeframes of how and when you’ll communicate with donors. What reports will you create? How many different versions will you need to produce? Where and when will you publish them? How will you share them with your donors?

Once you’ve considered these questions, compile your answers to the previous steps into a stewardship matrix like the one below. Your stewardship matrix should group your stewardship according to donor level, timeline, and engagement type, making it easy to follow through on every step of the plan.

A stewardship matrix makes it easy to follow through on every step of your stewardship plan. 

Step 4: Evaluate your stewardship plan

Your plan should be a living document that you’ll change and improve as you receive feedback and new ideas from donors. Schedule a regular review process to assess your plan and gather feedback and data. For best results, look at both quantitative and qualitative information by:

  • Tracking key performance indicators, such as retention rates, conversion rates, and average gift amounts.
  • Surveying donors about the strengths and weaknesses of your stewardship program.

Use this collected information to develop new stewardship activities, engage both new and existing donors at every giving level, and continuously refine your stewardship plan.

In Summary

Whether you’re a team of one or a department of twenty, creating a defined stewardship plan will help you improve your donor retention rate, encourage donors to give more, and build a meaningful community that they can believe in.

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