Donor Stewardship doesn’t have to be expensive and time intensive. While you should invest time and energy in donor stewardship, we understand that small nonprofits may struggle to have the capacity to create and sustain a comprehensive donor stewardship strategy.
However, donor stewardship is so important and should not be dismissed or overlooked. It IS vital to your organization’s long term sustainability, and should be treated as such. Donor stewardship can take many forms, and there are lots of creative and inexpensive ways to engage and cultivate relationships with your donors, even for the smallest nonprofit.
Here are just a couple ideas to get you brainstorming:
Coffee with the Executive Director or Board of Directors
Once or twice a year, invite donors to a morning meeting with your Executive Director or a couple board members. Make it short- between 30 minutes or an hour max and make sure it is pretty informal. This small get together gives your leadership the opportunity to give an update on your organization and your services, let yours supporters know where the organization is going and your current focus, and allows your donors to ask questions. This will help build the personal relationships between your executive leadership and your supporters, and in turn make them feel heard and involved.
Depending on the size of your organization, this may be better suited as an invitation only event for higher level donors. It is up to you to make the event what your organization and your donors need it to be. (Refer to your donor data if you aren’t sure. Break it up by donation level and/or relationship length, for example.)
And if you’re particularly tech savvy, consider hosting a virtual coffee event! This will allow supporters from anywhere to tune in to listen to your leadership give an update and answer questions.
Involve Them in (Some) Decision Making
Whether it is naming an event or a conference room, donors love to be involved in some of the decision making that happens within the organization! Now, we are not asking you to involve all your donors in high-level decision making, but creating opportunities for donors of all levels to vote for the name of your new animal mascot or what kind of Fall Even you will host, this form of engagement can help to cultivate long-lasting relationships and can give your donors a sense of ownership and loyalty to your organization.
One of our favorite examples of this that we have seen is from a small animal rescue nonprofit. They invited their donors to name the dogs and cats that were available for adoption, and let them know when the animal they named was adopted and shared a little information about the “adopted family.”
The engagement and sense of pride and ownership in the cause that donors felt was amazing, and this form of stewardship was sustainable and free (except for a small amount of staff time).
Make It Personal & Speak Their Language
“I love your mission, I am going to keep donating annually, but for the love of God please stop sending me things.” Yes, that is a real response from a donor. And we think that it’s pretty awesome that the donor knew what kind of stewardship they wanted from the organization (read: almost none), and asked for that relationship. We hope the organization listened to them, because that is real donor stewardship.
Cultivating donor relationships is absolutely not a one-size-fits-all. Why? Because donors are people and people are different. We highly recommend that organizations get into the habit of asking donors how they’d like to be recognized and what kind of communications they’d like to receive. Some donors love to be publicly recognized, while others want to keep their donations quiet. Others love a weekly email from the organization, and some people (like above) really just want to be left alone.
Some good details to keep track of include: form of communication (email, mail, phone); recognition style; amount of communication requested; any specific programs/services they are interested in; etc.
Basically what we are trying to say here is: pay attention & know your donors.