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Top 10 Donor Stewardship "Rules" to Ensure That Your Fundraising Thrives

Resource Center - Foundation

by Mena Gainpaulsingh

Good donor stewardship is king in successful fundraising.  When you treat your donors with respect and help them to feel appreciated, not only will they stay on board, they will feel encouraged, and maybe even compelled, to give more.  More the point, they will feel good about it.

Here are some rules for building a strong donor stewardship program for your organization.

Thank your Donors 

I know this is obvious, but it cannot be stated enough.  I’ve lost count of how many times I have never received a thank-you for a donation that I’ve made to an organization. While I know some organizations put thresholds in place as to when their thanking procedures kick in (e.g. when people give over a certain amount), I struggle with this philosophy.  Some of my best major donors only gave $20 as their first donation. But what this donation did was open the door to a valuable conversation that led to much more significant giving later on.

Given that organizations can pay a lot of money to recruit new donors, not thanking the ones that you already have means that you are missing out on a significant opportunity.  You might not think that a $20 donation is much or worth your time. But by not thanking everyone who gives, you risk losing the donors that you already have. 

Be Personal

Good donor stewardship goes well beyond just sending your donors a bulk standard thank-you letter following a donation. The more you can personalize your approach, the better.  Some of the best donor thank-you letters I’ve seen are those that do more than include the standard “your donation is making such a difference” statement. They truly demonstrate the difference the donor is making, taking the donor on a journey where they can visualise how their donation is having an impact.    

At the minimum, your thank-you should align as closely as possible with the project that the donor was giving to (or at least responding to).  You could even go further and include stories or testimonials, with pictures and cards from beneficiaries. Most importantly, it should be clear that you are talking to a real person who cares, not just to a faceless name in your organization’s database.

Pick Up the Phone 

Of course, donor thank-you letters are essential as part of your donor stewardship program, but the more that you can thank your donors personally (as opposed to just personalizing the thank you letter), the more appreciated they will feel. 

If you have thousands of donors, you might struggle to give them all a call (unless you bring on board a telefundraising service), but by using your human resources (for example, by engaging your board, other volunteers and even beneficiaries to make thank you calls), you can spread the load. So think about the people in your organization who can help you in making calls so that you can reach out to as many people as possible with that personal touch.

Hold an Event 

A great way to reach a large number of people at one time is to host an event where the focus is on donor stewardship and engagement. I’ve held a number of these, from fundraising tours to dinners and regional receptions.  It provides a great way to get in front of your donors, build stronger relationships and really learn about what makes them tick.  If resources are tight, you can even ask some of your donors to host an event for you. 

Note of caution: just because these are not strictly fundraising events, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have clear goals. You should be clear on your messages throughout, from the thank-you to ensuring that your donors learn what they need to about your impact. You should also be looking to learn as much as you can about the donor so that you can continue to steward and approach them in the most appropriate way.   

Give Choices 

Giving people choices in terms of what they can donate to is a good form of stewardship, but so is ensuring that they have a choice in how they engage with you. 

Here’s an example. We had a donor in our database for years, but we never got to meet him. We regularly invited him to events and to meet face-to-face, but he always politely declined.  Then one day I invited him to a garden party. To my surprise, he showed up with his family.  I went to talk with him, but after getting the vibe that he didn’t want to chat, I left him to enjoy his time with his wife and children and listen to speeches about our work.

I later invited him to another event, which he came to. At the dinner, he told me that he was interested in what we did, but led such a busy life he barely saw his children and usually declined events. The garden party, however, gave him an opportunity to learn more about us and be with his family. As a result, he made the decision to get more involved.  He later became one of our most committed donors.

Part 2 of this article will appear in the April issue of AFP eWire Canada.

Mena Gainpaulsingh is a fundraising professional and consultant specializing in fundraising strategy, individual giving, capital campaigns, grant writing, corporate sponsorship and event management. She is the founder and CEO of Purposeful Fundraising, a consultancy firm that supports organizations to strengthen their fundraising expertise and capacity so that they can raise more money. As a volunteer, Mena sits on the Board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Ottawa Chapter (AFP Ottawa) as vice president of professional development and is on the Steering Committee for Prime Ministers Row, an initiative to create Canada’s first street museum.  

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