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June 24, 2018

Donor Stewardship: 9 Ways to Create a Transformational Relationship

The most important thing you can do for a donor is also the easiest. Thank them. It sounds simple enough, but how (and how often) you say thank you can go a long way in moving the donor relationship from transactional to transformational.

Donor Stewardship: A Few Simple Rules

However you decide to thank your donors, be sure to follow a few simple rules.

  • Be Prompt
    The key to expressing gratitude toward any donor is to be prompt and let them know how much you appreciate their support. The sooner the better, but be sure it’s within two weeks.
  • Share the Impact
    Your donors need to know the impact of their gift, and specifically how it’s going to help the cause they supported. They don’t care as much about facts and figures as they do the difference your organization is making. Share the stories about who you serve and the positive impact made.
  • Match the Level of the Gift
    Not all donors are created equal. Sure, they may be giving to the same cause, and every gift is greatly appreciated, but there could be a drastic difference in the amount. For example, you could add more touch points for stewarding mid-level donors (typically giving $1,000–$9,999) as opposed to someone who gave $25. Consider a stewardship matrix that details how you’ll respond to donors at varying levels.

There’s a direct correlation between good stewardship programs and higher donor retention. A variety of factors influence donor retention, but regardless of how you thank your supporters, it’s important to reach out and personally acknowledge each one in a timely manner. They need to understand how much you value their gift and how it makes a difference in the big picture of your organization.

Here are some fresh ways to show your gratitude and create a transformational donor relationship.


1. Make the Phone Call

With so much modern technology at your disposal, the phone call stands out in a sea of texts, tweets, and emails. But by reaching out with an audible thank you to high-level donors, you’re putting a voice to a name and building a sense of authenticity and trust. A phone call is still one of the most personal ways to communicate with donors. Use it in a genuine effort to get to know your high-level donors and thank them for their gift.


2. Send a Handwritten Thank-You Note

You can’t go wrong with a classic thank-you note to a high-level donor. It’s a tried and true tactic and an absolute must in any donor stewardship endeavor.

Rather than the typical typed variety, however, consider writing it by hand or using a handwritten font. Handwritten messages offer a more personal touch and convey a sincerity that shows how much you appreciate the donor’s support.

Other times to consider sending a handwritten note are on a first-donation anniversary, during the holiday season, or after an event.


3. Send a Welcome Package

Send a welcome package that’s warm, personal, and motivational. It should educate your donor about your organization’s mission and make them feel like part of the family. Include things like a hand-signed welcome/thank-you letter from a director or high-level staff member that details how their donation will make a difference.

Other ideas include:

  • Printed newsletter full of donor impact stories.
  • Invitation to an upcoming social event.
  • Exclusive information about your organization.

Make them feel respected, appreciated, and important.

Also, consider sending a survey to begin a dialogue with your donors. Engage them in conversation by encouraging their feedback, comments, and yes, even criticism.


4. Send a Series of Welcoming Emails

For those new donors, create a series of welcoming emails in an onboarding process that reaffirms their decision to give while also nurturing additional engagement. Onboarding new donors through a series of short, strategic emails can make all the difference in whether they give again in the future.

Decide on your goals for welcoming them, then determine how many messages you will send—and when. Keep the messages short, and write in the second person, like you would to a friend.


5. Send a Newsletter

Whether sent via email or printed and mailed, newsletters are great ways to share detailed stories about how your donors make a difference. When you let donors know how they are part of a solution, it creates a feeling of worth and importance, and builds loyalty.

If you want to take it to another level, include donor names and stories in print publications that highlight varying levels of donor generosity, like your annual report.


6. Feature Donors on Your Website

Whether you’re creating a brand new website or updating your current one, be sure to post a stewardship section that highlights the generosity of your donors. Include a message that promotes thankfulness and shows how much you appreciate your donors and the impact they’ve made on your organization.

By posting this information in a prominent area on your website, you’ll be appealing to one-time donors and recurring donors alike. It’s a personal connection that will boost both engagement and loyalty.

For larger donors, be sure to highlight their contribution by calling out their generosity in a clear, meaningful way.


7. Create a Video Thank-You

Video is taking over the internet, so it only makes sense that a general video thank-you would be a great way to show all your donors how much you appreciate their support. Videos provide the opportunity to showcase the people who’ve been affected by their generosity.

Video marketing is also a great way to promote your organization to potential donors via your website and social media channels. 


8. Say It on Social

As long as you’re sharing information and stories about your organization on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, be sure to mention your donors. By tagging them in a post, they’ll know how much you appreciate their support—and the rest of the world will know about their generosity, too.


9. Invite Donors to Upcoming Events

Include your donors on guest lists for upcoming social events. A cultivation event creates an opportunity for new prospects to learn more about your work. It also provides time for face-to-face conversations with your donors.

Consider turning your event into a party to learn more about your donors’ interests. Remember, this is a social occasion, so keep it light and fun. Avoid asking for a donation. Rather, find out more about their interests while sharing impactful stories about your organization.


Not All Donors Love the Limelight

Don't forget to make sure to respect your donor's wishes if they made their gift anonymously. Not all donors want to be in the spotlight, and thanking a donor publicly who requested their gift be made privately will damage your relationship with that donor. It never hurts to double check with a donor before listing them in your annual report or thanking them in your Facebook post.


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