Donor Stewardship: Ten Creative Minutes a Day

I think often about gratitude.

Or, rather, I think about gratitude, and how sometimes I lack it for the people, places, and things that add immeasurable value and joy to my life. It is too easy for me to lose sight of the blessings I’ve received in life when I’m head down in my work or even just trying to tread water. My lack of gratitude makes hard times feel harder.

I think nonprofits should think similarly about gratitude, especially as it relates to stewarding our donors.

As in, nonprofits would stand to benefit from more time reflecting in gratitude on the support they receive, especially when times are hard. (And nonprofits know all about hard times, don’t they?)

They work hard to change the world, cultivate support for the work, and spread the word about the good they do.It’s especially meaningful to know we’re making a difference in our communities, which makes the support from donors extra special.

But how often do they – and we – stop to say “thanks” to those who pitch in to help? If you’re like me (…hopefully not too much), then the answer is “not enough as we should.”

Stewardship is both blatantly obvious – all nonprofits do it – and yet easily cast aside when things get hard. How much more time and energy do your organizations spend on solicitations and cultivating new donors at the expense of the ones who already support you?

But enough preaching to a bored choir. You know this already.

You know this because you know saying thanks is important (you’re not heartless), but you also know that stewardship slips from the to-do list if you’re not careful. So, how can stewardship be something that you can do easily while also not reducing your donors to mere recipients of automated tax receipts?

Here are a few suggestions to make stewardship easier while keeping it fresh and something more than rote.

  • Make it a daily routine.
    • I keep a journal. I’ve done so for nearly a decade, filling the pages with brief thoughts on the day both good and bad. When I’m doing it right, I am sure to jot down at least one thing for which I am grateful. At most, journaling takes 10 minutes from my day, either at the beginning or the end, and the benefit is immeasurable, even when I’m having a miserable day.
    • Similarly, stewardship can become a part of your – or your development team’s – daily routine. Imagine how many donors, whether they gave $1 or $100,000, you can respond to with a simple thank you phone call, email, or written card in 10 to 15 minutes a day. Blocking off time at the beginning or end of your day to say “thanks” can profoundly impact you, your organization, and your donors.
  • Personalize it.
    • We’ve all received *that* email or piece in the mail. Which one? This one: the one from the nonprofit that spells your name wrong or doesn’t even address you personally! They’re asking you for money – or even worse, thanking you for your money – and they can’t even say who you are?! One of my worst nightmares come to life. (I have oddly specific dreams.)
    • But bad stewardship is arguably better than no stewardship at all. And when we get busy, we can lose sight of the details that make it good. This means you should be diligent in collecting data where possible to ensure names are spelled right, emails have the correct dynamic fields, and phone numbers have the right number of digits before you call. I’d even encourage you to collect data on where that gift is directed. Is it to a specific program?
    • Even if you’re taking just 10 minutes a day to steward your donors, throw in an extra minute or two to make sure you’ve got the names right.
  • Mix it up.
    • Thank you” is only one phrase, but how many ways can you think of to express it to someone who supports you? Here are but a few:
      • Email
      • Phone call
      • Social media shoutout
      • Video (Thankview and Gratavid are great platforms)
      • An invitation to your next event
      • Zoom visit over coffee
      • Small gift shipped to the person’s home
    • Be sure to find a few different methods that work for you and stick to them. Are you like me and would rather chew glass than talk on the phone? Emails and Zoom visits should do the trick. Are you comfortable on camera? Then a short video saying thanks are fun and creative.

Stewardship is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Nor is it something that should get buried under you rother tasks. However, ten creative minutes a day is all you need to make your donors feel appreciated and energized to support all the amazing work you already do.