Stewardship Matters

Honk if you've ever given a charitable gift and never got a thank you.  Hear that cacophony? And how many of you have made a gift, gotten a thank you and then the next time you heard from the organization it was because they were asking you for another gift?  Sometimes that ask is disguised as a newsletter, or an urgent update of some sort.

Truly, it is no wonder that donor retention is in the toilet.

Typically, we give because something grabs us, makes us care.  We think that our support will matter.  And then the nonprofit  never expressses to us-- the donor--that, truly, it did.

Think about the revolution you can create with your donors--stop only asking and start telling them what their generosity means.  Talk (or write) about the impact their gift has had.  Show them how it has made a difference.

Stewardship is not just a word or an arrow on a chart of development process.  It needs to be something your organization not just does but lives.

There are two kinds of stewardship:

  1. Reactive, that is focused on the gift that has been given. This kind of stewardship focuses on gratitude and how important the donor’s gift is
  2. Proactive looks to the next gift. It’s focus is on the donor—how important he or she is.  It looks backward to share why the gift that was given matters, and forward to the impact the next gift will have.

Like cultivation, stewardship should be as individualized as possible.  For larger donors that means learning a lot about how they want to be recognized.  When you meet with these donors ask them to tell you about the best gift they ever made.  And then ask about the very best thank you they ever received.

A very major donor at one of the institutions where I worked told me that he liked to think that all his gifts were the best, but the very best thank you he ever received was a video of a bunch of kids, smiling and screaming “THANK YOU MR _________!  WE LOVE YOU.” And then a few of the children stepped forward to tell him specifically what his gift meant to them.

“Knowing that it mattered to them, felt invaluable,” the donor told me. “Sometimes I get thanked because of the size of the gift.  These kids didn’t know from size—they just knew that they got something they needed and wanted.”

Show your donors the value of their gift—the need that is filled—will make a huge difference not just to those donors but to you in the form of the gifts you will get moving forward.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn more at  Sign up at the site for the newsletter and do contact Janet to ask for a free, 30—minute consultation.