Elyse Haines  ●  6/11/2020

How to Steward Your COVID-19 Donors


Your nonprofit likely falls into one of two groups:

  1. Your existing donors and new donors are stepping up in big ways to support your mission during the pandemic, OR
  2. Your donors have redirected their generosity to other organizations more involved in COVID-19-related front line causes

In either case, now is the time to focus on donor stewardship. By properly caring for your donors, you will see higher retention rates from your new donors, and a deepened commitment from your transformational ones.

“Whether your donors are in a position to support you now, the #1 thing your nonprofit needs to have at the end of this crisis is your donors. Keep her experience at the forefront of your donor communications.”

– Kurt Worrell, Senior Vice President, Donor Engagement Team


One way to demonstrate to your donors that you care for their well-being during the pandemic is to simply call them. The use of telephone as a fundraising and stewardship channel has dramatically increased during the pandemic. And with more people at home eager for human connections, donors are answering their telephones at much higher rates, according to Kurt Worrell, Senior Vice President of the TrueSense Donor Engagement Team.

And these conversations are most successful when the focus is on the donor.

“After you’ve thanked your donor and let them know the impact they’ve made on your organization, ask them how they are doing,” advises Jacqui Groseth, Vice President of Client Development. “As appropriate, you can share resources that may be beneficial. Ask them if anyone they know has been impacted. And if you are a faith-based organization, ask how you can pray for your donor.”

Pro Tip: With many valued volunteers unable to come into nonprofit organizations and help in person, some nonprofits are engaging their volunteers to make these stewardship calls on their behalf from home.


About those brand new donors …

If your nonprofit is blessed with many new donors as a result of the pandemic, profile model them to create profiles, then and adjust your fundraising message for them based on what you’ve learned about them. Donors who are made their first gift to you during the crisis may not be new to giving.

“Don’t assume new donors will behave like typical ‘once and done’ disaster donors,” warns Shawn Reed, Executive Vice President. “We are recognizing that many [COVID-19] donors who are new to specific nonprofits are generally exploiting opportunities for good. That means they are giving now during the pandemic when the need seems greatest, but they are otherwise generous in their philanthropy, even in normal times.”

“A model flag will help you identify which of these donors give to many other causes over time. This will help you focus your attention and communication strategy and investment levels based on their behaviors,” says Britt Fouks, Managing Director.

For all these reasons, uniquely coding all your COVID-19 gifts will ensure meaningful data analysis after the pandemic.


It’s important to be honest with your new and returning donors in all your stewardship communications.

  1. Be transparent about your nonprofit’s ongoing need. Your organization was a great mission worthy of support before 2020. Use your stewardship communications to showcase your ongoing need and how donors can heal the world via their gift to your organization.
  2. Don’t pretend you know what is going to happen in the next six months,” warns Reed. “You don’t. Simply report on how you are responding to need right now, and how you will continue to be there when people come to you for help.”

Your donors, new and longstanding, need transparent, donor-focused, multichannel communications to steward them — and retain them as engaged, committed donors — through this crisis. Investing in this kind of stewardship now will create positive impact long into the future. 

“This is a tactic I would recommend for old and new donors alike,” says Megan Carder, Managing Director. “Checking in on your donors personally not only affirms their giving with your expressed gratitude, but also shows them that you care about them during this crisis, far beyond the financial transaction.”


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