How to Craft a Stellar Donor Stewardship Plan

July 3, 2024
5 min read
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read

The donor retention rate for nonprofit organizations averages between 40% and 45%. That means that more than half of one-time donors are not returning to give again. Why? Because many organizations are focused on donor acquisition rather than retention and stewardship.

To help nonprofits retain donors, increase recurring donations, and have planned, sustainable revenue, organizations need to have a donor stewardship plan in place. Learn how to develop a donor stewardship plan that keeps donors invested and engaged with your organization.

Stewarding donors

What is donor stewardship?

Donor stewardship is the act of fostering a relationship with a donor after they have given their first donation. It is the foundation for long-lasting relationships with your supporters and goes beyond simply saying "thank you" for donations. Instead, it's about nurturing a sense of connection and ensuring your donors feel valued and informed about the impact of their contributions.

Key elements of a donor stewardship plan

There are three main pillars for donor stewardship: thanking donors for their support, regularly updating donors on your organization, and involving donors in your mission. By intertwining these three themes in your donor communications, you’re on your way to a solid stewardship foundation.

Expressing Gratitude

While donor stewardship is more than just a thank you, thank you messages are a critical part of a donor stewardship plan. Prompt and personalized thank you messages show that nonprofits are appreciative of donor gifts.

Consider going the extra mile with thank you messages for major donors. This could mean a handwritten note and a thank you call, taking the donor out to lunch or selecting them as a VIP attendee for your next event.

Keeping Donors Informed

Donors want to know how their donations are being put to use. Provide regular updates via email, direct mail, and social media to keep your donor community engaged. This also keeps your organization top of mind throughout the year.

Impacts reports are another important donor stewardship communication that can highlight the organization’s efforts and progress toward its goals. Since most impact reports are sent annually, more frequent updates are important to stay connected with your community.

Identify a success story quarterly that can be sent to your community as a regular reminder of your organization’s impact on the cause you serve.

Engaging Donors in Your Mission

Give donors multiple avenues to stay engaged. This could be through opportunities for deeper involvement such as volunteer programs, committees, or events.

Or, for a less-time intensive option, ask donors to engage through social media by following your organization’s account, reposting content, and engaging with your organization’s social community.

Donor stewardship plan

Donor Stewardship Plan Examples

With those key elements in mind, here are a few ways you can incorporate each theme into your donor stewardship plan. Keep in mind that every organization has different needs, but here are a few examples of donor stewardship plans segmented by giving levels to guide you.

New Donors

For new donors, the name of the game is welcoming them and keeping them interested in your organization.

  • Goal: Welcome them and express gratitude for their first gift.
  • Activities:
    • Immediately: Send a personalized thank-you email.
    • Within 24 hours: Send them a welcome email series introducing the organization, its mission, and impact stories.
    • Monthly: Offer opportunities to learn more, like subscribing to a newsletter or attending an online event.

Mid-Level Donors

Mid-level donors could eventually become major donors. Steward this group with personalized messaging and exclusive invites to foster relationships with this group.

  • Goal: Build a stronger relationship and encourage continued giving.
  • Activities:
    • Immediately: A personalized thank-you email.
    • Within 24 hours: Personalized thank-you calls in addition to written notes.
    • Monthly: Regular email updates with impact reports specific to their supported areas and opportunities to connect with other donors through online forums or social media groups.
    • Quarterly: Invitations to exclusive online content or webinars.

Major Donors

Major donor stewardship is a beast of its own, often requiring dedicated fundraisers or a Major Gift Officer. While this group requires more attention that the others, it is worth the time. CASE recently published data that 80% of funds raised by their members come from roughly 1% of gifts. These major gifts may take a lot of time and effort to come to fruition, but major donor stewardship is worth the time and effort.

  • Goal: Foster deep engagement and cultivate long-term partnerships.
  • Activities:
    • Within 24 hours: Personal visits or calls from leadership expressing gratitude.
    • Monthly: Regular, in-depth reports on the impact of their specific contributions.
    • Quarterly: Invitations to exclusive events, board meetings, or site visits.
    • Annually: Recognition opportunities through donor walls, publications, or awards.

Tips to Develop a Successful Donor Stewardship Plan

1. Set clear goals for your stewardship efforts

Go into your stewardship planning knowing what goals you want to influence. You could look at your stewardship plan from a bird’s eye view and focus on retention rates, hone in on channel-specific goals, such as email engagement rates, or increases in donation amounts from retained donors. Here are a few examples of how to position your goals:

  • Increase retention rates by 10% in six months
  • Improve email open rates by 10% and increase click-through rates to 6% in the next quarter
  • Drive an additional $100,000 in donations by the end of the year

2. Segment your donor base

A donor that gives $20 monthly has a very different relationship to your organization compared to a major donor that gives $100,000 annually. And a donor that gives to one branch of your organization (say a homeless shelter) may be less interested in the part of your organization that operates a food kitchen.

Take a look at the different groups of donors within your contact base and group them by donation amount, interests, location, or other demographic information. This will help you create personalized communications that engage them.

3. Identify resources needed

Is there anything you need to implement your donor stewardship plan? Tools, resources, or budget? Identify what you need to reach your donor stewardship goals. As you’re developing your plan, set realistic expectations to start. While you could craft a plan that requires a new hire to manage, is that realistically within your organization’s budget?

Instead, craft a plan that leverages the resources at your disposal or requires minimal additional budget to get started. Once your plan has proved itself, you have the data you need to request additional resources.


AI-powered tools to help you steward donors

Momentum’s AI-powered engagement platform creates dynamic donor plans to help you manage donor outreach and foster relationships with donors.

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4. Your action plan

It’s going to take time to set up your donor stewardship plan, so create a timeline of when you’d like to have your segments identified, emails drafted, and your full plan implemented. This will help keep you organized and on track toward full implementation.

Timeline for donor stewardship plan

Measuring Your Donor Stewardship Plan

We know that donor stewardship plans help organizations build relationships with donors that lead to both greater and recurring donations. But, it’s helpful to have the numbers to prove it. Every quarter, review your donor stewardship plan and see how it is impacting the goals you identified. Is it increasing donor retention rates, leading to greater major donations, or improving donor engagement?

Use this information to create a case for additional resources that can support your donor stewardship efforts.

Your Go-to Tool for Donor Stewardship Plans

If you’re struggling to create a donor stewardship plan or you don’t have the time to continuously update your plan, follow up with donors, and re-prioritize outreach, explore Momentum. Momentum is an AI-powered donor engagement platform that creates dynamic donor plans for nonprofits.

Momentum sends an email to your inbox daily with one high-priority donor outreach for the day and a pre-drafted email that you can tweak and send your donor’s way. Once you email the donor, Momentum automatically updates the donor plan with your most recent communication and syncs that information to your CRM. Save time and stress less with Momentum.

Explore the platform today.

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