If the purpose of your donor stewardship program is to build lifelong relationships with your major donors and ensure that your nonprofit is their charity of choice, then you need to discover what your donors want and then exceed their expectations.

As a baseline best practice, there are two fundamental rules that should ALWAYS be followed.  Most importantly, acknowledge all gifts within five business days. Second, keep your donors informed. Send a newsletter or magazine that shares your progress on your annual, capital or endowment campaigns, celebrates organizational milestones and provides personal information through alumni or volunteer highlight pages.

Beyond the basics, how can you take stewardship to the next level?

Every major donor should be visited in person at least once a year and called at least quarterly. These visits and calls should never be solicitations; instead, tell them how their gift has made a difference or invite them to see your programs in action. Your donors will appreciate hearing from you and may consider making additional gifts.

Celebrate life events with major donors. Send cards for birthdays, anniversaries, or the birth of a grandchild. Be sure that the cards are hand-signed, even if you have them printed in advance with your leadership names. For significant milestones such as a 50th wedding anniversary or a 75th birthday, consider a gift or flowers.

Think of yourself as the concierge of your organization, trying to help your major donors whenever feasible. Try not to say "no." Respond to unusual or challenging requests by saying, "I'll see what I can do." Donors will appreciate the fact that you tried your best to secure football tickets or behind-the-scenes tours.

Be a problem solver for your top tier leadership donors. You may want to be selective about who has your personal cell phone number. By giving major contributors special access to you, they become an important part of your organization's inner leadership circle.

Consider a lifetime giving society for cumulative recognition to encourage donors to step up each year in a bigger way. Create cumulative donor levels and build in recognition opportunities at each giving level. Hold special and intimate annual events for these donors and give them access to your organization’s leadership on a more personal level.

As you and your nonprofit organization build a reputation of caring and responsiveness to your donors in meaningful ways, you will ensure the long-term financial success of your institution.

Written by: Cindy van den Beemt; Assistant Vice President, Winkler Group

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The generous will prosper: those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.
(Proverbs 11:25)

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