3 Must-Haves for Stewarding Donors Successfully

Over the past few weeks you’ve likely noticed a theme with some of my blogs: Stewardship.

Today I’m sharing examples of stewardship marketing strategies that our clients have found successful.

Our partnership with nearly 1,500 nonprofits involves helping them educate donors about planned giving and offering donors the opportunity to act on making a planned gift easily. And while it is extremely important to stay top-of-mind with your donors during this time, we know that in the current environment this messaging needs to change. You must pivot to a message of stewardship.

Reviewing stewardship campaigns Stelter has produced for our clients over the past year, there are three things in common that helped lead to their success.

1. Cover Letter

Now is NOT the time to send a marketing piece out without an introduction. While always a best practice, including a cover letter in your communications now allows you to speak very personally to your donor, showing empathy and concern for their well-being. It also gives you the chance to say thank you in a very direct way.

Some best practices:

  • Always personalize. “Dear friend” letters (like this one I saw on Twitter a couple days ago) come across impersonal and dare I say, offensive, cheapening the connection you’ve worked hard to build. As I noted in my comment to Beth’s tweet, “Such a missed opportunity!!”
  • Thank them once, twice, three times. Don’t bury the thank you. It should be the first thing they read and should be the one thing that stays with them when they put the letter down.
  • Address the crisis—but don’t dwell. It’s appropriate (and expected) to mention the uncertain times that we’re all living in. Show empathy for the anxiety people are feeling right now, but don’t attempt to be your donors’ COVID-19 news source. A sentence or two is enough to give your readers an understanding that “We’re all in this together,” and “We understand today is different than yesterday.” Everyone processes change at different speeds and is being impacted differently by the pandemic; so simple messages are best during these times.

cover-letter2. Appreciation Piece

Normally the meat of your direct mail campaign is a piece 1) Highlighting the impact your donors are making on the constituents you serve, 2) Building a connection with your donors’ passions and intrinsic needs for a planned gift opportunity and 3) Providing an offer for interested donors to connect and/or learn more. However, NOW is the time to lean more into the stewardship and thank-you message. Reimagine the content your donors will want to engage with now.

Some ideas:

  • A “Gratitude Report”: Impact stories from those who have been helped—scholarship students; grateful patients; a family in need of shelter. The stories have two objectives—to show donors how their past gifts have made an impact and to thank them for it.
  • An “Exclusive Update”: For society members only—share the exciting new things happening at your organization thanks to their support. Research grants, clinical trials, educational programs, unique learning opportunities, new exhibits, a new concert series.
  • A “Thank You” card: Have your staff, volunteers or those who have been impacted share a simple message of thanks. Use behind-the-scenes photos for a special “inside” look.


3. Share Your Story

Without fail, the call-to-action that receives the most response from donors is when they are asked to share their story. Always a favorite—now made even more meaningful as many people are spending time taking a personal inventory on what’s most important to them, reminiscing about their past and thinking about what has had a long-lasting impact on their lives. Your outreach can help them relive some of their fondest memories or life-changing moments and remind them of the role your organization played. This can be as simple as including a reply card with space to write on or a questionnaire with prompts to help them get started. Be sure to include an email address for those who would rather send their stories digitally.

Some questions to ask:

  • The reason I care about [ORG] is:
  • The first time I visited [ORG], I remember:
  • The word I’d use to describe [ORG] is:
  • The feeling I had while at [ORG] was:
  • My vision for [ORG] for the next decade is:
  • My connection to [ORG] has changed my life in the following ways:
  • Additional thoughts:

The stories you receive back are gold! They will help you build deeper connections with your donors by knowing what is truly important to them. And, you’ll have a treasure trove of material for your future marketing initiatives (be sure to include a checkbox for donors to give you permission to use their comments).


BONUS Tip: The one question to ask yourself when writing any communication is: Who is the hero? The answer: The donor. All communications sent to your donors should paint them as the hero and you as their guide. Especially important in stewardship pieces, your donor must remain front and center as the reason for your nonprofit’s success.

How have you found success stewarding your donors? Share in the comments below.


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