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Four Steps To Ace Your Donor Stewardship—And Keep Supporters Around for Life



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A donor stewardship plan outlines how and when you’ll communicate with a donor to keep them informed and engaged. It’s an opportunity to build relationships with your donors and create a strong, committed donor community. 

But it’s also important to remember that stewardship is a strategy. Its main purpose is to keep donors engaged and contributing to your work. 

An effective donor stewardship plan increases donor retention and encourages longtime donors to make larger contributions over time.

Here are five steps to creating a donor stewardship plan that works!

1. Categorize Your Donors

Categorizing your donors lets you tailor and personalize your outreach. It also makes it easier for you to batch communications when appropriate.

A popular way to segment donors is by donor status:

  • New Donors are exactly what they sound like—new to your organization. You’ll want to engage them by learning more about them and telling them more about what you do.
  • Loyal Donors have given on more than one occasion. These are monthly recurring donors, or donors that give throughout the year. Loyal donors tend to give smaller amounts. With effective stewardship, they can increase their contribution level over time.
  • Major Donors are donors that give at a certain level. What makes a major donor will be different for every organization. In general, though, it's someone who gives an amount much higher than the average donation. These donors should receive special attention to keep them engaged.

Effective stewardship means paying attention to what makes your donors unique. Geographic location, event attendance, and other demographic information can be factors, as well.

2. Identify Your Donor Stewardship Activities

Stewardship activities are not the same as cultivation activities. You’re not expecting a donation in response to any one of these activities, and you aren’t making an ask. 

Think of it this way: would you ask a friend to help you move if you hadn't hung out in a while? Of course not! So stewardship is all the relationship-building that happens in between.

Instead of going out to dinner, catching a movie, or grabbing Sunday brunch, you’re doing things like:

  • Inviting them to donor appreciation events—site tours, lunches, coffee dates, and feedback sessions;
  • Sending impact reports that detail the great work you’ve done as a result of their continued support; 
  • Shouting them out on social media and in print publications, and more.

What you choose to do for your donors will depend on the size of your organization and your capacity. But categorizing your donors and outlining the stewardship activities you'll apply to each category will ensure you create a consistent, custom program that keeps your best supporters feeling like valued members of your team.

3. Create a Donor Stewardship Matrix

A donor stewardship matrix is a document that outlines how and when you'll engage different categories of donors.

To set up your matrix, use columns to note the:

  • Outreach stage (acknowledgement, reporting, etc.)
  • Method or action (email, call, social media, etc.)
  • Timeline
  • Donor category 
  • Staff member responsible for the action

And don’t forget to use a calendar to stay on track!

4. Evaluate and Adjust Along the Way

Like any other strategy you use in your organization, you’ll need to evaluate your success and adjust as you go. Check in with your staff to see if they’ve gotten feedback from donors, and ask them for their input or new ideas. Survey supporters to assess communication preferences and see what you can implement. 

Evaluation also gives you the opportunity to find out if your supporters are clear on your mission. Do they understand the work you do? Use this feedback to adjust your communications and education strategies in the future. 

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