Does Your Nonprofit Have a Donor Stewardship Plan?


So, you received a generous donation from a new donor. But when should you reach out to that donor again? Why? What should you say? And just how important is it to cultivate authentic relationships with your donors? 

First-time donors are 4x more likely to donate again if you reach out within 48 hours of their donation. That’s donor stewardship in a nutshell, and it's an essential piece of the puzzle for any successful nonprofit.

Penelope Burk discussed this in her book, Donor-Centered Fundraising: How to Hold on to Your Donors and Raise Much More Money. She states that a thank-you call to a newly acquired donor within 24 hours can prompt them to increase the value of their next donation.

A donor stewardship plan is vital to fostering loyalty among donors. But before we dig into the best practices for building your plan, let’s go over the basics. 

What Is Donor Stewardship?

Donor stewardship is the last stage of fundraising. It involves thanking the donor and keeping them connected to your organization. The goal is to build a relationship so that they feel encouraged to give again. 

Needless to say, stewardship is a relationship-building process. The ultimate purpose is to get a donor to keep giving. And you can only do that by creating and maintaining meaningful connections with your donors. 

These donor connections are crucial to your nonprofit’s capacity-building process. They help you keep your organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. 

Simply put, donors are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization. And stewardship is what keeps it flowing.

Why Is It Crucial?

We’ve established that donor stewardship is important, but why? 

Well, there’s more to building relationships than just recognizing donors, although that's important as well. 

Here are some of the top reasons you need to follow the best practices in stewarding your donors…

To Deepen Donor Affinity

When you establish meaningful connections through donor stewardship, you deepen donor affinity and retention. Over-solicitation (aka asking too much or too often) is the number one way to discourage donors from giving again. So, it’s essential that you reflect on your ask-to-gratitude ratio.

If you’re not paying attention to the data, you could be driving away repeat donors. And you must address this issue, as recapturing donors can be especially tough. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s Quarterly Fundraising Report™ from Q3 2022 revealed a -15% year-over-year change in recapture rate.  

So, what does that mean? If a donor opts not to give, the chance of them giving again in the future becomes even slimmer. 

To Increase Annual Giving Revenue

Donor retention is one of many focus areas for building a stewardship plan for your nonprofit. The gift size is also an essential factor.

According to the Fundraising Report Card®, the donor retention rate is directly proportional to the average gift amount of donors. 

And it’s easy to see why. Donors who’ve built a relationship with a nonprofit and its cause are more likely to entrust the organization with a significant gift. Trust is there, so donors are confident that their funds are used as they are promised.  

To Access the Donor’s Network

One of the untapped benefits of donor stewardship is the ability to leverage the donor's network. For example, if your donors are happy about your organization and mission, they will likely share it with others they know. 

Why is this important? Those individuals might also be passionate about your cause and have the capacity to give to the organization as well. In turn, this can widen your exposure and eventually expand your donor base. 

To Drop Donor Churn

Donor churn refers to the percentage of donors who back out or have stopped giving to your organization. 

Naturally, nonprofits aim to keep this percentage low. Nevertheless, it's an important metric because it can open your eyes to potential gaps in your donor stewardship strategy. 

Many nonprofits deal with this problem regularly. Fortunately, stewardship can address the issue because it eliminates surprises when you send your next solicitation. After all, it’s impersonal to only approach a donor when asking them for money.

Communicating with your donors is more than simply building a relationship. Nonprofits should also maintain transparency with how the funds are used and ensure it aligns with the donor's values. 

To Let Donors Know the Impact of Their Gifts

Why do you give to the causes and organizations that you do? Ultimately, we all want to FEEL something when we give. 

Donors are more likely to keep giving if they know their gifts are making an impact. It’s an opportunity to tug at their heartstrings. Your mission statement drives your donors to give, which you must consider when soliciting donations

Here are some ideas to communicate to donors how you are using their funds:

What to Include in Your Donor Stewardship Plan

Holland of Viral Solutions looking at a virtual whiteboard with sticky notes contemplating a plan.

Here are our best practices to follow when developing a donor stewardship plan…

1) Organize Your Donor Database

In a perfect world, you’d use the same communication strategies for every donor in your database. Yet, that's rarely effective, and there are better ways to engage your donors. 

Segmenting your donors is a great way to personalize your stewardship for respective donors. Start by building categories and assigning donors to each appropriate category. Then, use past donor behavior to determine their tendencies, involvement, and motivation.

2) Designate a Stewardship Team

The stewardship process is a long-term commitment because nonprofit organizations depend on the generosity of their donors. So first, build a stewardship planning team to develop and implement your strategy.

But remember—even if you have a stewardship team, it's crucial to involve board members and donors too. That way, you can get other ideas on what activities they'd like to see. 

3) Use Various Donor Stewardship Techniques

Diversify your stewardship approach to ensure that you hit all targets and appeal to all kinds of donors. Here are some different ways to go about this:

4) Evaluate Your Donor Data

Data doesn't lie. Therefore, you must analyze it regularly to understand who your donors are and how you can appeal to them.

Look at your data so you can gain knowledge about your donors and their giving behavior, identify their communication and giving preferences, and understand their capacity to give. 

5) Publicly Thank Donors

Yes, it’s a good idea to send a personal note via to your donors to acknowledge their gifts. However, it’s also best to publicly thank them for their generosity.

You can post about your donors on social media, your website, or other similar platforms. Most donors appreciate it as it will make them feel valued and encourage them to give again.

As a basic courtesy, though, it's best to ask your donor first if they would like to be publicly acknowledged, as some people do prefer to remain anonymous. 

Final Thoughts

A strong donor stewardship plan is an investment of your time, effort, and resources. But acquiring new donors will cost you more in the long run. So, you should put a strong focus on retaining and building relationships with existing donors. If you need help with your fundraising campaign, we’re here! Our nonprofit marketing services can provide the professional guidance you need to yield more donors and sustain them.


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About Meagan Van Ahn

Coming from years in the nonprofit sector, Meagan understands that a story is the best tool to win people over. Meagan's career has focused on creating content, managing creative teams, and building strategic partnerships. With a bachelor's degree in Spanish for the Business Professions from Marquette University in Milwaukee, she is bilingual and has deep knowledge of diverse perspectives in today's marketplace. Currently, Meagan serves on the Board of Directors at Community for Hope, which focuses on mental health education and suicide prevention while providing support for grieving loved ones in the Fox Valley area.