To successfully retain donors, nonprofits need to invest time into cultivating and maintaining long-lasting relationships, from the first donation onward.

With a concrete donor stewardship plan in place, donors will feel more valued and invested in your nonprofit.

While you may understand the importance of donor stewardship, it’s not always clear how to take the best course of action. This article will go over five strategies to improve your donor stewardship.

  1. Understand your donors and track results.
  2. Create a donor stewardship plan to organize communications.
  3. Craft a recognition system to reward continued support.
  4. Use engagement strategies outside of fundraising.
  5. Build a membership program.

Let’s get into the different strategies!

Strategy #1: Understand your donors and track results.

The first donor stewardship strategy is to understand your donors and track results.

Not every donor is at the same step in your stewardship program, so it doesn’t make sense to send out the same content to your entire donor network. And with so many donors to manage, it’s impossible to always give each individual personalized communication.

Striking a balance between general and personal content will become much easier once you segment your donors.

By segmenting your donor base into groups, nonprofits can tailor their communication strategy to different types of donors. This allows for some level of personalization and makes the process efficient for organizations to undertake.

Separate similar donors into categories so they can receive the communication that is relevant to them. Know where each donor stands in the process, and keep a record of his or her status.

Use the donor pyramid for guidance.

What categories should you segment donors into? The number of categories and subcategories will depend on the size and needs of your nonprofit.

The donor pyramid is a helpful visualization tool to better map out your categories.

The donor pyramid shows the range of donors, from prospects to major gift donors. Categorizing donors like this will help you decide how to approach your donor stewardship at each stage on the donor pyramid.

Disclaimer - In recent years, there has been a general move away from using the donor pyramid. Since the rise of digital fundraising, the structure of the pyramid is no longer as effective in defining donors’ giving behaviors.

Although the donor categories don’t truly exist in the pyramid structure anymore, the categories themselves still exist; that’s what we’re focusing on for the purpose of this argument.

The categories on your modernized version of a donor pyramid could include:

  • Prospective donor
  • First-time donor
  • Recurring donor
  • Major donor

By categorizing your donors in this way, it will help you determine what message to provide and at what point you should provide it in the donor’s relationship with your organization.

In addition, you can further divide donors into other groups, such as:

  • Communication frequency
  • Preferred giving channel
  • Giving history
  • Interests (personal and within the organization)

Grouping your donors in this way ensures that your correspondence is relevant to the donor because every message won’t apply to every donor at the same time.

Spend time researching current donors to determine what category each donor best fits in.

Keep a record of each donor.

Having a record of each donor is about more than just keeping track of your supporters’ progress, starting from the first gift. It’s also about tracking your communication. You can easily refer to past communication with a donor to avoid sending repeat information and refresh your memory on donor’s interests.

All the information you track for each donor can be stored and updated using donor database software.

Database software can improve donor stewardship because it allows you to organize all your donor relations. A donor database captures the multifaceted relationships you’ve built with donors and stores them for future fundraising initiatives.

Donor databases can provide more insight into your donors’ interests and preferred communication channels.

With all your donors’ information easily accessible, you can create a more personalized communication plan, which is crucial to improving your donor stewardship.

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Key point: Your donor stewardship will improve if you have a solid understanding of your donors and an organized way of tracking them.

Strategy #2: Create a donor stewardship plan to organize communications.

The 2nd donor stewardship strategy is to create a plan and organize communications.

Donor stewardship starts the moment a donor makes a donation, so every step of the way needs to be mapped out and organized to optimize how you communicate with donors at each stage in the process.

The Qgiv donor stewardship and cultivation guide recommends preparing how, what, and when you’re going to communicate to create a donor stewardship plan.

First, come up with an agenda of any major events for the year. Your schedule could include:

  • Stewardship events,
  • Walkathons,
  • Auctions,
  • A Gala,
  • And more.

These are all things that you want to base your communications around.

The donor’s stage in the stewardship process will help determine what topics will be most relevant to each donor. For example, with a first-time donor, it’s too early to mention membership programs, but it would be appropriate to mention it to a frequent donor.

Once you have your year mapped out, decide how and when you’ll communicate with donors.

