How can nonprofits maintain authentic donor relationships throughout the year?


by Debi Hoxter

Congratulations! You’ve identified, cultivated and solicited your donor and he/she has just made a major gift (the amount of a major gift will vary depending on the size of your organization).

At this point, many nonprofits believe their work is complete, but nothing could be further from the truth, for this is when authentic donor stewardship begins.

What is authentic donor stewardship? It is the stewarding of the individual, not just the gift, and is grounded in the desire to treat donors as partners by honoring their generosity and demonstrating how their gifts make a difference.

Remember, donors have contributed to your nonprofit because they feel a connection to your organization, its mission and the individuals involved. Nurturing donor relationships enables those who give to connect more deeply to your organization and those you serve and, as a result, make future contributions. Follow these steps to keep them connected to your nonprofit and aware their gift is appreciated.

Step One: Learn a prospective donor’s stewardship expectations before the gift is secured – or soon after

Ask the donor prospect what would be the most meaningful way to steward his/her gift, and what that would look like. Importantly, determine his/her preferred means of communication early on and for all outreach going forward, whether it be by phone or email (donors always appreciate being asked). This conversation enables you to learn more about who the donor is and what motivates him/her to give.

Step Two: Place a phone call within 24 hours of receiving the gift

Within 24 hours a phone call should be placed by your organization’s Executive Director/CEO and the person with whom the donor has the closest relationship. There is nothing that can substitute for a gracious and heartfelt “thank you,” and a donor will always remember the personal outreach.

Step Three: Send a personalized acknowledgment letter within two business days of receiving the gift

Ideally, a letter should be sent to acknowledge the donor’s gift within two days of receipt. If a template is used to create the letter, it should be personalized so that it appears to be written specifically for that donor and the donor’s partner should also be acknowledged in the letter. The dollar value of the gift should be listed in the letter and a brief explanation of the gift’s benefit to the organization.

The acknowledgment letter should always include a short, handwritten post-script.

Step Four: Communicate with your donor throughout the year to demonstrate the impact of his or her gift

Oftentimes donors feel that the nonprofit they support communicates with them only when it’s time to solicit another gift. To set your organization apart, it is critical to build your donor relationships throughout the year through authentic, customized stewardship tactics, identifying a plan that is meaningful to each donor.

For example, invite the donor to visit your organization and make introductions to staff and clients who have benefited from their generosity. Similarly, a letter from a staff member or client expressing his thanks to your donor for his gift and its impact is especially meaningful.

Smaller, donor-only events are also an ideal way to express thanks to your donors and build a sense of camaraderie among your donor base. If your nonprofit has just completed a renovation, plan an event to thank donors for their contributions and conduct first-look tours of the new offices. For those who prefer one-on-one interactions, a lunch invitation to update a donor on how his or her gift is impacting your organization would be especially meaningful.

Step Five: Make personal connections/touches throughout the year

Staying in touch on a personal basis throughout the year is certain to build your relationships with donors. Invite your donor to participate in a Career Day if applicable to your organization. Send your donor a note when a child is getting married or if a grandchild is born. These milestones should be in your database of details gathered during the cultivation step. Or, in lieu of the standard holiday card, consider sending a Thanksgiving card that expresses your gratitude.

Most important is creating a stewardship plan for each donor and developing a calendar of “touches” throughout the year. Dunleavy & Associates’ development professionals have the expertise to guide you throughout the donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship process. To learn more, visit our website at


About the author: Debi Hoxter is Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations at Dunleavy & Associates. Pulling from her prior experience as Executive Director, Corporate Underwriting at WHYY, Debi works with clients to build donor and corporate relationships and create strategies for meeting revenue goals. She began her career in advertising, working first at Ted Bates and Grey advertising agencies in New York before serving as Advertising Sales Manager at Philadelphia Magazine.





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Does crowdfunding work for nonprofits?

Brittany Alba

By Brittany Alba

Nobody wants to be the old curmudgeon: the parent who thought The Beatles’ hair was too shaggy or the Scooby Doo villain who shakes his fist at all the meddling kids.

But embracing a new way of raising money like crowdfunding can be a risky proposition for nonprofits. It means taking a leap of faith into methods with which your organization has no proven track record for success and it means betting that you’ll be able to do it well.

However, all nonprofits that do make crowdfunding work have one thing in common: They take the leap with both feet.

Too many nonprofits think they understand the concept of crowdfunding, but don’t commit the resources to properly execute it. They’ll develop an idea for a campaign, but fail to spend the money on an engaging online landing page, or neglect to create a compelling marketing campaign that is essential for success.

While crowdfunding can attract donors of all ages (with last summer’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge being the perfect example), the demographic usually is weighted toward Millenials. And younger donors like their crowdfunding campaigns like the rest of their Internet: with thoughtful, sleek design, use of multimedia, and copy that speaks to them.

If you don’t have the capability to generate eye-catching landing pages within your organization, you’ll need to commit resources to get outside help to run a successful crowdfunding campaign.

A successful campaign also will need to generate crowdfunding ideas that will connect with the target demographic. This is best done by going to the source: By asking your younger employees or even 20-something family members for ideas they would find compelling or amusing.

There’s no way to ensure a campaign will find the audience that San Francisco’s Batkid did, for example, but younger audiences are often drawn to stories about their peers. And if your 20-something niece or nephew finds a story or idea compelling, it’s a good bet dozens of their friends will, too.

As the Internet continues to grow in influence, and Millenials more significant in nonprofit demographics, crowdfunding will grow in importance as well. Every nonprofit will sooner or later have to take the leap, and enthusiastic and early adopters will find themselves ahead of the curve.

About the author: Brittany Alba is a Project Manager with Dunleavy & Associates, and has worked with clients across the education, human services, and community development sectors. She specializes in media relations, graphic design, market research, and event planning, and has embraced her role helping the firm and its clients find new ways to raise funds in the digital age.


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