(post updated 9/8/17)
With year-end almost upon us, it’s time to start thinking about your stewardship plans for next year. You’ve undoubtedly been putting plans in place to take advantage of what is typically the biggest gift giving month of the year (December, that is!). By also having a good stewardship plan in place, you’ll ensure that all your wonderful donors will know how important their contribution was to your mission—and that means you’ll be one step closer to having them invest in your organization again next year. You’ll want to be ready to follow through with some creative ways to thank them, so they’ll give again next year.
Why is this so important? Well, for starters, fundraising guru Claire Axelrad’s research shows the average nonprofit in the U.S. loses 70% of donors after the first gift. Donor retention continues to be one of the most challenging problems facing nonprofits today. According to the 2017 Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report, for every $100 gained in donations to nonprofits, $95 in losses occurred through gift attrition. The growth rate of number of annual donors was even more dire: For every 100 new donors gained in 2015-16, 99 were lost through attrition.
There must be some way to offset this alarming trend!
Indeed, there is. Penelope Burke, author of Donor Centered Fundraising, is a vocal proponent of proper gift acknowledgment. She doesn’t just doesn’t think it’s important—her research proves it. When Burke polled donors, 84 percent said they would give again to an organization if they received a personalized thank you that specifically acknowledged what their gift benefitted.
Given the importance of ensuring donors are properly thanked, wouldn’t it be great if you had a go-to list of awesome stewardship ideas that you could plug into a thoughtful, well-thought out plan? Vanessa Chase Lockshin from The Storytelling Non-Profit offers a great list of 21 Ideas to Refresh Your Donor Stewardship. Here are some of my favorites from Vanessa’s list (with some handy links added):
Recognize in-honor/in-memory gifts in a special way, maybe with a specially designed thank you card.
Take your annual report online to reach more of your supporters. Need some ideas on what to include in your annual report? See Kivi LeRoux Millers’ guide and be sure to check out these 4 tips to creating an inspiring annual report.
Document your organization’s stewardship plan, and use gift tiers or giving status as a way to differentiate which donors will receive which stewardship touch. For instance, you may want recognize your first-time donors with a special thank you hand-signed by your board president or make a phone call to your $1,000+ donors.
Make notes of personal details your hear in conversations with your donors and document them in your donor database, so the next time you see them or speak with them you can easily recall the conversation and mention it. We all love it when someone remembers what they’ve told us. (Hint: A good CRM can help make this data collection process easy.)
If you’re new to creating stewardship plans, there’s no need to overwhelm yourself with an enormous to do list. These are just ideas. Start with 2 or 3 that you can implement next year. Or, if you’d like to kick off a plan now, check out this article on how to boost your fundraising with a month-to-month plan.
Lastly, be sure you track the effectiveness of whichever stewardship efforts you try. Knowing what has impact and what doesn’t will make develop your yearly plans a snap!
By finding new ways of letting your donors know that you appreciate them, you’ll be well on your way to building strong relationships with your donors that will last—and reversing that pesky donor attrition rate.
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