August 14, 2019

5 Donor Stewardship Best Practices for Nonprofit Fundraising

All nonprofits should make donor stewardship a top priority because it boosts your organization’s donor retention rate. Beyond simply being more cost-effective, maintaining a highly engaged donor population goes a long way to fuel your nonprofit’s growth.  Donor stewardship practices reduce the need for new and costly outreach efforts, increase donor satisfaction, and build a dedicated base of support invested in the success of your nonprofit.

Without healthy, long-term relationships with donors, fundraising can be a major challenge. Cultivating donor relationships is, by far, one of the most important aspects of running a nonprofit for this very reason. A healthy relationship with a donor is not accomplished by merely accepting donations. Your team must have a concrete plan for how you are going to retain their support from season to season. 

Simply put, donor stewardship is the process of cultivating relationships with existing donors. Because data shows that recurring donors give 42% more per year than one-time donors, spending time on donor relationships should be a priority. It can take many different forms to help you best reach your unique donors but always aims for the same goal — building meaningful relationships that foster a strong affinity to your organization. Too often, however, this important process is forgone, forgotten, or poorly executed, and nonprofits then lose out on maximizing their fundraising capacity.

To ensure your best chance at success, follow these donor stewardship best practices: 

  1. Utilize donor analytics.
  2. Demonstrate your appreciation.
  3. Establish meaningful communication. 
  4. Provide donors with useful resources. 
  5. Inform donors of their impact.  

Poor stewardship practices can hold an organization back without it even realizing the wasted opportunities. Don’t let this be the stumbling block that causes your nonprofit to falter. Let’s dive into these best practices and prepare you to develop stronger donor relationships! 

1. Utilize donor analytics.

Making full use of donor analytics is often overlooked or vastly underutilized by growing nonprofits when they should be a major driving force behind all stewardship and fundraising decisions. Analytics and data can often seem daunting, but they don’t have to be. Donor analytics can help reveal potentially successful fundraising strategies by providing insight into your donors. Because of this, it’s worth exploring how you can make analytics and data work for you. 

Luckily, we don’t live in an age where you have to handle all of your data manually. Your organization can leverage AI software to collect data, help analyze it, and reveal important donation insights and trends. Putting tech to work for you can greatly alleviate some of the uncertainty you might be feeling.

By understanding who donates to your organization and why, your team can refine strategies, personalize appeals, and increase your chance of a positive outcome. 

When collecting your donor analytics data, make sure you gather data on the following: 

  • Demographics. Understand the type of donor who is attracted to your organization. This data should include age, gender, profession/university, marital status, parental status, and address/geographic location. These demographics can also provide insight into the type of fundraisers they’ll be interested in, the best communication method to reach them, and the kind of language they’ll be most responsive to. 
  • Wealth markers. These markers will indicate the potential giving capacity of your donors. Markers like real estate investment, stock ownership, and business affiliations can point to a donor’s net worth and potentially leverageable connections. Use these markers to make sure you are stewarding donors for the correct donation amounts, weeding out who you should appeal to for larger or even major gifts. Utilize wealth screening technology to maximize your data.
  • Philanthropic indicators. By far the most important data you will track, philanthropic indicators will reveal who is most likely to display loyalty to your organization. This data includes the recency of a donor’s last contribution, the frequency with which they donate, and the amount they typically give. In short, these indicators show your donors’ affinity to give to your cause

Many nonprofits do not take the time to deeply analyze their donor data or draw any actionable conclusions because the idea of dealing with this much information seems daunting. Fundly’s guide to CRM’s for nonprofits can help make this more approachable. With the help of a CRM and integrated prospect research database, nonprofits can easily manage this data without becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it. 

2. Demonstrate your appreciation.

Donors, like everyone else, want to feel valued and appreciated. A major component of donor stewardship is simply saying thank you to those who give. If donors feel like their contributions, no matter the size, are valued by your organization, they will be more likely to return and remain invested in your fundraising efforts. 

Saying thank you may come in many forms and should differ based on the individual’s level of donation to your organization. Once you know a donors’ level of engagement, based on how much they contribute, you can properly steward them for future gifts. Donors should be stewarded as individuals and should not feel as though they are only the recipients of a bland, vague donation thank you letter.  

A great way to begin showing your gratitude to every donor is by sending an automatic thank you email after an online donation is completed. But, don’t let this be the only way you follow up with your donors to say thank you. You should also consider these strategies: 

  • Personalized email. Personalizing an email is quick and easy, and donors will love that you took the extra step to make sure they were addressed as an individual. You won’t have the time to write a personal email to every member, but making use of donor segmentation can help you send out emails that are more specifically targeted to the recipients. Make sure to include their name, the gift amount, and the fundraising campaign to which they donated. 
  • Phone call. Calling your supporters is a very personal way to show your appreciation and show them the unique people behind your cause. This is especially true if a donor indicates that they prefer this style of communication. The donor will know that you care for their preferences and you made an effort to reach out to them via a method with which they are most comfortable.
  • In-person visit. When your organization receives a major donation, you should do everything in your power to properly express appreciation. Make sure your donor feels like your organization truly appreciates their contribution and will steward it wisely. Consider giving the donor a small gift basket or another token of your appreciation. 
  • Handwritten cards. Direct mail is not dead! In fact, because handwritten letters are such a rarity now, yours will stand out in your donors’ memory. Because this can be a time-intensive process, you could ask volunteers to write the actual letters and have your Executive Director sign them. Don’t forget to personalize each one with the recipient’s name, their gift amount, and the specific campaign they donated to!

