Major Donor Stewardship Vs. Crowdfunding: Here’s What You Need To Know

Not all donors are alike. So if you want to develop a major donor strategy, separating major donor stewardship from crowdfunding can give you a head start.


Major donors can be impactful supporters of organizations and typically make up an overwhelming majority of a nonprofit’s revenue. If you are considering starting a major donor program, there are a few core fundraising practices that could help you get started. These practices include building your strategy, growing your network, telling your story, and cultivating your relationships with donors. But implementing these practices can differ depending on your donor audience.

Major donor acquisition and stewardship entail different methods than a crowdfunding campaign. Here’s a breakdown of the main differences:

    1. Building your strategy


    Involves creativity and experimentation to cast a wide net

    Major donor stewardship:

    Involves investing time and staff resources to offer personalized care

    Major donors are the individuals who have given or could give the largest donations to your organization. What qualifies as a major donor can vary, so it is important to identify what that major donor level is for your organization. A simple way to do this is to compile a list of your top donations over the past year and average the top five to 10. Once you find this number, determine if you can currently sustain a major giving program.

    Think about whether you have the staff or volunteer capacity to identify and research donors of this size, personalize your outreach efforts, invite them to further engage in your work, and provide regular updates. Major donor stewardship takes personalized care—an important difference from more general crowdfunding—so ensuring your organization has the capacity to do it is key.

    2. Growing your network


    Focuses on finding new donors and using peer-to-peer fundraising to expand your reach

    Major donor stewardship:

    Focuses on a limited list of individuals who are passionate about your work and capable of giving at your highest levels

    Once you have determined what major donor levels are for your organization and confirmed you can sustain a major giving program, you can start your acquisition. Unlike crowdfunding, the major donor identification process is more narrowly focused.

    Instead of reaching out to your full email list, you want to identify a smaller list of donors who can give at higher levels. Whether that includes past major donors, donors you are trying to move up in giving sizes, or brand new donors, the research process is equally important. Keep track of when they gave last (if at all), how they gave, what drew them into the work, what they care about, and other key pieces of information that will assist in your outreach efforts.

    3. Telling your story


    Uses the most compelling stories about your work that could appeal to a broad audience

    Major donor stewardship:

    Uses personalized outreach that resonates with donors and shows them how they’re individually making an impact

    Once you have a list of the major donors you plan to reach out to, determine the best method to contact them. While social media posts or general newsletter sends are great crowdfunding tools, they are not the best for sustaining your major givers. Those who are giving at larger levels give because they care about your work and want to feel like they are contributing meaningfully.

    The more you know about your major donors, the more you can personalize your outreach and connect their gifts’ impact to their values. To further personalize outreach, consider phone calls, invites to a video chat, or individual letters. Share with these donors how their gifts will make a difference for your organization, specifically highlighting the programming and areas of your work that they deeply care about.

    4. Cultivating your relationships


    Relies on thank-you notes and general updates to keep donors engaged

    Major donor stewardship:

    Relies on tailored share-outs and interactions that go beyond the ask

    Major donor stewardship does not end once you receive the gift—maintaining those relationships helps strengthen your major giving program. A generic thank-you email might be a sustainable way to show appreciation to donors who give during crowdfunding efforts, but make sure you personally thank your major donors for their contributions and showcase how their donations will make an impact.

    You should also stay connected to these donors by continuing to report out in ways that are meaningful to them. Consider sharing regular updates, inviting them to events, and/or checking in occasionally with a call or email. Make sure that you’re not only reaching out with an ask—no one wants to feel like an ATM. Sharing general updates from your organization is a great way to show major donors how they are deeply connected to your work and build relationships now—and for the future.

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