How to Really Rock Donor Stewardship

The latest Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals shows that for every 100 new donors a fundraiser recruited, 102 existing donors walked out.

That kind of retention definitely makes it challenging to build a loyal base of supporters for your cause.

Donor retention is a big challenge for many organizations, but a strong stewardship strategy can help. Donors want to know how you spent their money and that their contribution made a difference.

If you can show your supporters the impact they have in clear and concrete terms, they’ll be more likely to give again.

This means that your work isn’t over once you’ve asked for a donation and a donor makes a gift! Keep the love alive by planning a great donor communication program to strengthen your connection with your supporters.

Here are six ways to live happily ever after with your donors:

1. Thank quickly and graciously.

Donor thank yous are not just good manners, they’re a mandatory part of fundraising. Yes, instantly send out tax receipts, but also send separate communications to thank your donors profusely for their generosity.  Send a thank you email within 24-48 hours of a gift. Take the extra step to follow up with another thank you (via email, phone, or direct mail) a week or two later. Show your appreciation and remind your donors of the impact their gift will have.

2. Make donors feel special.

Personalize your acknowledgements to include details that are relevant to each donor. Your thank you letters should evoke the emotions that moved them to give. Your job is to foster a personal bond between your donor and your work. Mention the specific programs supported by the donor or reference how they became involved with your cause.

Don’t be afraid to get creative. Ineffective thank you notes are vague, impersonal, and boring. Make sure you infuse your donor communications with your nonprofit’s unique personality. These unique thank yous will stand out and keep your donor feeling great about your organization.

3. Keep in touch.

Regularly update your donors on the progress of your work and reinforce how their donations are making a difference. Send timely impact reports and think about creating a special version of your organization’s newsletter just for donors. Your donor newsletter could include special “donor-only” information and perks, like early access to event tickets, special messages from beneficiaries and staff, or behind-the-scenes views of your work.

Introduce new donors to all your organization has to offer with a welcome series. A welcome series is a sequence of two to three simple, personal email messages (a plus is if you can automate them!) that a donor receives over the course of their first few weeks after their initial gift.

It educates them about your organization, its programs, and ways to get involved and stay connected. If executed thoughtfully, a welcome series can help you give new donor relationships the personal attention they need without a huge resource commitment.

Also, be sure to give donors control over how and how often they get updates. Some donors may want email-only updates each month, while others will still want to get a hard copy of your annual report.

4. Celebrate your donors.

You work couldn’t happen without your donors. Find ways to recognize and celebrate them on your website, in your newsletters, and on social media. Consider profiling donors in different segments to tell the stories of the people who have made a commitment to support your work. Most donors will love to share their passion for your cause and these stories will help you connect with new donors.

Keep in mind, some donors may opt out of public recognition. As tough as it may be to resist, the best way to keep these donors happy is to respect their wish for privacy.

5. Extend an invitation.

The next invitation your donors receive from you shouldn’t be another ask. No one wants to feel like an ATM! Leave the door open for your donors to do more — such as volunteer, attend an event, or help you spread the word about your cause through social media or through in-person word of mouth.

Most supporters are happy to help in other ways, they just need to know what you need. Make them feel like they’re part of the team and include these opportunities in your newsletters and other donor outreach.

6. Ask for feedback.

Your donor communication should be a two-way street. Your supporters are a valuable source of insight and inspiration. Think of your stewardship efforts as an ongoing conversation. Make it easy for donors to share their comments and suggestions through email, phone, and surveys. Take note of indirect feedback such as unsubscribe requests to better understand what your donors want to hear from you.

Think of your donor stewardship strategy as an insurance plan that will help you succeed.

When nonprofits thank early and often and keep the communication going, they reap the benefits of happy, loyal donors who give again and again.

Have any questions or advice we didn’t cover? Share in the comments below! 

About the Author: As Network for Good’s Vice President of Communications and Content, Caryn Stein oversees the development of nonprofit training and fundraising resources.  Network for Good offers nonprofits and corporate partners the online fundraising tools they need to unleash generosity and advance good causes.  For more tips on optimizing your online fundraising approach, check out the free Ultimate Donation Page Course.

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