Use Donor Stewardship To Fuel End-of-Year Fundraising

Tina Jepson
Tina Jepson

“Donor retention” is something everyone in the nonprofit world is familiar with. In fact, retention is what guides a good portion of our donor-to-nonprofit touchpoints. So, what about donor stewardship?

Almost everything we do and say to recruit a donor and encourage them to stick around circles back to donor retention. 

The Digital Fundraising Cycle – emphasis on the “Repeat” arrow!

Digital Fundraising is a cycle of attracting, nurturing and converting donors.

This may be called a funnel in the marketing world, but we like to call it a cycle as it should be considered a continuous, repeating process that’s designed to drive predictable and sustainable fundraising growth.

There’s no denying that digital fundraising is based on relationships and connections. When you effectively attract, nurture, and convert donors well, you’re building a relationship that lasts.

Not only are you increasing each donor’s lifetime value with digital fundraising, ultimately, but you’ll also inspire your supporters to become advocates.

The 2020 Q2 Fundraising Effectiveness Report just came out, and it shows that donor retention is on the rise, which makes it a great time for your organization to implement donor stewardship as we approach year-end giving.

I believe it’s high time we push mass emails and dispassionate social media posts aside for a more personal, donor-centric stewardship approach. This is especially pertinent as year-end approaches, and your donors are solicited by dozens of causes.

Are you with me? Good!

Let’s dive into how you can use donor stewardship practices to maximize your year-end efforts.

Defining Donor Stewardship

Stewardship happens AFTER someone makes a donation to your organization. Those post-donation touch points, such as thank yous, emails, and direct mailings all fall under the stewardship umbrella.

If it’s for the purpose of communicating and building relationships with donors, then it’s stewardship.

Four Essential Donor Stewardship Methods

Stewardship looks different depending on many factors, including donation amount, donor preferences, and your organization’s capacity. However, I’ve outlined four key donor stewardship methods that any nonprofit can use to help assure your donors that you’re a responsible steward of their money.

1. Say Thank You

A “Thank You” sets the standard for all future communications. It tells your donor you:

  • Received the gift
  • Appreciate the gift

And when you send a thank you promptly, and with a personal message, it also tells your donor you:

  • Are organized
  • Are efficient
  • Value the donor as a person, not just as a wallet

The initial “thank you” note to a first-time donor is the foundation of that relationship. To ensure your thank you is enough, be sure it meets these criteria:

  • Separate from the donation receipt
  • Addresses your donor by name
  • Acknowledges the gift amount
  • Includes information about the particular campaign the donation was made under
  • Written legibly (if handwritten)
  • Signed by a person, not the organization as a whole
  • Does not include another “ask” to give

Must your thank you be handwritten? I’m a stickler for tradition, but donors are overwhelmingly telling us that they prefer email over direct mail, even when it comes to thank you notes. It’s hard to argue with data, so you be the judge.

2. Inspire Them

A large portion of stewardship revolves around strategic communication. The right messages help solidify and build your relationship.

In these messages, inspiration is essential. It’s this inspiration that connects your donor emotionally to your cause. I find that some of the more effective inspirational messages highlight your donor’s role in the whole process.

For example, impact-based stories help to tell success stories of the people/places/things your donor is funding. Do you know what your donor doesn’t want to hear? Most donors don’t care to know about how much money you raised, but they do want to know how many lives they’re changing.

Another technique to try is donor spotlights. Post these on your website, social media, and in your newsletters to other donors.

3. Designate & Report

Many donors choose to designate their gift to a particular program or initiative. In these cases, stewardship job should include reporting back to your donor about their particular designation.

Again, ignore the cold, boring data and focus on the stories behind the numbers.

4. Engage

Give your donors an outlet within your organization through engagement opportunities. This could take the form of volunteering or serving as a board or committee member, or you could also ask for your donor’s insight.

Questionnaires, such as the Net Promoter Score or a simple, “How are we doing?” survey, can allow your donor to voice their opinion and feel a part of the process.

You can also take this engagement to another level by asking your donors to rally others to get involved through peer-to-peer fundraising and social sharing.

Need a more help engaging your donors? Download our free ebook, the Donor Engagement and Retention Strategy Playbook.

A Year-End Plan

Now that you understand how stewardship works, it’s time to make a plan to help you incorporate stewardship into your year-end fundraising efforts.

Make Stewardship A Job Duty

Unless you have a stewardship officer at your nonprofit, stewardship responsibilities should fall to everyone on your development team.

Task descriptions could include one or more of these elements:

  • Develop and implement stewardship strategies that strengthen long-term relationships with donors.
  • Ensure stewardship plans are communicated to everyone that needs to know within the organization.
  • Organize meetings, prepare communications, and arrange events for donors.

Establish a Standard Matrix

Creating a matrix for stewardship is a development best practice. This matrix guarantees that everyone is on the same page. Your matrix may look something like this.


Finally, create a year-end fundraising calendar so that your organization stays at the forefront of your donor’s mind as you close out the year.

Create A Calendar

Include weekly touchpoints from the beginning of November through New Year’s Eve, paying attention to these dates:

  • Thanksgiving
  • #GivingTuesday
  • The week prior to New Year’s Eve
  • New Year’s Eve

Add a mix of online and offline touches, including email, direct mail, social media, and phone communications.

Use A Platform

An online fundraising platform like CauseVox can help streamline the development process, giving you more time to focus on stewardship and outreach. If you don’t already use one, consider the many benefits a platform can provide:

  • One-stop shop for donations
  • Automatic donation receipts
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising features
  • CRM and donor tracking

Stewardship isn’t tricky, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming an afterthought for many of us. As year-end fundraising efforts ramp up, and competition for donor funds increases, so does the need for stewardship.

Create a plan, bring everyone in your organization on board, and then implement it before the year comes to a close. Now is as good of a time as any!

Ready To Raise More With Less Effort This Year-End?

With CauseVox you get more than a tool. You’re empowered to raise more with less effort implementing strategies that help you convert and retain more donors.

To learn more about how CauseVox can make it easy for you to manage relationships with your supporters all year long, schedule a one-on-one demo.

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