The Complete Guide to Donor Stewardship and How it Can Help You Increase Your Giving

Donor Stewardship Blog Post

Donor stewardship is a defined strategy to cultivate donor relationships after a gift is given. This plan demonstrates a nonprofit’s gratitude for the gift and encourages recurring giving. In this blog post, we will define donor stewardship, the benefits and steps to implement a strategy, and discuss how donor management software can support your donor stewardship strategies.

Introduction: What is Donor Stewardship?

With limited resources, nonprofits must plan how to invest their staff time and budget. One of these key decisions is how much to focus on donor acquisition versus donor retention. It’s important to note that donor acquisition is much more costly than donor retention. In fact, donor acquisition could cost 10 to 20 times more than donor retention. Therefore, it is critical for nonprofit organizations to develop strategies to engage and retain their donors. One of these strategies is donor stewardship.

Donor stewardship is a defined strategy to build donor relationships after the donor contributes to your nonprofit organization. Your donors trust your organization to utilize their gift toward mission fulfillment. It is your responsibility to share your gratitude for the gift and communicate the impact of this gift. These components of your donor stewardship strategy will deepen the donor’s affiliation with your cause and increase the likelihood he or she will contribute to your organization again.

What are the Benefits of Donor Stewardship?

The benefits of donor stewardship extend to both the donor and the nonprofit. Right after a donor contributes to your organization, he or she feels the most connected with your cause. Their ‘affinity’ to your cause is high. Now is the perfect time to engage them further with your organization.

An intentional donor stewardship strategy lays the groundwork for deepened involvement. As your donor feels valued for his or her contribution, he or she will consider other ways to give back. This could take the form of committing to a substantial planned gift, enrolling in recurring giving, or joining your board. All these activities extend their involvement and lead to increased giving.

Ultimately, a donor stewardship strategy is more cost effective than acquiring a new donor. However, beyond the transaction, donor stewardship places value on the donor and allows him or her to realize their philanthropic goals through your cause.

How to Implement a Successful Donor Stewardship Strategy?

A successful donor stewardship strategy starts before a new donor contributes to your organization. You must have a plan in place to execute as soon as a gift is given. Research shows that it is critical to make a second ask as soon as possible after an initial gift is given. New donors that give a second time within the first three months of their initial contribution have lifetime values almost twice as high as those who give after one year.

The first step in a donor stewardship strategy is to extend gratitude. Donors must be thanked immediately for their gift. This could take the form of an automated email, message on an online donation page, handwritten letter or postcard, or phone call depending upon the gift’s value. By expressing your thanks as soon as possible, donors feel valued and appreciated.

Second, it is important to consider the donor data you collect. This information provides insight into your donors’ preferences and informs future outreach. You may consider collecting donor data such as:

  • Contact information (address, email, phone number)
  • Demographic information (age, race, ethnicity, marital status, employer)
  • Preferred communication channel (email, phone call, text)
  • Programmatic interests

Behind each data point, consider the intent behind the ask. How do you intend to use this information about your donor? Will it allow you to better serve this donor? Remember – donors aren’t required to supply this information, and you must consider what you can legally collect. Check out this article for more details.

Finally, remember that effective donor relationships are built upon trust. Donors trust that your organization will properly utilize their donation for the means in which it was intended. Incorporate a communication plan within your donor stewardship strategy that emphasizes transparency and authenticity. Send impact reports and updates regarding programming.

In addition to transparency within your communications, donors also expect personalization. The donor data you collect will assist in tailoring communications to your donor’s preferences and interests.

How can donor management software support a donor stewardship strategy? 

Donor management software is an effective tool to operationalize your donor stewardship strategy. By housing all donor details in one place, your donor stewardship teams can analyze donor information and tailor your outreach. Here are four ways donor management software can assist:

1. Create workflows and processes to craft more responsive stewardship.

With one system that contains all stakeholder information, nonprofit staff can see the broad ecosystem of the organization and how constituents interact in multiple ways. Staff might realize, for example, that a donor has donated consistently but at the same level. This insight — made possible by a donor management system — signals to staff that they can create a workflow to cultivate that donor to contribute at a higher level.

2.Add follow-up tasks with reminders.

Nonprofit fundraisers may have multiple if not hundreds of accounts or donors that they steward. It’s impossible to remember every single detail about each donor. Staff can add tasks every time they enter something into a donor’s profile, whether it’s sending a follow-up email or wishing a donor’s grandchild a happy birthday. That task pops up on the staff member’s personal dashboard, Outlook calendar, and even email. These reminders help build meaningful relationships.

3. Track donor interests.

A donor management software tracks your donor analytics including their interests. These interests correspond with your programming – animal care or recovery, improving laws for animals, or foster programs - if your organization is an animal shelter for example. These interests help guide donor stewardship staff to tailor their communication and outreach based on these interests and guide further involvement.

4. Segment your marketing lists for personalized outreach.

Your donor data contains rich details. Segment your donors into lists to send personalized communications. You can segment based on donor interests, giving levels, or past event participation. This segmentation allows you to create specific messaging that will resonate with your donors and drive toward your desired outcome. Your organization will fuel deeper involvement by focusing on what is most important and relevant to your donors.

Conclusion: The Importance of a Strong Donor Stewardship Strategy in Nonprofits

A donor stewardship strategy is critical to the success of an organization’s fundraising. Yes, this strategy may be more cost effective than acquiring new donors. However, more importantly, donor stewardship moves beyond transaction-based fundraising. It allows donors to express their philanthropic passions and builds your nonprofit community.


Without a CRM or donor management tool, it is difficult to implement a successful donor stewardship strategy. Learn more about StratusLIVE 365: 

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Posted by Kelly Perry

Kelly Perry is a Digital Marketing Manager, Nonprofit Solutions at StratusLIVE. She has over eight years marketing and communications experience within nonprofit technology and the publishing industries.

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