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Stewardship techniques to build donor relationships

November 12, 2021
Four nonprofit professionals gather in desk chairs to discuss implementing new stewardship techniques to build donor relationships.

A nonprofit organization’s success depends on the strength of its relationships with its donors. Those relationships are built on each donor’s sense of partnership and confidence that their gifts are making the impact they intend. The goal of donor stewardship is to build engagement and a commitment to ongoing support that increases over time.

There are three primary categories or levels of donors found at every nonprofit:

  • New donors
  • Loyal donors
  • Major donors

How you engage with these donors is the key to moving them through your cultivation journey. By implementing stewardship techniques, you can connect with donors on a deeper level and keep them engaged in your purpose. In this guide, we’ll cover the stewardship techniques you can use to build meaningful relationships with each type of donor.

New donors

Most new donors start with a single gift or a small monthly donation. Here are some stewardship techniques to help retain new donors and encourage them to make a second, larger gift:

  • Send an immediate, personalized gift receipt that mentions the specific project or program that the gift will support.
  • Keep thank-you letters and emails focused on the donor and community that will benefit from their gift.
  • Send regular communications that update the donor on the impact of their gift and how the program or project they gave to is progressing.
  • Invite the donor to engage with your organization on social media.
  • Invite the donor to subscribe to your newsletter.
  • Ask donors to spread the word about the project or program they’re passionate about.

Since new donors have just been introduced to your organization, focus on building trust and instilling confidence that your organization is a capable partner. Keep communications positive and appreciative, and emphasize the impact of their first gift.

Loyal donors

Donors that give on a regular basis are loyal donors. These donors are committed to your nonprofit and give reliably when you make an appeal. Here are a few stewardship suggestions to retain their ongoing support:

  • When a donor makes a monthly gift commitment or gives a larger gift, follow up with a phone call in addition to the initial thank-you letter or email.
  • Send program or project updates via email or direct mail.
  • Share impact reports on a regular basis.
  • Invite donors to giving societies via memberships that include perks and build a sense of community.
  • Offer special volunteer opportunities for donors to get more involved.

Although your relationship with loyal donors is already strong, you still need to dedicate time and resources to cultivating the relationship. Recognize them for repeatedly giving to your nonprofit and focus on making them feel special by increasing the ways they can interact with your organization.

Major donors

Major donors are loyal donors that are fully committed to your organization and consistently make large gifts. Here are some ways you can steward major donors:

  • Send a personalized thank-you note from beneficiaries who have been impacted by the donor’s gift.
  • Share plans for the next stages of projects that donors have given to in the past.
  • Invite donors to an onsite event or tour to see the results of their gifts firsthand.
  • Invite donors to lunch or coffee to show your gratitude.
  • Host donor appreciation events.
  • Feature donors in annual reports.
  • Send articles and other information of interest to donors.

These donors have provided your nonprofit with substantial monetary support, so it’s crucial to give them significant attention. Your relationship with major donors should be the strongest and the closest, and your communications should reflect that. Keep your major donors engaged to foster their continued support.

Cultivating relationships with donors

As you consider which donor stewardship techniques to use with each level of donor, remember that the relationship should drive the technique. Building donor relationships is similar to building a friendship—different actions and activities are best received as the relationship progresses. 

While your goal is to encourage donors to increase their level of commitment, stewardship is about much more than inviting donors to give. Donors will feel the difference between an interaction focused on money and one that comes from a desire to build a partnership centered around achieving an important purpose. Focus on relationship-building and appreciation, and you’ll have success with your donors.

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