Welcome back to the major gifts challenge. If you’re unfamiliar with the Challenge, check out the introductory video here.
Fundraising is a cycle. It doesn’t stop after one gift. Each step is important.
Stewardship is the fourth and final stage of the fundraising cycle. It’s the super-important follow up work after a gift is made.
We delved into stewardship basics much earlier in the Challenge. If you’d like a refresher, you can find that video here.
2 Critical Components of Stewardship
Today, we’re looking at stewardship again to highlight its two most critical components.
1. Making sure donors FEEL thanked.
It’s important to thank your donors, but it’s even more important to make sure they FEEL thanked.
Did you catch that distinction? There’s a big difference between thanking your donors and them feeling thanked.
Of course you can send a thank you letter, but that doesn’t mean your donor feels thanked.
Your carefully handwritten note to donors will mean the world to some who put it up on their fridge, and others will toss it immediately into the recycling bin.
To ensure you are thanking your major donors in the most heartfelt and most appreciated way, ask them. Ask them the most meaningful way they’ve been thanked — either professionally or personally. Ask if they would appreciate a plaque, a public display of affection, or a phone call from a board member. They will let you know what would be meaningful to them.
2. Telling donors how their gift was used.
The second critical aspect of stewardship is letting donors know how their gift was used. They need to understand how they personally made a real difference.
In other words, they want to know how their money was used. It’s up to you to tell them and make them feel good.
If you are able to accomplish these two important pieces of the fundraising process, your chances of getting another gift increase significantly.
In my recent interview with Kim Klein, Kim suggested something very important:
You’re not looking for donations, you’re looking for donors.
That’s a profound statement. It’s important to think about the 2nd, 3rd, and even 10th gift that this person will make. That’s why stewardship is so important.
Successful Stewardship Requires a Plan
For better or worse, Not all donors can, or should be treated the same.
Do you have the resources, time and capacity to handwrite a note to every single donor? What about calling to say thank you? Will each donor get a plaque? Or will he or she be thanked in person?
You need a stewardship plan for major donors and for all donors. Your stewardship plan will outline who will do the thanking, when, and for whom.
Sample Stewardship Plan
Your plan could look like this:
- Board members will make thank you calls to all first time donors and donors over $1,000, within one week of a gift being made.
- The executive director will write handwritten notes to all first time donors and those who give gifts of $500 or more.
- An administrative assistant will generate form thank you letters within one week of receiving all gifts. And, the development director will add personal notes.
- The development director is responsible for letting donors at all levels know how their gift was used. It will be in a different format for all donors. Donors of $100 or less will be told in the newsletter and online. Major donors will be told in person.
If you’ve been following the Challenge closely from the start, then you should’ve already developed a basic stewardship plan along with some materials to carry out that plan.
But now that you’re in the thick of soliciting major gifts, it’s time to take a second look at your plan and put it to work.
Challenge Yourself Action Item
Step 1: Create or update your stewardship plan.
Determine how you will thank your major donors (and those who may become major donors in the future … that’s all your donors, by the way.) Use the sample plan I suggested earlier as a base for a stewardship plan that can work for your organization.
Step 2: Ensure your donors FEEL thanked.
Take steps to make sure your stewardship plan includes ways to tell donors how their gift was used and what sort of impact it had. And remember to ask them how they would feel most thanked.
Once you begin thanking your donors in impactful ways — the ways that are most meaningful to them — you’ll be well on your way to securing future major gifts.
Going Further with Major Gifts
I offer more details on how to create a successful stewardship plan that’s tailored to your nonprofit — a plan that ensures your donors will keep giving long into the future — check them out in Mastering Major Gifts. In this 7-week course, there’s an entire module devoted exclusively to stewardship.
You’ll learn how to create an effective stewardship plan, as well as how to engage your board members in helping with stewardship.
Act, Comment and Participate
Now it’s your turn to share your progress with the Major Gifts Challenge. How do you ensure your donors FEEL thanked? And how do you let them know how their gift was used?
Share your stories in the comments so everyone can benefit from your experience.