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Last updated: 01-06-2021

Stewardship: What it is and why it matters

Whatever your role, fundraisers need to be experts at asking people for money.

You might be an Individual Giving Fundraiser who can write inspiring direct mail appeals. Perhaps you're a Trust Fundraiser who completes extensive grant applications to secure high value gifts. Or perhaps you're a Community Fundraiser who can stand in front of a classroom and deliver amazing presentations that will energise hundreds of children to raise sponsorship money for your organisation.

But fundraising isn't just about asking. You also need to be an expert at thanking.

Image shows Scrabble letters spelling out the words THANKS

What is stewardship?

The dictionary definition of stewardship is "the job of supervising or taking care of something". So, when it comes to fundraising, stewardship is the art of looking after your donors and making them feel like they made the right decision when they chose to support your charity.

It's about saying thank you and really meaning it.

It's about showing them the impact of their donation and proving that their gift made a difference.

It's about relationship-building and finding out more about their interests and motivations.

Why does it matter?

Stewardship matters for a very simple reason - if we look after our supporters, they will look after us. People who feel valued by your organisation are much more likely to give again.

Good stewardship actually makes great business sense, because it's much more expensive to acquire a brand new donor than to ask an existing supporter for a repeat gift.

Example

Imagine you're really passionate about climate change. You've done some research and found a couple of charities who seem to be doing some great work in this area. You pick two of the charities and make an online donation to each of them.

What happens next?

  • Charity A sends you an automated email receipt thanking you for your donation. Six months later, they send you another email asking you to support their latest fundraising appeal.
  • Charity B also sends you an automated email receipt thank you for your donation. A few days later, a member of the fundraising team gives you a call to thank you personally for your support and to ask a few questions about what inspired you to give. In the call, you mention that you're considering moving to a plant-based diet, and the fundraiser follows up your call by posting you a handwritten note with some recipe suggestions which they've cut out from one of the charity's recent newsletters. Over the next few months, you receive regular updates from the charity about their work and how your donation is making a difference. As well as talking about what they're doing, the charity also send you helpful suggestions about simple changes you can make in your own community to help the environment. After a short while, they invite you to support their latest fundraising appeal.

Which fundraising appeal do you think you would be more likely to support with another donation?

image shows a handwritten thank you note, and a pencil in the hand of the writer
Sending a handwritten note is a really great way to add a personal touch to your thank you messages

How to deliver fantastic stewardship

Every organisation will deliver stewardship differently, but here are a few of our top tips to make sure you are really making your supporters feel valued!

  • Say thank you regularly - Without the help of your supporters, your charity couldn't fund this amazing work! Make sure your supporters know how grateful you are that they chose to invest in your cause.
  • Make it personal - Whether you have just a handful of supporters or thousands of them, everyone deserves to be appreciated. Make sure you address letters and emails personally ("Dear Friend" is nowhere near as personal as "Dear Sarah"), and it's even better if you can occasionally send handwritten notes to your supporters instead of using mail merge! Also, if you have permission, share real supporter stories and photos on your social media channels to encourage others to do the same.
  • Keep them updated - Show them how their donation has made a difference. If you have a lot of supporters, you could send a newsletter. Or, if you're a smaller charity, pick up and phone and tell your supporters what you've been up to! Bonus points if you can invite your supporters in to see your work with their own eyes - perhaps you could arrange a tour of a research lab, an opportunity to meet the animals in your care, or an invitation to meet your expert team.
  • Avoid using every communication to ask for money - Don't make your supporters feel pressured by asking too often, as this can be off-putting and make your communications feel dull and repetitive. Instead of asking for money, you could consider making non-financial asks, such as asking your supporters to forward your email to a friend or sign a petition. The key to good stewardship is to get the balance right.
  • Give back - By making a donation, your supporters have already shown an interest in your cause. So, is there anything you can do to reciprocate their gift by giving them something they want in return? Perhaps you could invite them to a special thank you event, or send them helpful advice or a really inspiring welcome pack. Perhaps you could offer special donor recognition opportunities, such as including their name in your annual report or sharing their loved one's name in a public space.
  • Get to know your supporters - Like any good relationship, it's not all about you! Speak to your supporters regularly or send out a survey to find out more about their interests and motivations. Then, use this information to tailor your communications to make them even more engaging.

We hope this has been a useful introduction to stewardship, and that this blog has given you the confidence to include donor stewardship in your plans when you're organising your next fundraising campaign. We can't wait to see how you get on!

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