A current donor is always your best prospect for your next gift.

That's why smart fundraisers are focused on donor retention.

There are a number of things you can do to improve your donor retention. For instance,

All together, it adds up to better donor stewardship.


Stewardship is what happens after a donor makes a gift.

Stewardship is about relationship-building. And that includes how you communicate with each and every donor.

Do it right, and you'll create an army of more loyal donors.

Loyal donors will give you more money, stay with your organization longer, and be your best advocates.


In he book Beyond Fundraising, Kay Sprinkel Grace offers 9 steps to implementing a stewardship program. Let's look at each of these separately.

  1. If you've never adopted a stewardship policy, start by creating one.

    Your stewardship plan will be your guide for how you thank and recognize your donors throughout the year. For instance,

    What kind of thank you letter will you send? Printed or handwritten? When?

    Will you also call the donor to say thank you? If so, which donors will you call? Who will make those calls, and when?

    What kinds of reports or updates will you send? A newsletter? An annual impact report? Will you use email, or print, or a combination? And when will you send them?

  1. Form a stewardship planning task force.

    If #1 seems daunting, remember that neither stewardship nor stewardship planning is your job alone. Involve your board members, other volunteers, even donors to develop your stewardship plan.

    Why involve your donors? Donors want to be heard. Plus, your donors can tell you what they really want (and what they don't).

    Otherwise, staff and board give donors what they think donors want. Or worse, what staff and board want to give them. It's a common fallacy - what nonprofits say to donors versus what donors really want to hear.

    So, bring multiple people - and perspectives - to the planning table.

  2. Establish four or five giving recognition levels.

    Do this by dollar value of the gift. Print a list of all of your donor gifts, and look for the natural "clusters." For instance, you might have donors under $100, $100 to $249, $250 to $499, $500 to $999, and $1,000+.

    You could also segment your donors by their giving behavior. For instance, you want to treat first-time donors differently from renewing donors. And high-dollar donors (your "major donors" would warrant more attention and recognition than your lower-level donors.

  3. Assign names to the giving levels.

    It's your choice, whether this is for internal purposes or something you share externally.

    Your "names" might be as simple as Under $100, $100 to $249, $250 to $499, $500 to $999, and $1,000+.

    Or you might use generic names. Like Donors, Supporters, Patrons, and Benefactors.

    Or you might have mission-focused names. Like the theater company that has Stage Hands, Fans, Front Row, and Producers.

  4. Determine the "benefits" for each level.

    "Benefits" might be as simple as your donor newsletter, a phone call, or a handwritten note. (And yes, a well-written, donor-centered newsletter is a benefit!)

    The benefits might also be more traditional. For instance, a theatre company might give donors discounts on performances. A higher dollar donor might receive a pair of complimentary tickets or a program ad.

  5. Present your plan to the development committee or board for approval.

    Enough said.

  6. Promote your benefits, if applicable.

    Certain benefits (like theater tickets or a program ad) may motivate some donors to increase their level of giving. If that's true for you, promote your benefits to encourage higher giving.

    For instance, you can list the benefits on your website or in your newsletter. You could also share them in sponsorship packages, in grant requests, or during in-person visits.

  7. Monitor your program.

    Track your gifts throughout the year. Look for the relationship between your improved stewardship and recognition practices and how many donors renew and upgrade their gifts.

  8. Review and adjust annually.

    Make adjustments to your stewardship plan, based on donor feedback and your donor retention.


If you want to keep more of your donors, you need to do more for your donors.

A stewardship plan is a great way get started.

It will guide the "who, what, when, and how" of your donor recognition program.

And you already know the "why:" To keep more donors and raise more money.

Make a New (Fiscal) Year's Resolution to do just that.

Photo credit(s): Pixabay

Need help creating a stewardship plan? Or writing better thank you letters, donor newsletters, or impact reports? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

You may also be interested in upcoming training events.