3 Donor Stewardship Strategies To Inspire Donor Loyalty

On average, sustaining donors contribute almost twice as much as a one-time donor will. But more than half of the people who support a nonprofit don’t make a second donation. Follow these steps to build a strong donor stewardship plan that will deepen your relationship with your supporters.


Donations help chart the course to your nonprofit’s goals, funding everything from community programs that serve your beneficiaries to gift management technology. Your nonprofit may occasionally acquire new donors to make headway toward your objectives, but do you have any strategies in place to effectively steward current donors to give larger and more frequent gifts?

If you’re like most nonprofits, you likely struggle to encourage recurring giving. In fact, the average donor retention rate is 42.6%, indicating that more than half of donors that give to your nonprofit for the first time never return to contribute to your cause again. This is especially concerning given that recurring donors tend to give 42% more per year than one-time donors.

So, how can your nonprofit take advantage of recurring donors’ generosity and inspire repeat giving at your organization?

The answer is with a strong donor stewardship plan. Donor stewardship refers to systematic efforts to deepen relationships with supporters over time. In this guide, we’ll go over the top donor stewardship strategies to help your supporters feel valued and encourage their ongoing participation in your fundraising campaigns.

1. Define your stewardship goals

Just like with any fundraising strategy, it’s important that you sit down with your team and formulate goals to guide your stewardship efforts. Your goals should follow the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based) model to foster accountability and increase the likelihood of hitting your objectives.

Let’s take a look at what a SMART goal for donor stewardship might look like:

  • Specific: Our nonprofit aims to increase the donor retention rate among first-time donors in the next fiscal year.
  • Measurable: We’ll set out to achieve a donor retention rate of 60% by the end of the fiscal year, up from the current rate of 45%.
  • Achievable: In the last fiscal year, we increased our donation retention rate by 5% by sending out personalized thank-you notes to all of our supporters immediately after they gave. By leading a more robust stewardship strategy with frequent communications and engagement initiatives, it is within our capacity to raise our retention rate by an additional 15%.
  • Relevant: Improving donor retention will help secure our financial status, making it easier to make our strategic plan a reality.
  • Time-based: We will begin implementing our renewed donor stewardship strategy within the first quarter of the fiscal year and track progress quarterly to meet the goal by the year’s end.

You might also frame your SMART goals around the following metrics:

  • Increasing the number of mid-level donors you hope to upgrade to major donors
  • Growing the number of total monthly donors
  • Increasing the average gift size for recurring donors

If you’re still not sure what goals to set, start by looking at your past performance and identifying room for improvement in your current donor stewardship approach. This will give you a basis for tactical ways you can prioritize recurring giving at your organization.

2. Segment your donors

Depending on the size of your nonprofit, it might be nearly impossible to connect with each of your donors one-on-one. To save your team time and increase the effectiveness of your stewardship communications, segment your supporters into groups based on shared characteristics. This way, you can target multiple supporters at once with relevant messaging that resonates with their interests and deepens your relationships.

Kwala’s guide to donor communications recommends segmenting your donors by:

  • Donation amount, frequency, and recency: This information will help you create reasonable donation requests and time your appeals just right so you can inspire increased giving.
  • Engagement level: Your donors might be involved in your organization in other ways, such as peer-to-peer fundraising or volunteering. It can be helpful to group supporters by their engagement level so you can offer different ways to deepen their impact that they’re likely to act on.
  • Communication preference: Some of your supporters might want to hear from your nonprofit by text, email and social media, while others only prefer email. Send a survey out to donors after they give for the first time that asks for their communication preferences so you can reach them only in the ways that they’d like, keeping your relationship positive.
  • Demographics: Demographic information, such as age and location, might come in handy as you launch your stewardship activities. Consider grouping supporters by these factors so you can better tailor your communications to their interests and backgrounds.

3. Create a donor stewardship matrix

A donor stewardship matrix maps out the different stewardship activities you’ll lead for various giving levels. For instance, you should focus on sending thank-you messages to all of your donors right after they give, but you might reserve handwritten thank-you letters and phone calls for your mid-level and major donors. High-impact activities should match up with high-impact appreciation tactics so you can maximize the use of your team’s time and resources.

To help you brainstorm activities that will inspire your supporters, Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s guide to donor stewardship recommends including these additional strategies in your plan:

  • Shouting out donors in your weekly newsletter
  • Sending a new-donor welcome packet
  • Inviting major donors to lunch or a tour of your facility
  • Adding donors of a certain giving level to an exclusive donor club

As you plan your stewardship activities, it can also be helpful to pinpoint the team members that will be responsible for executing them, such as your staff or board. This will help to unify your entire team around your stewardship goals and create a sense of shared purpose in bolstering your fundraising efforts.

Donor stewardship is an ongoing process that is critical to your overall fundraising success. As you lead your different activities, consider reaching out to supporters and asking for their feedback. This will point you to ways to improve your stewardship strategy and ensure your communications and relationship-building efforts engage and excite your audience.

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