Keep Your Friends Close--And Your Donors Closer: A Quick Guide to Improving Donor Stewardship

Judy Gadiel
September 25, 2019

This blog post was originally published by Giving Tree Associates.

There are several definitions of the word stewardship. My favorite is “the job of taking care of something.” As a professional or volunteer leader in the nonprofit world, isn’t that really what we are tasked to do each and every day? Take care of our organizations, take care of our clients, and take care of our donors. As fundraisers, taking care of our donors is one of our most important goals, and can be one of the most fun.

Stewardship is an ongoing practice, not a one- time event, that occurs after an initial gift is made and before another ask occurs.  It is how we strengthen relationships with our donors and keep them connected to our organization; it is often what motivates them to increase their giving over time.  

Stewardship is required for every donor, no matter the size of the gift, as it is always easier to retain a donor than acquire a new one. There are some non-negotiables that all donors receive, such as a thank you letter, newsletter, annual report and invitation to special events. These are low cost and high efficiency. For your larger donors and board members (remember, they are often your most engaged donors!), you want to customize the stewardship as much as possible with the activities often rising in visibility. This often looks like naming opportunities, private events, giving societies, and exclusive insider access.

Putting a plan down on paper can help you get started; set manageable goals for yourself and schedule time on your calendar. And remember these other tips:  

Incorporate stewardship into what you are already doing Are you having an annual dinner? If so, add a VIP reception for your major donors. Are your students putting on a show? Invite your donors to attend and have a Q & A with the students following the performance? Are you hosting a foundation for a site visit? Invite a board member to join you and share their story. Take a look at what you are already doing and turn it into a stewardship opportunity.

Personalize when possible Send a birthday card; email an article of interest; drop off your newest organizational swag – find ways to customize your stewardship to connect with your major donors in ways that you know are meaningful to them.

Everyone has a role to play Everyone in your organization can and should participate in stewardship; board members can make phone calls; your Executive Director can take a donor to coffee; program staff can relate stories and take pictures for you to share with donors. While it may be your job to coordinate and manage donor relationships, make sure to educate your teams about the roles they can play.

There is a saying that people will support the organization that loves them the most. Stewardship is about showing love to your donor – and remember, if you are not taking care of them, someone else surely will.

Let me know if you’ve got any great stewardship tips to share with my clients by sending me an email to

Check out this freebie for a sample personalized stewardship plan.