donor stewardshipDonor stewardship is critical if you want to be able to keep your current donors giving (and who doesn’t?).

A current donor is 5 times more likely to give than someone who hasn’t given. Most business people know that it’s cheaper to keep a current customer than to get a new one, and it’s the same in nonprofit fundraising.

If your idea of donor stewardship is to send a mediocre newsletter containing an ask for more money, then you’ll eventually have NO donor relationships or donors. No one likes the charity who shows up every time with their hand out. We have to balance the asking with sharing and communication.

Good donor stewardship is about treating people like the valuable resource they are. It’s important no matter how big or small your organization is to treat every donor as if they are your most important one. When you do that well, your donors will feel really good about supporting your nonprofit’s work.

You have 3 main goals with donor stewardship:

1. Retain. Keep donors as long as you can, even if they only make 1 gift during the year. Remember, it’s easier to keep current donors giving than to go get new ones.

2. Upgrade. Encourage them to increase the amount they give. There are two ways to raise more money: get new donors and get more money from the donors you already have. Most  people will naturally upgrade if they trust you, feel connected to your work, and feel inspired to support you.

3. Refer. Encourage them to bring other donors to you. Word of mouth is usually the best marketing for any nonprofit or business. If your current donors are telling their friends about their great experience with you, you’ll grow your donor base faster and more cost-effectively.

The better job you do with these 3 goals, the more successful you’ll be in raising money.

So what exactly IS stewardship?

A steward is someone who has been entrusted with the resources of others.

Your donors give you money and it’s your job to use it wisely. Do this well, and fundraising gets easier, because you’ll build trust with your donors.

Here are 7 principles of good donor stewardship.

1. Donor stewardship is a process, not a one-time activity. You’re not done when the thank-you letter goes in the mail. You have to find ways to keep people in the know about what their gift is doing, and you need individual plans for major donors.

2. Donor stewardship requires communication. When a donor calls or emails, they should be your top priority – don’t make them wait. The more you talk and communicate with them, the healthier the relationship is.

3. Donor stewardship requires transparency. Tell them specifically what you’re doing with their gift. How is their donation making a difference? Are lives being changed? They want to know and it helps them feel good about their decision to give to you.

4. The best donors give more than just money. Value their time, their stuff, and their friends, too. They have way more to bring to the table than just financial contributions.

5. Keep the process fresh and exciting. Don’t let donors get bored. Don’t send the same dull or tired letters or newsletters. Surprise and enchant them. Give them something to talk to their friends and coworkers about.

6. Recognition is crucial.  Recognize them for the part they’re playing. Tell them how they’re the hero in your work. And honor their request if they’d like to remain anonymous.

7. Solicit sparingly, but do solicit. Be sure to share good stories and updates with them frequently so you’re not always asking. Asking 2-4 times per year is usually enough, but your mileage may vary, so do what works for your nonprofit.

Now, when the rubber meets the road, what does good stewardship look like? And does it have to take up all your time?

Here are 8 ways to steward your donors in very manageable ways.

1. Newsletters (either print or email). Staying in touch with donors is critical and an engaging donor newsletter is a great way to do that. Include great content that warms their heart and is relevant to them.

2. Website. It must be interesting and regularly updated. You might include photos and video of your programs in action so donors can see what their gift is making possible.

3. Non-ask event. Also called a stewardship event, this can be a great way to share with lots of donors at once and give them an update on what’s happening in your programs.

4. Breakfast or lunch meetings. Get face-to-face with your donors and tell them what’s happening. Answer their questions and thank them personally.

5. Personal phone calls. Call them to thank them and give them an update. If they’re busy or not in your geographic area, a phone call can be a great way to steward a donor.

6. Participatory event. Invite them to get involved in an event that benefits your nonprofit, like a walk-a-thon or restaurant week. These low-risk, low-entry events can be a great way for them to take the next step with you.

7. Giving clubs.  Add them to your giving club to offer them recognition for their gift. For example, anyone who gives $1,000 or more automatically becomes part of the “President’s Club” and receives special invitations throughout the year to VIP events and activities. Make sure that whatever you promise you can easily deliver! You don’t want to disappoint donors.

8. Branded Giveaways. It might be appropriate to put your logo on an item and give to your donors. For some nonprofits, a lapel pin with the organization’s logo can make a nice gift.

The most important thing is to help your donor feel like part of the team. Set aside an hour a day to work on donor stewardship activities, and watch your fundraising soar!