Are You Stewarding Your Donors?

by Joe Garecht

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A few weeks ago, I wrote an article called Prospect. Cultivate. Ask. that detailed the process of moving new prospects from investigating your non-profit to investing in your mission.  An astute reader e-mailed me after the article was published to remind me that I forgot one important piece of the puzzle: stewarding donors after they give.

Now, like most non-profits, I know about stewarding donors.  Yet when I was writing that article, it was an afterthought, just like it is for far too many charitable organizations, though it shouldn’t be.

What is Stewarding?

Before going on, let’s answer the question, “What does it mean to ‘steward’ a donor?”  Simply put, stewarding a donor is what a non-profit does (or should be doing) from the time of the first gift, and lasting until that donor no longer has a relationship with the organization.

Stewarding after a donation is like cultivating before a donation: it is a process by which the organization develops an ever-stronger relationship with the donor, and involves constant communication to deepen the relationship.

One important note: you cannot steward a corporation or a foundation.  You can only steward a person.  Sure, corporations and foundations can be donors to your organization, but the real way to steward that relationship is to develop deeper connections with the person or persons who serve as your primary contacts and advocates at those places… meaning that you’re really always stewarding relationships with people, even if it is a corporation or foundation who is writing the actual checks.

Stewardship can NOT be an Afterthought!

For far too many non-profits, donor stewardship is an afterthought.  That’s a big mistake.  In the world of for-profit sales, there’s a saying that “your best customers are your current customers.”  This means that if someone buys from you once, it if far more likely that they will buy from you again.  It costs a lot more money to sell to a new prospect (to find… cultivate… and sell that prospect) than it does to sell a new product (or an upgrade) to a current customer.

The same is true for a non-profit organization.  It takes far fewer resources (time, money and effort) to renew or upgrade a current donor than it does to fine, cultivate, and ask a new prospect.  Thus, it is imperative that all non-profit organizations spend the time and money it takes to properly steward their current donors.

How to Steward—the Right Way

The only way to truly steward your donors is to draw them into a deeper relationship with your organization.  Deep relationships require a give and take, and a greater association than simply writing checks.  Here are some ways your non-profit can steward its donors by building greater connections with them:

Communicate with Them – You’ve got to communicate with your donors in a way that isn’t simply asking them for money.  Using newsletters, e-mails, videos, podcasts, websites, non-ask events, etc. are great ways to communicate with and steward your donors.

Get Them Involved – Donors tend to stay connected with organizations that engage their minds, hearts and bodies in addition to their wallets.  Ask your donors to volunteer, to serve on committees, to join your board.  Get them moving on behalf of your charity with participatory fundraising.  Get them involved.

Ask Them what They Think – When was the last time you asked your donors for suggestions on what you could be doing better?  Have you held a donor roundtable or formed a donor mastermind group?  Call your donors… ask them for suggestions.  Engage them.  Show them you care what they think and respect their suggestions and concerns.

Want to learn more about how to steward your donors?  Read The Non-Profit Fundraising Formula.

Photo Credit: John Fraissinet


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather November 28, 2012 at 7:46 am

Really like the idea of asking donors what they think. It’s not done nearly often enough except, of course, with the very wealthy major donors (and even then, not that often). I’ve also tried involving donors in other ways – so not just asking for money but getting them engaged more deeply with the cause. As you say, stewardship should come BEFORE the gift comes in the door, not after. Great post – shared on Google +

Joe Garecht November 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Thanks Heather. Glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks also for the share. It’s amazing how well donors respond when we just treat them like people – people with thoughts, ideas, criticisms and compliments. Keep up the good work!


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