Donor Stewardship 101 →

Donor stewardship is how you can manage and care for donors in order to build lasting relationships and improve donor retention. Keeping donors coming back leads to increased donations over time!

Stewardship can be easy, but it requires effort and planning. A successful stewardship plan includes various types of outreach to let donors know that you value their support and to encourage them to remain engaged with your work. Emails are a good way to remain in passive communication, while the occasional phone call can reinforce a strong relationship. We’ve also created a 1:1 Prospect Meeting guide which has additional tips on relationship building!

An easy way to approach stewardship is to split it into two phases:

  1. Acknowledgement of gift

  2. Relationship building

Acknowledgement of Gift

This first part of stewardship is easy: saying thank you. Depending on the size of the gift and your group’s capacity, this can be an email, handwritten letter, or phone call. Although ActBlue automatically sends a standard acknowledgement email for each donation, we encourage additional personalized outreach to start building a relationship with the donor.

The sample stewardship matrix below illustrates gift acknowledgement tactics within various donor tiers. You should customize these tiers based on the levels of donation that are typical for your group.

Small or Low Frequency Donors Mid-Level or Consistent Donors High-Level Donors or Major Prospects
Gift amount < $100 $100 - $499 $500+
Thank you email X
Handwritten thank you note X X
Phone Call X

Relationship Building

The more important part of stewardship, and of course the more difficult part, is building lasting relationships. In addition to presenting the impact of your group, you will need to build a genuine trust with your donors. As with all relationships, this takes time and cannot be overlooked!

You should vary what you talk to your donors about. If you’re always making a fundraising ask, then you’re building a relationship that’s contingent on donations and will feel transactional to the donors. Give other information, such as upcoming events or actions, volunteer information, or relevant stories. This can be shared through email updates about your work, in-person visits, and/or invitations to special events. Don’t forget to spend time getting to know your donors and understand what brings them to this work. Remember to engage donors at ALL levels to move them into higher tiers.

The sample stewardship matrix below illustrates relationship building tactics within various donor tiers.

Small or Low Frequency Donors Mid-Level or Consistent Donors High-Level Donors or Major Prospects
Gift amount < $100 $100 - $499 $500+
Monthly update email/newsletter X X X
Occasional phone update X X
In-person visit X
Stewardship event invite X

Track and Evaluate

In the end, stewardship is all about contacting donors at the right time and in the right way. To do this effectively, you need to know your donors. However, remembering important details about each donor gets more and more difficult as you build your donor base. Create a simple database (using excel or google sheets) to keep track of each donor’s contact details and preferences, as well as important interactions (such as thank you letters, meetings, etc). Having this information handy will help you build strong relationships!

You will occasionally want to evaluate your donor stewardship strategy and make changes/improvements as needed. Some outreach strategies may not work for every group, so be open to trying new things to show your appreciation!