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Show Me the Love: Creative Ways to Steward Your Donors

Thin wooden hearts hanging against a blurred backgroundAs development professionals, we often find ourselves laser-focused on closing gifts to reach our revenue goals. On average, gift officers spend more than three-quarters of their time identifying, cultivating, and soliciting new leads. While it is important to focus on actions that drive revenue, stewarding donors once the gift is secured helps maintain a strong and active donor pool.

It is important to show donors just how special, valued, and appreciated they are. Investing in stewardship techniques and developing strong relationships has been proven to lead to more frequent and larger gifts. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we wanted to share some ways to show your donors the love. From basic best practices to customized approaches, below are some tips to activate your donor base and maximize revenue through stewardship.

It starts with (a) KISS: Keep It Simple, Silly

Stewardship does not always need to be a big sweeping gesture—as with any relationship, it is the little touch points that donors notice and appreciate the most. A few simple activities to help your donors feel the love include:

  • Say thank you. Organizations commonly send tax receipts to acknowledge donors, and these letters have standard thank-you language included. Often, it is the organization’s leadership that signs these letters rather than the gift officer who secured the donation. A quick call or e-mail from the gift officer to say thank you is an extra personal touch to ensure your donor knows you appreciate their support.

  • Send birthday or holiday cards. Donors are used to being asked to give and when they hear from the nonprofits they support that’s their expectation. Reaching out to donors, unrelated to gift requests, for example to wish them a happy birthday or happy holiday (like Valentines!) is a great way to let your donors know you appreciate them and you’re thinking of them outside the donor cycle.

  • Utilize your volunteers and say thank you, again! Nothing makes a donor feel more appreciated than a call from volunteers who are dedicated to the organization. Ask your top volunteers to make 5-10 calls each quarter to thank your key stakeholders.

It’s Getting Serious …

You’ve been diligent in implementing stewardship best practices and your donor relationships have begun to blossom with increases in gift size and frequency. Now is the time to be more personalized, targeted, and creative with your stewardship efforts. Here’s how you can let your major donors and key stakeholders know they are the objects of your appreciation:

  • Share a thank-you video. There is no better way to share the impact of your organization’s work than from the program participants themselves. Develop a highlight reel to share testimonials and thank-you messages with your top donors. Utilize technology tools like ThankView to create and send personalized videos in minutes from your computer or iPhone.

  • Invite key donors to meet with organization leadership. Since gift officers commonly act as the primary relationship managers, inviting donors to meet with your president and CEO or board chair is an indication that you, and the organization, are invested in the relationship. Your top donors will appreciate the opportunity to share their connection with the mission, learn more about the long-term goals of the organization, and begin to discuss how they can make an impact.

  • Engage your donors in programs and events. Bringing your supporters to program activities allows them to experience the tangible impact your services have. Sharing these experiences with donors helps create buy-in for your mission and will help encourage renewed gifts to maintain program elements like the ones you share.

A Lifetime of Love

Once you’ve successfully stewarded a donor, you can’t let the love fade; you’re looking for a lifelong partnership after all. Below are ways to maintain, and more importantly strengthen, your donors’ love for your organization over time:

  • Host a stewardship event. Through smaller, intimate stewardship events you can deepen the relationship with your donors. Invite your top 10-20 donors to a breakfast or lunch with organizational leadership and your board of directors. Include a panel for program participants to share their stories and the impact the organization has had on their lives. This is a great way to continue to share the organization’s impact and encourage renewed or increased giving from your key stakeholders. Additionally, you’ll facilitate networking among your top donors, strengthening their connection to your mission, your organization, and your leadership.

  • Engage your donors in organization priorities and strategy. Now that you’ve emphasized your organization's impact, talk with your donors about your future goals. Gaining buy-in around the vision for the organization will maximize their personal and financial commitment to support your work in the long term.

It’s important to steward all donors, not just the top tier of your donor pool. Be sure not to overlook anyone. Through a strategic stewardship plan that incorporates all giving levels, you will increase gifts across the organization. By effectively stewarding your donors you gain introductions to their networks and new donors, and further broaden your organization’s support.

Like the language of love, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to stewardship. It is important to listen to your donors’ various needs and interests and customize a stewardship plan to maximize these relationships. Start small. Keep it simple, timely, and consistent. Build to incorporate more personalization and get creative. Active stewardship can lead to transformational giving that will ensure the health of your organization well into the future.

Becca BennettJordan RitchieBecca Bennett (left) is a director and Jordan Ritchie (right) is a senior associate director at Orr Group.  Orr Group is a strategic fundraising firm that leverages top talent and innovative technologies to help nonprofits grow and diversify revenue.

Topics: Donor Retention Donor Communications Donor Stewardship