Sun, 05 Feb 2023

Donor stewardship is the relationship-building process that begins when a donor donates to an organization. Many organizations develop a donor stewardship plan in order to retain donors and establish long-lasting relationships. Frequently, these plans incorporate communication opportunities and methods for maintaining donor interest.

An efficient plan for donor stewardship will:

  • Improve your donor retention rate. Typically, obtaining new donors is substantially more expensive than keeping existing ones. Focus on donor retention to save money on acquisition (while still fundraising).
  • Motivate contributors to contribute more. Recurring donors donate an average of 42% more than one-time gifts. Donors who feel valued and connected will continue to support your cause.
  • Create a significant community. A donor's contribution demonstrates their commitment to the achievement of your project. With stewardship, you may increase their involvement. Create a community where they can participate, encouraging them to share your work with others. This can also help you attract new donors.


With this in mind, it is essential to implement a donor stewardship plan that keeps your donors engaged in supporting the crucial work of your organization. Here are the initial measures your organization can take.

1- Form a donor stewardship planning team.
If your organization has not done any stewardship work beyond expressing gratitude to donors, you may need assistance developing a donor stewardship plan. Everyone involved in fundraising will be impacted by stewardship, from your communications team to your director to your gift planners. Creating a team or committee will help you collect various ideas and implement a plan.

Try to engage others, such as board members, volunteers, and previous funders. Survey your donors to determine what types of communications and activities they desire. Allow their input to inform your planning.

2- Involves segmenting your donations into groups or levels.
Work with your team to determine ways to divide your donors into groups or levels for stewardship. In a perfect world, your organization could engage in personal discussions with every donation. However, few NGOs will have the resources to accomplish this. Therefore, the optimal method to approach your donor stewardship plan is to customize your messages based on the frequency, magnitude, or type of gifts.

Suppose, for example; you have a list of 100 donors. Examine their giving trends, amounts, and involvement to assess their capacity, ability, and incentive to donate again. Did they contribute $10,000 from their IRA? Did they agree to make a monthly contribution of $20? Have they participated in your annual 5K as a volunteer and successfully raised funds with their team? After identifying some of their distinguishing characteristics, sort your donors into categories.

Here is one method for classifying your donors:

  • New givers: Small, unique presents from first-time givers
  • Loyal donors: Donors who frequently give as well as monthly or annually
  • Major donors: Large gifts from both recurring and one-time donors
  • Planned giving donors: Donors for your legacy society (these donors could also fit into other categories)


You might also segment your donors based on their engagement and communication choices. Some donors will desire regular communication. Others may prefer infrequent communications with only the most crucial information or invitations. You could also segment based on demographics. Certain age groups and genders may respond better to particular forms of communication. For instance, if you segment based on age, you can send older donors more information regarding IRA donations.

By segmenting your donors, your organization can determine who to prioritize and how to recognize and steward donors at each level.

3- Develop stewardship and recognition opportunities.
Your donor stewardship strategy should extend far beyond simple thank-you letters. You must truly engage donors and strengthen your organization's relationship with them. You must devise means to recognize their contributions and increase their involvement to accomplish this.

You can establish new donor engagement-focused activities for stewardship opportunities. Alternatively, you might include your donors in general events recognizing their support.

These activities could consist of:

  • Sending personalized greeting cards on special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
  • Your organization should invite donors to participate in volunteer activities.
  • Inviting your donors to significant events, such as lunches, galas, town halls, and other activities.
  • Sending surveys that request input and investigate the interests of your donors
  • Creating and disseminating reports on the impact of donors' contributions and your organization's activities.


Consider how you may use stewardship activities to thank contributors for their donations as you create these initiatives. At this time, you may wish to establish a donor recognition system. This system should determine what your organization will deliver based on the gift amount.

For instance, you may feature a list of your most generous donors in reports or event programs. Or, a large benefactor may have their name engraved on a plaque or a structure. You might also feature your donors in mailings, mentioning their support and individual experiences.

How you thank your supporters depends on your organization's resources and structure. However, your donor stewardship strategy should aim to make each donor feel valued, engaged, and inspired by your organization's work.

4- Involves outlining your communication strategy and stewardship matrix.
Using the identified possibilities, the next step of your donor stewardship plan is to design a stewardship matrix.

A stewardship matrix specifies how and when your organization will contact supporters. Typically, it combines donor segments (or gift amounts) with communication styles and timing.

The following donor stewardship matrix employs the example segments from step two (new, loyal, major, and planned giving donors):

Group your stewardship possibilities into four categories: acknowledgment, recognition, reporting, and continuous participation. Then, determine which contributors and when they should receive these communications.

Consider that stewardship should complement the broader communication strategy of your organization. If you have just sent a donor a thank-you note, you may not want to simultaneously send a request for a fundraising campaign. However, you may send them a personalized invitation to a key event your group is advertising. Working with your organization's communications initiatives can help maintain a personal approach to stewardship.

Also, when communicating with contributors, emphasize the impact of their gift rather than your organization. Using donor-centric language can assist them in comprehending their effect and make them feel like heroes.

If your plan for donor stewardship includes personal conversations with contributors, try to get to know them very well. Remember personal information, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Referring to these specifics in subsequent talks will demonstrate your mutual interest and allow for a stronger connection.

5- Evaluate and apply your donor stewardship plan's input.
Your donor stewardship methods should adapt as you learn more about your contributors. Determine where you can improve and deepen relationships if your donor stewardship strategy is not increasing retention rates or eliciting higher gifts.

Send periodic surveys to your donors, asking what they want to receive from your organization and how they would want to participate. Utilize this data to create new stewardship actions and refine your matrix. Your goal should be to engage every donor meaningfully.

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