Five ways to steward your donors from a safe social distance


Each Thanksgiving, millions of Americans share what they’re thankful for. Perhaps your family even went around the dinner table (or Zoom call) and individually expressed gratitude.

During this holiday season, nonprofit organizations should be doing the same: expressing gratitude. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a more important time to steward your donors.

Though millions of Americans remain out of work and millions more have experienced reductions in pay, donors have stepped up to support charitable causes. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that charitable giving increased by 7.5% during the first half of 2020 when compared to 2019.

However, without proper stewardship, nonprofits risk losing even their most loyal supporters. But with proper stewardship, research shows that your donors are likely to stick by your side – yes, even in the midst of a global pandemic.

While the pandemic has caused much change in the lives of donors, they still want to be appreciated and informed about the impact made by their charitable dollars.

Here are five ways to steward your donors from a safe social distance:

Check in with them: 2020 has been a tough year for nonprofits and donors alike. And even for those fortunate enough to remain healthy and gainfully employed, the pandemic has likely flipped their lives upside-down. Nothing makes a donor feel more appreciated than hearing from a nonprofit when they are not asking for money.

Make a phone call or set up a Zoom call with your donors. But don’t just contact your top donors. Reach out to your most loyal donors, who have supported your organization for many years. (Keep in mind, donors who have made 15 or more lifetime gifts to an organization – of any size – are the most likely to make a planned gift.) Connect with as many donors as possible. The more you reach, the greater your donor retention rate will be.

Ask how your donors are doing. Ask what you can do for them. And share how your organization is managing. Share how meaningful their past gifts have been and thank them for their previous support.

The next time you ask for a gift or pledge, they will remember your outreach.

Acknowledgment letters: Yes, letters – plural.

Nonprofits should send an acknowledgment letter to donors within 48 to 72 hours of receiving a donation. But why limit it to one?

Your initial acknowledgment letter should thank the donor for their support and articulate what their dollars will accomplish. Once your organization has used those dollars to fulfill your mission, let your donors know. Send another thank you letter for their gift, which made a difference in your time of need.

Often donors remark that they only hear from nonprofits when they’re asking for money. Flipping that experience around will leave a lasting impact on them.

Newsletters: While annual reports are a must for all nonprofit organizations, they can be a little bit dry and in-the-weeds when it comes to financials. A quarterly newsletter, meanwhile, is an opportunity to more frequently share stories about the impact donors’ support is making for your community. Did you reach a fundraising goal that allowed additional tuition assistance to be granted to families in need? Tell that story. And put a face on the story if you can.

Beneficiaries of those programs may be telling their families at the Christmas dinner table that they are grateful for your organization. If they are willing, use your newsletter as a platform for them to directly share their gratitude with those who made it possible: your donors.

Newsletters are also a great way to highlight donors who are making an impact in your community. Not all donors want to be publicly recognized, but those who do will appreciate the recognition and be inspired to continue their legacy of supporting your organization.

Holiday cards: In a year where many holiday parties may be held via virtually, receiving holiday cards from family and friends will be even more valued than normal.

It’s an easy way for nonprofits to create a touchpoint with donors to send some holiday cheer and remind them that your organization is grateful for their support.

To earn some bonus points, include a short, handwritten note from your pastor/principal/executive director on as many as possible. A review of one YMCA’s stewardship program revealed that a handwritten note in acknowledgment letters more than doubled donor retention rates. A similar effect could be expected with handwritten notes on holiday cards.

Ask: Yes, ask!

Although solicitation is not part of the normal stewardship process, 2020 is anything but normal. If you have kept in touch with your donors throughout this crazy year, they will know the challenges you’ve faced and the difference their donation can make.

Early in the pandemic, many nonprofits showed an apprehension to asking for charitable support from their donors. While understandable, it’s become clear that donors still want to be asked for help – even if they cannot give at the level they once did.

If you don’t ask for their support now, your donors may feel as though their support is simply not needed. Your needs and goals are not going away, and your donors want to help.

Let them know that their support means more now than ever before and be clear about what their gift will specifically accomplish. Will it help avoiding layoffs for key staff? Will it save a ministry or program that’s at risk of ending?

Give your donors the opportunity to help when you need it most. When they meet your request, begin the stewardship process all over again. And if they are not financially able to support your organization, thank them for their consideration and keep them apprised of the work you are doing. When their situation improves, chances are they will remember you and your mission.

If you have any questions about stewardship or about the services we offer at the Steier Group, feel free to contact me.

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