Determining how your donors get content is another area where knowing your donors comes in handy. Some donors may prefer different means of communication over others.

For instance, social media is a great way to inform recurring donors about a fundraising event because they already have a relationship with your nonprofit. They probably follow you on social media and are more inclined to share or respond to content you post.

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Key point: Organize a communications plan that is clearly in line with the needs of your donors so you can connect with all levels of supporters during the stewardship process.

Strategy #3: Craft a recognition system to reward continued support.

The 3rd strategy is to craft a recognition program to reward supporters.

A recognition program lets you show your appreciation for donors in a public way.

Unlike acknowledgment letters that are promptly received after every donation, recognition is something usually reserved for highlighting supporters who have gone above and beyond in helping your nonprofit succeed.

Showing donors recognition makes them feel like a crucial part of your nonprofit and also offers an aspiring figure for other donors to look up to.

Your nonprofit can have multiple or just one program recognizing supporters for their:

  • Recurring support,
  • Major donations,
  • Volunteer time,
  • And more.

Your donor recognition system can include multiple different ways to show your appreciation. For example, you can highlight one of your donors on your website or include a list of major donors in your nonprofit newsletter.

If you can, send out an email survey to your existing supporters to see what ways they would like to be recognized. The last thing you want is a recognition program that donors don’t see any value in.

However you decide to structure your recognition program, just make sure that there are a variety of ways and levels for donors to feel included.

This will give donors who can only give smaller amounts a chance at being recognized too.

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Key point: Recognition is a simple way to showcase those who have made significant or continued donations for your company.

Strategy #4: Use engagement strategies outside of fundraising.

The 4th tip is to engage donors outside of fundraising.

In order to build meaningful relationships, you can’t always ask for donations. Donors are expecting other types of engagement to keep them involved.

Creating strategies outside fundraising lets donors know that you’re seeking real relationships and looking for more than just their financial support. Below you'll find a short list of engagement strategies you can use to do just that, starting with stewardship events.

Host stewardship events.

Face-to-face interaction is a great way to build relationships with donors. Hosting a stewardship event puts all your most loyal donors in one place so you can build more personal relationships.

Events let loyal donors know that you appreciate them and value their support. And, no matter what special event you decide to plan, the focus should be on the donor and their achievements.

Offer volunteering as an option.

Make donors aware of other ways they can support your nonprofit. Donors can take a more active approach by volunteering.

By getting donors to volunteer, they will see your nonprofit in action. They can also interact and build relationships with staff and other volunteers.

Building a community within your network of donors will make them a part of the team and help them develop more emotional ties to your nonprofit, which could motivate them to donate more in the future.

Share results.

Share your success with your entire donor base because it will make them feel like the accomplished heroes they are.

Let donors know that their efforts were successful by sharing results. When you tell donors about your success while keeping it donor-centered, you’re boosting their moral and proving that your nonprofit has the means to be successful.

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Key point: Many donors are seeking a deeper connection to your nonprofit, so engage them in ways that focus on more than just fundraising.

Strategy #5: Build a membership program.

The final strategy is to develop a membership program.

Creating a donor membership program will be beneficial to nonprofits in many ways.

The program rewards donors who are already making enough of a contribution to be a part of the program and also motivates donors just under the mark to donate a little more to become members.

A membership program means that donors will contribute money or time to become more closely affiliated with your nonprofit for a certain period of time—usually a year.

If donors are contributing money to enter a membership program, the cost to join is usually based on an annual fee or a certain donation amount.

The program should include some advantages to motivate donors to join like:

  • Free parking at nonprofit events
  • Nonprofit gear (i.e. shirts, hats, and other accessories)
  • Updates and news before everyone else

A donor membership program will create a network of supporters that are advocates of your cause and may encourage donors to get more involved.

As you establish your membership program, make sure you focus on community and philanthropy.

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Key point: A membership program is a way to give donors incentives to up their donations while still focusing on the cause at hand.


With these core strategies, you have the tools necessary to improve your donor stewardship.

No matter what stage your donor is at in the stewardship process, building relationships will help to increase your donor retention, resulting in more valuable supporters.

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