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This is a guest post written by Sarah Tedesco of DonorSearch. DonorSearch is a strategic partner of Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt.


All nonprofits should make donor stewardship a top priority. Growing and maintaining a highly-engaged donor population goes a long way to fuel your nonprofit’s growth, and it generally requires less investment of time and resources than focusing only on reaching new audiences.  

After all, without healthy, long-term relationships with donors, fundraising can be a major challenge. Cultivating donor relationships is, by far, one of the most important parts of running a nonprofit for this very reason. A healthy relationship with a donor is not accomplished by merely accepting donations. Your team must have a concrete plan for how you are going to retain their support from season to season. 

Simply put, donor stewardship is the process of cultivating relationships with existing donors. Too often, however, this important process is forgone, forgotten, or poorly executed, and nonprofits then lose out on maximizing their ability to fundraise. To ensure your best chance at success, follow these donor stewardship best practices: 

  1. Utilize donor analytics.
  2. Demonstrate your appreciation.
  3. Establish meaningful communication. 
  4. Provide donors with useful resources. 
  5. Inform donors of their impact.  

Poor stewardship practices can hold an organization back without it even realizing the wasted opportunities. Don’t let fundraising be the stumbling block that causes your nonprofit to falter. Let’s dive into these best practices and get you prepared to develop stronger donor relationships! 

1. Utilize donor analytics.

Making full use of donor analytics is often overlooked or vastly underutilized by growing nonprofits when they should be a major driving force behind all stewardship and fundraising decisions. Donor analytics provide insights into donors and help reveal potentially successful fundraising strategies. 

By understanding who donates to your organization and why, your team will be able to refine their strategies, personalize their appeals, and increase their chance of a positive outcome. 

When collecting your donor analytics data, make sure you gather data on the following: 

  • Demographics. Understand the type of donor who is attracted to your organization. This data should include age, gender, profession/university, marital status, parental status, and address/geographic location.
  • Wealth markers. These markers will indicate the potential giving capacity of your donors. Markers like real estate investment, stock ownership, and business affiliations can point to a donor’s net worth and potentially leverageable connections. Use these markers to make sure you are stewarding donors for the correct donation amounts, weeding out who you should appeal to for larger or even major gifts. Utilize wealth screening technology to maximize your data.
  • Philanthropic indicators. By far the most important data you will track, philanthropic indicators will reveal who is most likely to display loyalty to your organization. This data indicates the recency of a donor’s last donation, the frequency with which they donate, and the amount they typically donate. In addition, pay attention to your donors’ connections with other nonprofits, apparent interest, and political donations. These points will help you understand how invested an individual is in supporting work they believe in.

Many nonprofits do not take the time to deeply analyze their donor data or draw any actionable conclusions because the idea of dealing with this much data seems daunting. However, with the help of a CRM and integrated prospect research database, nonprofits can easily manage it without becoming overwhelmed under the sheer volume of information.

To get a better understanding of CRMs and how they can help you understand your donors, check out the Fundly nonprofit CRM complete guide.  

2. Demonstrate your appreciation.

Donors, like everyone else, want to feel valued and appreciated. A major component of donor stewardship is simply saying thank you to donors. If donors feel like their contributions, no matter the size, are valued by your organization, they will be more likely to remain invested and involved in your fundraising efforts. 

Saying thank you may come in many forms and can, and should, differ based on the individual’s level of donation to your organization. Once you know a donors’ level of engagement, based on how much they are willing to donate, you can properly steward them for future gifts. Donors should be stewarded as individuals and should not feel as though they are only the recipients of a bland, vague form letter.  

However, a great way to begin showing your gratitude to every donor is by sending an automatic thank you email after an online donation is completed. But, don’t let this be the only way you follow up with your donors to show your appreciation. You should also consider these strategies: 

  • Personalized email. Personalizing an email is quick and easy, and donors will love that you took the extra step to make sure they were thanked for their donation. Make sure to include their name, the gift amount, and the fundraising campaign to which they donated. 
  • Phone call. Many of your older donors will be more responsive to a phone call. Use your donor demographic data to determine who would be more likely to appreciate a phone call instead of an email. The donor will know that you care for their preferences and made an effort to reach out to them via a method with which they are comfortable.
  • In-person visit. When your organization receives a major donation, you should do everything in your power to ensure they are aware that your organization properly appreciates their contribution and will steward it wisely. Consider giving the donor a small gift basket or another token of your appreciation. 

