The Art of Major Donor Stewardship

Nick Fitz
May 13, 2024
5 min read
Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read

The Art of Major Donor Stewardship

In nonprofit fundraising, major gifts are the game-changers. They fund big projects. They boost budgets. They provide financial stability.

But securing them? It's not just about making a compelling ask. It's about stewardship that is effective, thoughtful and strategic. Donor stewardship is the act of nurturing relationships with donors that eventually leads to donations. Stewardship is particularly important for major donors, who need to trust the organization and fundraiser in order to commit to a major gift. 

Dive into this guide to master the art of major gift donor stewardship. We’ll cover why stewardship of major donors matters, key differences for major donor stewardship, and best practices to set you up for success. 

The Importance of Stewardship for Major Donors

Stewardship is about relationships: building them, maintaining them, recognizing contributions, and making donors feel valued.

Effective stewardship is crucial for securing major gifts. Here's why:

Donor Retention

Appreciated donors are loyal donors. Show gratitude, demonstrate impact, and they'll continue to support your cause.

The annual average donor retention rate is around 45%. But 70% of all first-time donors to a nonprofit organization will not make a second gift according to Nonprofit Pro.

Stewardship is your opportunity to build relationships with donors, keep them informed of your cause, and share why their support is needed.  

Donor Upgrading

Good stewardship inspires donors to give more.

Over five years, major gifts of more than $1,000 grew to 85% of the revenue at the average nonprofit according to 360 MatchPro

Keep donors engaged and show them the difference they make. They'll increase their giving.


Satisfied donors can introduce you to their networks. Provide a positive giving experience and your donors become advocates, opening doors to relationships with other high-potential donors. This builds the community that supports your organization, creating a foundation for long-lasting impact. 

Two hands reaching towards each other, symbolizing the connection and mutual respect in major gift donor stewardship.

Major Donor Stewardship vs. Annual Donor Stewardship

While the core principles of stewardship are the same for major donors and annual donors, the depth and personalization efforts should be greater with major donors. You need to invest time and care into a relationship with a major donor in order to reap the rewards of a major gift. 

Level of engagement: Major donors require a higher level of engagement, such as handwritten notes, phone calls, in-person meetings, and exclusive invitations to events or programs. 

Focus on impact: Major donors often have specific philanthropic interests. Stewardship efforts should showcase the impact their gift has on that particular area. Provide data, success stories, and testimonials that directly connect their contribution to a tangible outcome.

Tailor the donation request: Stewardship conversations become opportunities to discuss future giving opportunities. Understand major donors’ philanthropic goals and tailor your requests to align with their interests. This might involve proposing multi-year commitments or exploring planned giving options.


Learn How AI Can Enhance Major Donor Stewardship

AI can help nonprofit fundraisers streamline their workflows and learn more about their major donors.

AI and Major Gift Fundraising Explained


5 Strategies for Effective Major Gift Donor Stewardship

How do you steward your major gift donors effectively? Here are some strategies:

1. Personalize Your Communication

Tailor your communication to donors’ interests and their reasons for giving. 

Emphasize gratitude in every interaction and make major donors feel like partners. No one wants to feel like they’re just a checkbook. Invite major donors to exclusive events and board meetings. Connect them to your cause and show them how your organization is making an impact. 

2. Provide Regular Updates

Keep your donors informed. Share stories, photos, and updates. 

Email communications sent on a regular basis are most likely to encourage repeat donations from donors, 48% of donors say that regular email communications are most likely to keep them engaged according to 360 MatchPro.

Provide major donors with updates on how you use their donations, and encourage them to give throughout the year.

3. Invest in Relationship Building

Relationships are the cornerstone of major donor stewardship. Without a relationship and a foundation of trust between yourself and the major donor, it is very unlikely that the donor will be giving to your organization. 

Remember that major donors are people with families, hobbies, and careers. Check in on them at regular intervals, not to ask for donations but to build a relationship beyond donation requests. 

4. Show Transparency and Accountability

Donors want to understand how their gifts are being utilized, so share with major donors where and how their donations will be leveraged. Provide updates on the projects they funded and the results you’re seeing from these efforts. Offer major donors opportunities for site visits, share annual reports, and other ways to show how their donations are leading to impact. 

5. Recognize Their Contributions

Recognition can be a simple thank you note or public acknowledgment at an event.

Match the level of recognition to the donor's preferences. Employ emotion and emphasize your relationships with donors before, during, and after each gift is made.

Major Donor Stewardship With Momentum

Major gift donor stewardship is both an art and a science. It requires understanding your donors, a strategic approach, and genuine relationships.

With effective stewardship, you can not only secure major gifts but build a community for your organization. To help nonprofit professionals strengthen relationships with major donors and build their donor community, we created Momentum.

Momentum is an AI Donor Engagement platform that enables major gift fundraisers to streamline their workflow and develop stronger relationships with donors. By offering an AI Fundraising Assistant, that minimizes manual tasks, such as drafting emails, copying and pasting information into your CRM, and updating donor plans, Momentum saves nonprofits time so that fundraisers can focus on the projects that truly drive impact.

Explore Momentum today.

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