Saying thank you is one of the easiest and best ways to complete the fundraising cycle and cultivate a relationship that will be beneficial for your organization in the future. 

3. Establish meaningful communication. 

If you want donors to continue their involvement in your organization, you need to provide them with continuous access to involvement opportunities. Donor relationships, like all relationships, are built on open, consistent communication. 

Ideally, you don’t want every communication you send to your donors to be a request for donations. To keep communications from getting redundant, engage donors in ways that don’t involve monetary donations. Encourage them to get involved with your organization by:

  • Inviting them to events,
  • Creating volunteer opportunities,
  • Offering online courses, 
  • Asking them to participate in an advocacy campaign

When you do reach out to donors for donations, be sure to be able to explain why you need the money and what your organization will be doing with their donations that are so valuable to the cause you support. Donors should know their contributions are going to be put to good use and not squandered. 

Additionally, record each time you contact a donor in your CRM’s profile for that individual. Especially if you use automated communications, this will help prevent accidentally pestering them with too-frequent updates and requests.

Engaging with donors in this way will contribute to a bond of loyalty, trust, and mutual appreciation between you and your supporters. 

4. Optimize Your Donation Pages

The last thing you want is for potential donors to abandon the donation process because it was too complex or difficult. Of course, there will be required information that they must fill out. But, there’s no need to over-complicate the process. Your donation process should be clear and simple to encourage as many donors as possible to fully complete it. 

A clean, easy-to-use, effective donation page has the following qualities: 

  • Has consistent branding. Donors and potential donors should never feel discouraged from donating by encountering confusing portions of your site. Every page should be clearly branded with your logo, colors, and fonts. When your donation page and forms are all branded to your organization, donors will be more likely to trust the donation site.
  • Is mobile-responsive. Most people engage with the Internet via their mobile phones. In fact, according to statistics from 360MatchPro, mobile users made up 33% of all online donation transactions last year. To ensure people can donate from whatever device is the most convenient, make sure your donation forms are all 100% mobile responsive.
  • Has a matching gift search tool. Corporate philanthropy is a greatly underutilized sector of charitable giving for growing organizations. By providing a matching gift search tool, you will ensure your donors can check their matching gift eligibility with ease.

Ensuring that your donors have a positive experience when giving to your organization opens up the door to other potential benefits. For example, donors may be more receptive to prompts to increase their donation amount or make it a recurring gift if they had a positive experience from the get go.

5. Inform donors of their impact.

If you are serious about stewarding your donors to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships, make sure you are clear about the impact of your donors. Understanding the value of your donors and communicating it to them is an essential part of building strong relationships with your donors. 

In order to communicate that you value your donors and the impact they make, your team should focus on donor-centric fundraising. This form of fundraising highlights donor impact and utilizes a strategy that prioritizes the donors perception of your organization and cause. Here are a few ways you can communicate impact: 

  • Creating a donor spotlight page or newsletter. An emailed or direct mailed newsletter can be used to inform readers about what initiatives their donations are helping fund. Connect your current initiatives to fundraisers you have run to show how your donor’s dollars led to the completion of a project or goal. You can also have a web page dedicated to highlighting specific donors whose contributions enabled you to accomplish your goals. 
  • Using social media to inform donors. Social media is a great way to inform not only your existing donor base but prospective donors as well about the impact your donors can have. Share regular updates about the work your organization is doing and how donations helped make it possible. You can shout out specific donors or state donation amounts that directly funded a project. 
  • Suggested donation amounts. Your donation page should explain just how far their money can go toward helping your organization further its cause. For example, inform visitors that $100 can provide safe water to 11 community members for an entire year. Doing so helps donors better understand where their money is going and helps them determine how much they want to give. 

As you adjust your strategy to better communicate donor impact, you should also focus on fundraising metrics to understand how well your new strategy is working. According to DonorSearch’s guide to fundraising metrics, some of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you should track include: 

  • Average donation size
  • Donor retention rate
  • Recurring gift rate
  • Lapsed donors
  • Donor acquisition cost

Seeing your donor behavior clearly by tracking KPIs can significantly help you improve your donor retention, especially through donor appreciation efforts. Making donors feel valuable to your organization through donor appreciation strategies and by communicating their impact is key for retaining a loyal and engaged donor base. 

Donor stewardship is the key to lasting, healthy donor relationships and, by extension, better, more effective, fundraising efforts. Follow these donor stewardship best practices to ensure your organization is doing all it can to reach its fundraising goals and further its cause.

Written by

Sarah Tedesco

Sarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.


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