Saying thank you is one of the easiest and best ways to complete the fundraising cycle and cultivate a relationship that will be beneficial for your organization in the future. 

3. Establish meaningful communication. 

If you want donors to continue their involvement in your organization, you need to provide them with continuous access to ways for them to get involved. Donor relationships, like all relationships, are built on open, consistent communication. Stewarding donors means providing them with the information they need, and that is relevant to them, and enabling them to further their impact. 

Treat donors like the essential parts of your team that they are, and take steps to keep in the loop on new developments and goals. Consider communicating with your donors via: 

  • Email newsletters. 
  • Direct mail. 
  • Phone calls. 

No matter how you plan on communicating with your donors, make sure it is regular and purposeful. Donors do not want to be pestered every week for donations. You should reach out to every donor approximately 4 times a year (once every quarter). 

When you reach out to donors, be sure to be able to explain why you need the money and what your organization will be doing with their donations that are so valuable to the cause you support. Donors should know their donations are going to be put to good use and not squandered. 

Additionally, be sure to record each time you contact a donor in your CRM’s profile for that individual. Especially if you use automated communications, this will help prevent accidentally pestering them with too-frequent updates and requests.

Engaging with donors in this way will contribute to a bond of loyalty, trust, and mutual appreciation between you and your donors. 

4. Provide donors with useful resources. 

If you want donors to be invested in your organization and contribute significantly to your fundraising campaigns, provide them with the resources they need to easily become involved in your organization and maximize their impact. Create an excellent website with easy-to-use donation pages to ensure donors never have to wonder how they can make their contribution. 

Steward donors by ensuring they are empowered to continue their involvement in your organization on their own terms, in their own way. 

A clean, easy-to-use, effective donation page has the following qualities: 

  • Has consistent branding. Donors and potential donors should never feel discouraged from donating by encountering untrustworthy or confusing portions of your site. When your donation page and forms all possess the branding of your organization, they will be likely to trust the donation site.
  • Is mobile-responsive. Most people engage with the Internet via their mobile phones. To ensure people can donate from the comfort of their own devices, make sure your donation forms are all 100% mobile responsive.
  • Has a matching gift search tool. Corporate philanthropy is a greatly underutilized sector of charitable giving for growing organizations. By providing a matching gift search tool, you will ensure your donors can check their matching gift eligibility with ease.

To learn more about donation page best practices that will lead to better, more effective, donor stewardship, click here

5. Inform donors of their impact.

If you are serious about stewarding your donors in order to develop deeper, meaningful relationships, make sure you are clear about the impact that donors can have. Your team needs to focus on donor-centric fundraising that highlights donor impact and inspires donors to remain invested in your organization. 

Based on the techniques explored in the DonorSearch guide to fundraising analytics, your team should understand the value of donor-centric fundraising. To meet your fundraising goals, donors need to be exposed to the actual value of their donations. You can do this by: 

  • Creating a donor spotlight page or newsletter. An emailed or direct mailed newsletter can be used to inform readers about their impact in general. You can also have a web page dedicated to highlighting donors every month whose contributions enabled you to accomplish your goals.
  • Using social media to inform donors. Social media is a great way to inform, not only your existing donor base, but prospective donors as well about the impact donors can have.
  • Suggested donation amounts. Your donation page should explain just how far their money can go toward helping your organization further its cause. For example, inform visitors that $100 can provide safe water to 111 community members for an entire year. Individuals are more likely to donate an amount you ask for when they know exactly what they are helping accomplish. 

While for some donors simply donating and privately knowing the impact they had is enough, other donors will be more likely to donate more and more frequently when there is a public element to the impact reports. You can appeal to all types of donors by incorporating both public and private impact reports into your strategy. 


Donor stewardship is the key to lasting, healthy donor relationships and, by extension, better, more effective, fundraising efforts. Follow these donor stewardship best practices to ensure your organization is doing all it can to reach its fundraising goals and further its cause.