How to Create a Rockin' Stewardship Plan

Image by Stuart Miles at

Image by Stuart Miles at

Donor retention is a hot topic these days and it should be, given that only 27% of first-time donors will make a second gift. The typical U.S. nonprofit retains only 20-30% of its supporters from one year to the next! (To see some of the reasons donors leave, check out this article.)

We know that keeping the donors you already have costs a lot less than acquiring brand new donors. Donor loyalty is complex, but a stewardship plan is a key step in the right direction. 

As with cultivation plans, you can make individual/customized stewardship plans for your top donors, or make one plan that covers all donors. Here are 4 key stewardship elements to include in your plan:

1. Acknowledgement

Saying thank you is important. Your plan should include HOW and WHEN to say thank you to ensure that each donor gets thanked appropriately. In other words, timelines and the specific methods you’ll use to say thank you should be in your plan. 

Certainly, every donor should receive a timely, formal thank you letter that they can use for tax purposes. But what else will your donor appreciate? A handwritten note from your executive director? A phone call from you or one of your board members? An invitation to a small, intimate event? Saying thank you is a lot like asking – keep it donor-centered for the biggest impact.

2. Recognition

Give your donors credit. Thank them publicly, unless they’ve asked you to keep their gift anonymous. Include in your stewardship plan steps for listing donors on your website, on event signage and in your annual report. It helps too if you are not the only one trumpeting their recognition. Include in your plan the names of board members and other volunteers who will communicate with donors about the impact of their gift and be another voice of recognition. 

3. Engagement

Stewardship is making use of your donor’s gift as she intended and continuing to engage her with your organization in a positive way, including sharing how her gift is being used. Try showing vs. telling your donor how your organization is putting her gift to work.

For many, giving to your organization is a social activity. Plan a few opportunities throughout the year that allow donors to learn about the impact of their gift AND connect with other donors via their shared interest in your organization. 

4. Feedback

Not sure what your donors want or don’t want from you? Ask them! Include in your stewardship plan 1 or 2 annual surveys asking for donor input on the giving experience and your programs. Survey results provide valuable insight for shaping your cultivation and stewardship activities. As a bonus, donor participation in the survey doubles as a touch point!

What are the key elements of your stewardship plan? Please share in the comments box below.

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