Our love story continues today as we continue to sustain funds by stewarding our donors. I’ll bet you thought asking and receiving was the end of things. Well, a really good love affair lasts decades, stays connected, and evolves. It’s exactly what a donor relationship should do. If you missed out on the other posts, you can find the first here, the second here, and the third here.

Stewarding- Stage Four of the Donor Funnel

Continuing in our dating/ marriage analogy, Stewarding is an “after the vows” phase. Yes, I know it sounds like we should be watching an episode of The Bachelor but stay with me here. This is the most important phase because this is where retention comes in. Do you remember how hard we worked to get the donor here? Why do we want to throw it all away and send the donor packing like some mascara-running, ugly cry drama scene in an episode of The Bachelor? (I had to get another reference in. It was too good to pass up!).


What does stewarding look like?

Just like in marriage, you have to make sure you appreciate your spouse every day and strive for new ways to keep the romance alive. I’ve been married twenty years and some days are more of a struggle than others. Occasionally, my husband will write me love post-its and stick them in places where I will find them throughout my day. They make me smile and deepen my love for him. Your nonprofit should find ways to write your donors love notes and say thank you every chance you get. Communication in this stage is to keep in touch, thank, and provide transparency.


What activities are good for stewarding?

Let’s take a look at a few stewarding activities nonprofits commonly and not so commonly used.

  • Thank you 24 hours after a donation. No slack in this one. The sooner you thank, the better the odds for the next gift.
  • Recognition activities- thank you events, plaques, or simply their photo on your social media and in your newsletter.
  • Annual Report is good for both asking and stewarding. It provides transparency and an actual where did my money go report.
  • One-on-one communications and visits. Personalized notes and emails along with visits go a long way with bigger donors.
  • Gifts

One of my most favorite stewarding activities for anyone serving the organization and especially for the fundraising squeamish is to do a thank-a-thon. Have those that aren’t “in” to fundraising call portions of your donor list. Supply the name, phone number, and (if its a Board member calling) the donation amount. The only goal is to thank the people that donate. I was involved in this years ago for an organization and I was nervous about doing it but I was supplied a script and I set out to call. I left messages a lot but when I did get a donor. Oh, it was food for my soul. If they weren’t just completely shocked, then they were quick to tell me why they gave to the organization. Some of those stories brought tears to my eyes!! It was a great way to connect to the front lines and I had stories to tell (leaving name and amount details out) when I talked to other potential donors. But most of all, it warmed my heart and created a deeper sense of commitment.


One last note, these steps should always be incorporated into your Fundraising Plan.


Take Action

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Well, this wraps up the series. I want to thank the anonymous person who responded to the survey with the question, “How to Sustain funds that will help with programs, salaries, and operational costs?” Your question sparked this series. Once you have a donor base, you can ask for funds very generally. Your asking phase will be full of connecting your mission with donations and when you do that, it’s unrestricted funds and can be used for general operations. When you need funds for programs, you can ask for specific program-related expenses. Just be careful. If you ask for something specific, it becomes designated funds and can only be used for that purpose.

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