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Donor Stewardship Best Practices Are Important For Board Members To Learn

Donor Stewardship Planning and Best Practices [Template Inside]

Nonprofit boards place a heavy focus on what motivates and attracts donors, and donor stewardship relations and best practices will ensure that donors have enough trust in your organization to make giving a standard practice.

If donors make gifts to your nonprofit once, they’re bound to do it again. If they stop giving at any point, there’s generally a good reason behind it. The key to keeping donations rolling in is to keep donors engaged, be transparent about how you’re using their gifts, and show your appreciation for their generosity. A donor stewardship plan and a template provide the tools to help you meet your donor goals.

What Is Donor Stewardship Planning?

Stewardship is the process of being responsible for something that another group or individual entrusted to your care. Regarding gift-giving, donor stewardship begins immediately after a donor makes a gift to your nonprofit.

Donors give to your nonprofit with the expectation that you’ll use their gifts for the intended purpose. They’re also interested in learning about how their gifts impact the people your nonprofit serves. By being transparent and keeping donors informed, your board cultivates and strengthens the relationship, forming a mutually beneficial relationship that can last for decades or longer.

Donor Relations and Stewardship Are Connected, but Different

At first glance, donor relations and stewardship seem to be the same thing. However, they’re connected but different. The main difference is that stewardship is directly connected to the gift that donors give and donor relations refers to how your nonprofit responds after receiving a gift.

To clarify things further, consider that your nonprofit can’t be stewards over the donor, but it can be stewards over the gifts it receives. Being a good steward over a gift encompasses nurturing and cultivating relationships with donors – something that should be a part of every donor relations strategy.

Another way to look at it is that donor relations are proactive, whereas stewardship is reactive.

What Are Some Donor Stewardship Best Practices?

Your board doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to get started with a donor stewardship plan when you allow donor stewardship best practices to be your guiding light. Donor stewardship best practices were developed from tried-and-true strategies as practiced by other nonprofits for successful donor relationship-building.

We’ve got 10 donor stewardship best practices your nonprofit board can start using today.

  1. Thank your donors immediately and without fail (and don’t include another ask).
  2. Use the same channel for the thank you as the donor used for giving (send an email for online gifts, mail a response for gifts of checks, etc.)
  3. Use the donor’s name, describe how you’ll use the gift, and be sincere in your thanks.
  4. Use donor-centric language, which means you focus on the donor and the impact they make instead of focusing on all that your organization does.
  5. Personalize your interactions by segmenting donors based on categories, gift-giving levels, or other demographics.
  6. Offer donors new opportunities to get involved with your nonprofit to help them get more greatly invested in your mission.
  7. Recognize your donors in some way. Develop a formal plan for how and when to recognize donors and respond consistently. Honor requests from donors who wish to give anonymously.
  8. Report regularly on the impact of your donors’ gifts via annual reports, newsletters, videos, or social media.
  9. Tell donor stories to inspire donors to keep on giving and inspire others to do the same.
  10. Develop a donor stewardship plan that outlines your communication policies, recognition strategies, and engagement processes. Your plan should also identify who is responsible for each donor stewardship interaction.

A donor stewardship plan template makes easy work of creating an effective donor stewardship plan or matrix. Customize it as your board sees fit.

Donor Stewardship Plan Template

Does your nonprofit have a formalized plan for engaging with donors immediately after they make a gift? If not, this template provides an excellent place to jump off to get one created for your board’s review.


InteractionsCommunication TypeTimelineNew DonorsLoyal DonorsMajor DonorsPlanned Giving Donors
AcknowledgementThank you call/email24 hrsXXXX
Thank you call from executive director48 hrsX
 Welcome letter30 daysX
 Impact reportQtrlyXXXX
ReportingUpdate on how gift used1x yrX
Present volunteer opportunitiesQtrlyXXXX
 Annual report listingAnnualXX
 Invite to special donor event30 daysXX
RecognitionNewsletter mentionQtrlyX
 Invite for donor lunchAnnualXXX
 Donor survey2x yrXXXX
 Holiday cardsAnnualXXXX
 Donor storiesQtrly
Regular engagementPresent donor volunteer opportunityQtrlyXXXX
 Donor anniversaryAnnualXXXX
 Gala invitationAnnualXXXX
 Donor tax summariesAnnualXXXX


Donor Stewardship Ideas

As your board develops your donor stewardship plan, board members are sure to start tossing around lots of great donor stewardship ideas, so be sure to take notes. We’re offering a few of our own to spark your imagination.

  • Create a special thank you video. Creating videos is easy using video platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, or Animoto.
  • Create a standardized donor welcome package with lots of engaging information for new donors.
  • Implement a strategy to recognize and honor gifts made “in memory of” someone. Specially designed personalized thank you cards are always appreciated.
  • Post your annual report on your website and share it on your social media platforms to inspire trust and transparency.
  • Create tiers according to the type or amount of gifts and recognize them according to your donor stewardship matrix.
  • Use a customer relationship management system (CRM) to record notes you gather when interacting with donors to help you personalize your interactions.

It costs more time, energy, and money to attract new donors than it does to keep your current donors engaged. With a donor stewardship plan, you can continue building on the donor list you already have.

BoardEffect provides board management software to help you develop your donor stewardship plan and manage all your board management activities. Our secure platform is an excellent tool for collaborating on your donor stewardship management plan.

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