Stewardship Techniques to Build Donor Relationships

A nonprofit organization’s success depends on the strength of its relationships with its donors. Those relationships are built on each donor’s sense of partnership and confidence that their gifts are making the impact they intend. The goal of donor stewardship is to build engagement and a commitment to ongoing support that increases over time.

Donors have different needs at different points in their journey with your organization. Our eGuide, “How to Create a Donor Stewardship Program to Boost Retention,” looks at how to create a donor stewardship program and specific best practices to follow. In this post, we’ll share some stewardship techniques that you can use to strengthen relationships and move your donors through deeper levels of commitment.

Three Donor Categories

Three primary categories, or levels, of donors can be found at every nonprofit. How you engage them is the key to moving them through your cultivation journey.

New Donors

Most new donors start with a single gift or a small monthly donation. Since new donors have just been introduced to your organization, focus on building trust and instilling confidence that your organization is a capable partner.

Loyal Donors

Donors move into the next level once they’ve been giving on a regular basis for some time. Donors at this level are committed to your organization and give reliably to your appeals. Dedicate time and resources to cultivating these donors to increase engagement.

Major Donors

Major donors are loyal donors that are fully committed to your organization and regularly donate at high levels. Give significant attention to these donors to keep them engaged and foster their continued support.

Techniques for Each Donor Level

As you consider which donor stewardship techniques to use with each level of donor, remember that the relationship should drive the technique. Building donor relationships is similar to building a friendship. Different actions and activities are best received as the relationship progresses. Recommended techniques for each donor level include:

New Donors

  • Send an immediate, personalized gift receipt that mentions the specific project or program that the gift will support.
  • Keep thank you letters and emails focused on the donor and community that will benefit from their gift.
  • Send regular communications that update the donor on the impact of their gift and how the program or project they gave to is progressing.
  • Invite the donor to engage with your organization on social media.
  • Invite the donor to subscribe to your newsletter.
  • Ask donors to spread the word about the project or program they’re passionate about.

Loyal Donors

  • When a donor makes a monthly gift commitment or gives a larger gift, follow up with a phone call in addition to the initial thank you letter or email.
  • Send program or project updates via email or direct mail.
  • Share impact reports on a regular basis.
  • Invite donors to giving societies via memberships that include perks and build a sense of community.
  • Offer special volunteer opportunities for donors to get more involved.

Major Donors

  • Send a personalized thank you note from clients, students, or others who have been helped by the donor’s gift.
  • Share plans for the next stages of projects that donors have given to in the past.
  • Invite donors to an onsite event or tour to see the results of their gifts firsthand.
  • Invite donors to lunch or coffee to show your gratitude.
  • Host donor appreciation events.
  • Feature donors in annual reports.
  • Send articles and other information of interest to donors.

While your goal is to encourage donors to increase their level of commitment, stewardship is about much more than inviting donors to give. Donors will feel the difference between an interaction focused on money and one that comes from a desire to build a relationship and partner together to accomplish an important mission. If you stay focused on the relationship and the partnership, it’s hard to go wrong with donor stewardship.

Download How to Create a Donor Stewardship Program to Boost Retentionto learn more about how to use stewardship to grow donor relationships.

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