Draft Your Dream Team for Donor Stewardship
If good stewardship is centered on building a sustainable community of supporters, who will partner with you to help that community take shape? Your donors, of course, will be star players. But you also need support and energy from a dream team of skilled staff professionals and champions of your mission who can strengthen and implement your donor stewardship strategy.
Stewardship Is a Team Effort
Having a full-time stewardship director is not realistic for most nonprofit organizations. You likely need to split donor stewardship responsibilities among staff members—and maybe even board members, volunteers, and community advocates. Before drafting anyone to begin stewardship efforts, though, identify your team’s specific strengths and bandwidth so you can assign tasks suitable to their skills and schedule. Then, it’s time to get them on board.
- Educate your staff, board of directors, and volunteers. Present your broad stewardship strategy as well as your targeted plans for each stakeholder group, such as major donors, sustainers, and first-time donors. Clearly communicate any policies related to stewardship so that your team can share your organization’s intentions and abilities with complete transparency.
- Outline roles and responsibilities. Even if your team is just you, approach stewardship as a long-term project with multiple components. Your overall plan becomes more manageable when you break it into a series of smaller steps, such as a fundraiser inviting a major donor to opening night for an art show or a volunteer calling to thank a donor for a referral.
- Prep your team for next steps. Tell them why, when, and how you may call on them for backup.
- Emphasize that every interaction is stewardship. Any contact your team has with donors and prospective supporters—even an unscripted, unplanned encounter—serves as a stewardship touchpoint. Team members should know the plan’s talking points and your mission goals inside and out so they are on point with donors whenever a stewardship opportunity arises.
- Ask for input. Frontline fundraisers, on-site volunteers, staffers, and board members care deeply about your mission and are often donors themselves. Solicit their insider’s perspective on your plan and tap their insights to refine your strategy.
- Use software custom-built for nonprofits. No matter who is on stewardship duty, your organization should consider investing in donor management software to handle administrative tasks and automate routine stewardship activities, such as sending mass emails.
Rally Your Team
Your donor stewardship plan will be unique to your organization’s needs, but most initiatives can be integrated into the workflows of a handful of team members.
Marketing and Public Relations
Your marketing and public relations colleagues are experts at creating compelling, memorable, and relatable brand communications to build awareness for new supporters. Work with them to apply those same skills to stewardship.
Make sure the communications plan provides new donors with on-ramps to connect and participate. Shore up opportunities for committed supporters by reviewing your current outreach through the stewardship lens:
- Social media
- Mass appeals
- Direct mail
- Communications to segmented donor groups
- Online giving forms
- Volunteer sign-up forms
- Impact reports
- Annual reports
Work with the communications team (or a board member with a background in marketing, if you don’t have a communications staff) to highlight your organization’s gratitude at every moment of connection.
If your organization is large, bringing on diligent fact-checkers, researchers, and editors can bring immediate improvements across your operations and lighten the stewardship load for your fundraisers. If you’re on the small side, your fundraisers might have to do a little of everything, so provide clear goals and a manageable to-do list.
Fundraisers should focus their stewardship efforts on three key elements.
- Impact: In the mix of your gift officers, there should be someone who knows the community you serve as well as they know your donors.
- Keep these two groups connected and engaged
- Provide detailed information about the impact of their gift through financial reporting. Compelling, visual impact reporting can be a collaborative project with marketing.
- Mission: Fundraisers work hard to build personal relationships with committed donors. In stewardship communications, though, stress the connection to your mission, not to a single staff member. Building institutional relationships is more sustainable and less transactional, two hallmarks of a long-term commitment.
- Gratitude: Every stewardship interaction with a donor should focus on sincere appreciation. With long-term and major donors, this can also take the form of recognition, from naming a new building to an invitation to a private dinner. These gestures to convey gratitude require your fundraisers to get the details right:
- Use the donor’s preferred name and title
- Ask permission before publicly acknowledging a gift
- Communicate gratitude where and how the donor prefers, such as phone call versus social media
Piling on additional stewardship duties puts you at risk of fundraiser burnout. If possible, minimize stewardship responsibilities for frontline fundraisers so they can focus on cultivating and soliciting new donors. Small shops, of course, will have to do it all, but even lean teams do not have to go it alone if stewardship becomes a seamless part of your organizational culture.
Executive Leadership and Board Members
Your organization’s executives, board of directors, committee members, and even volunteers can all play a role in your stewardship strategy. Even if you are a team of one, you can reach out to community contacts for a helping hand.
However large or small, your stewardship team benefits from an assortment of talent and skills. In particular, the legal and financial ramifications of philanthropy can be complex. It never hurts to have a person on your side who can ensure your approach to fundraising and stewardship is ethical and reflective of your organization’s values.
Consider the upside of having a generous board member who is ready to mingle and network. Bonus if they are a board member who is unafraid to make the ask. Double bonus if your board member can connect and empathize with your supporters and beneficiaries and help them communicate their stories.
Stewardship Is an Ongoing Process
Every person involved in your stewardship efforts should understand the value of your supporters. And they should be skilled in expressing your organization’s gratitude to each one. Through every action your supporter takes and every response your team makes, you are shaping your culture of stewardship and philanthropy. Expect the process to evolve as your organization grows.