Too often, nonprofits get the gift and then move on, forgetting the most important parts of fundraising.

Acknowledgement and donor stewardship are crucial for building relationships with donors.

Acknowledgement you probably understand.  It’s about thanking donors and recognizing them for their support.  But what is donor stewardship?

First, here are some definitions of a steward:

  • —An administrator for the property of others —
  • A person put in charge of the affairs of others
  • —A person morally responsible for the careful use of money, time, talents or other resources of a community or group

Stewardship is important because it builds trust.

When your donors know that you are using their gift wisely, they’ll be more likely to want to give again. And when you get a reputation for using donations wisely, you’ll attract more donors.

As I see it, there are two key pieces to effective stewardship:  1, you have to do it and 2, you have to communicate it to your donors.

The first piece is simple – make sure that the donor’s money is spent appropriately and wisely.  Make sure their gift is set to work as it was intended when it was given.

The second piece requires you to let your donors know that their gift was used wisely and had the desired impact.

How do you do that?

A simple update email or letter can accomplish it, or you can include something in a print or email newsletter.

The important thing is that you are letting your donors know how their gift is being used and you’re connecting with them.  You’re respecting your donors and pulling them closer to your organization.

Your donors are not ATM machines.  They want to be a part of the work your organization is doing.  So, treat them as partners.

Be a good steward of their gifts and build relationships with your donors.  You’ll be glad you did!

  1. Such an obvious point, but such an important reminder, Sandy. I can’t tell you the number of causes that I give to and don’t get the acknowledgment until they hit me up for the next donation. Donors want to feel they are part of your effort–not just at campaign time.

  2. Sandy, I always get wonderful reminders from your posts. I remember when I took a photo back to a graphic artist who had donated a logo to a group of young people in Africa who had accomplished a goal in a class they took. You should have seen the face of the artist that made the donation. He said, “My work is in Africa! Thank you for letting me know where it went.” People DO need to know. Thanks for this post

  3. I love this blog post. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve donated money only to be inundated with more requests for MORE money and I’ve never been thanked for the first gift. Or told how it was used.
    Sue Painter

    • Sue, this is EXACTLY why I preach about thanking and stewarding donors! It’s no fun to be the donor when all the nonprofit wants is more money, more money, more money.


  4. Wow. This is a powerful post Sandy. In the 21st Century, it is indeed about Impact. What you tell us about stewardship is the very reason that UW of America moved to the Community Investment Model; asking each community served what is most important to achieve, then supporting the efforts to make the specific impact. This is actually a model that all organizations should follow … just my opinion.

  5. Sandy,I want to take what Jeff says about us being in the 21st century just a bit further. With all the technology available to us these days about tracking donors and gifts, etc., let’s don’t forget to just plain be polite! Thanking someone for anything is a must – I’m teaching my 3 year old that lesson every day. If he can learn it, anyone can. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Sandy, Thanks for the great reminder for organizations of all sizes. Stewardship takes a plan and people to implement it. With my clients and coaching groups I often suggest engaging the board, former board and other donors in stewardship practices. Sharing the “load” often deepens the connection on both sides.

  7. Excellent advice, Sandy. I think stewardship is one of the top responsibilities of any nonprofit organization. People love to give to causes that they can feel a part of and by being a good steward and communicating with the donor as to what is happening and where the money is being used, will always encourage the donor to give again, and maybe even a bigger gift!

  8. As others have said, being polite goes along way. I will also add a bit to your advice to give an update in a simple email or letter. I encourage people to use their special events to remind donors how their gifts are being used. A few well-planned moments on a microphone during a special event can be a great time to share the story of your organization’s stewardship.

  9. Sandy, I remember the impact a simple thank you letter had on a class I was teaching several years ago. The children had collected money to buy a goat for a family in a developing country, and they were visibly moved when we received a response acknowledging their gift and the impact they were having on the world. It’s all about feeling connected!

  10. Great post Sandy. I love that you put make sure the donor’s money is spent wisely as number one. Too many nonprofits seem to think that sending a donor a thank you is the only step in good stewardship.

    • You’re right Jason. I’m doing a webinar series later this month on Donor Acknowledgement and stewardship. It’s that important.


  11. Melanie McGhee says:

    What’s provocative for me about this is how quickly gifts can slide off the radar of the receiver, but not the giver. Thanks for yet another great post and helping us all remember who to create a more civilized and kind world!

  12. Hi Sandy,
    Donors WANT to hear how their donations are making a difference. This type of positive communication not only keeps the donor informed, it also encourages future donations.

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