by Joe Garecht
Stewardship is one of the most important components of the fundraising process. Prospecting, cultivation, and asking are certainly important… but in my experience, building a strong donor stewardship system should be your top priority if you want to strengthen your development program.
For many fundraisers, this comes as a surprise. That’s because at many non-profits, “stewardship” is synonymous with thank you notes and e-mail newsletters. Once someone makes a gift to an organization, the staff sends the donor a thank you note and adds them to the e-mail newsletter list – and then moves on to the next donor.
The truth is, though, that stewardship is much more than thank you notes and newsletters. There are real, actionable goals for your donor stewardship program… goals that make stewardship one of the most powerful fundraising systems at your non-profit. The three goals for your donor stewardship program are:
- Retention – First, a good stewardship program ensures that donors continue to give year after year.
- Upgrades – Second, your stewardship system should be encouraging donors to give more this year than last year, and to become major, capital campaign, and planned gift donors.
- Referrals – Third, donors in your stewardship funnel should be asked to open up their networks to refer your organization to their friends and colleagues.
As you can see, the stewardship process is about much more than just sending out thank you notes in a timely manner. Stewardship has tangible, measurable outcomes: retention rate, upgrade rate, and number of referrals.
4 Tips for Building a Strong Donor Stewardship System for Your Non-Profit
If you want to retain and upgrade more donors and earn more referrals from your supporters, you need to build a strong donor stewardship system at your organization. Here are four tips for creating a stewardship process that helps your non-profit thrive:
#1: Thank Promptly and Often
Thanking and recognizing donors isn’t the only (or even the primary) goal of your stewardship program, but it is important. Thanking your donors promptly will ensure that donors feel appreciated and connected to your organization. Likewise, thanking your donors on a regular basis for their support (and reminding them of the outcomes you are achieving with their gifts) will go a long way to keeping your organization top of mind for your donor universe.
#2: Don’t Try Too Many Tactics
When it comes to donor stewardship, many non-profits try to do too much and do so without a written stewardship plan in place. Thus, many organizations will add cultivation events, or holiday postcards, or update mailing on the fly, based on ideas and input from the board, the program staff, donors or even from fundraising books and conferences.
Most non-profit development programs are understaffed and under-resourced. If you try to do too much, it is likely that your team will get burned out and things will slip through the cracks. My suggestion is that your non-profit focuses on 2-4 stewardship strategies each year (in addition to donor thank you letters), and these strategies are laid out in a written plan.
#3: Steward Through the Same Channels You Use to Ask
There are lots of different ways to steward your donors: newsletters, in-person meetings, phone calls, cultivation events, and more. Your stewardship program should include a mix of tactics to ensure that as many donors as possible have as many touch-points as possible with your organization.
That being said, my recommendation is that you always steward your donors at least once, in between asks, through the same channel you use to make asks with that donor. Thus, if you always make your asks in-person with a certain donor, you should also do in-person stewardship (non-ask) meetings with him or her. Likewise, if a certain donor always gives through a snail mail appeal, they should also be hearing stewardship (non-ask) messages from your non-profit through the postal mail, and not just through an e-mail newsletter.
#4: Donors Won’t Take Action Unless You Ask
Remember that very few people will take action on behalf of your non-profit unless you specifically ask them to do so. This includes your current donors. If you want your donors to renew their gifts this year, you need to ask them to give. If you want them to upgrade, you need to ask them to upgrade. If you want them to refer new donors to your organization, you need to ask them to do so. Don’t assume that just because someone has already given to your non-profit, they will continue to give, upgrade, or refer without you making a specific ask of them to do so.
Your stewardship program is one of the most powerful systems you have at your non-profit. If you want to raise dramatically more money this year, hone this system and focus it on the three main stewardship goals: retention, upgrades, and referrals.
About the Author
Joe Garecht is the President of Garecht Fundraising Associates, where he teaches non-profits how to build sustainable donor fundraising systems. He has almost twenty years’ experience in non-profit fundraising.
Photo by Jamez Picard