Are you looking after your donors?

Annie JarvisIn light of the recent email hiccup by Wateraid, which saw the multi-million-pound international development charity accidentally send out an event reminder to almost everyone on its email list, I decided to share my thoughts on charity stewardship, expressing why I think donor cultivation is an absolute must when it comes to increasing your income.


One vital yet often ignored aspect of charity fundraising is donor stewardship. Although most organisations are quick to log the details of their donors to ask them for even more money later down the line, many charities fail to build a substantial and lasting relationship with these individuals[1], which means that when it comes to that all important second or third ask, the answer is almost always no.

What is stewardship?

In layman’s terms, stewardship is the relationship a charity builds (or should build) with its supporters. From the initial thank you letter following that very first donation, through to the last time an individual chooses to support the charity, stewarding a donor is a long-term relationship that should be nurtured and beneficial to both sides.

Whether you’re thanking the donor for their support, providing them with information on the charity’s activities, or updating them on strategic developments within the charity, stewardship at some level is a must.

Why stewardship is so important?

Individual donations remain the most popular way for people to engage with a charity, with 61% of people having done so in 2016 to 2017,[2] donating over £9.7 billion in total. According to the Charities Aid Foundation 2017 report, 25% of these individuals give monthly, and 51% give from time to time, highlighting the incredible potential for charities to increase their number of regular donors.

As asking someone for money is a very personal thing to do, showcasing the benefits of that donation is vital. Charities are excellent at tugging at the heart strings of their supporters, but many don’t realise that charity supporters see straight through false attentiveness and are quickly turned off by bombarding and useless emails and letters (evidenced by the high level of complaints Wateraid received from its recent email hiccup). When voluntary income provides such a high return on investment[3], it’s a no brainer that we should be looking after our donors, and listening to what they actually want, rather than thinking and acting on their behalf.

While it can be easier for larger organisations to spend time and money looking after their supporters, with organisations like the NSPCC investing in Direct Marketing Agencies to ‘delight donors’, smaller organisations can provide a much more personal approach to their stewardship plans, using that close, personal touch to reach and engage supporters and make them feel a part of the change you are making. If you treat your donors properly and honour their wishes, they should respond when you ask.[4] No organisation should be using the excuse that it doesn’t have the time or financial capacity to fully steward its donors. When life gives you lemons, you don’t throw them in the bin, you try to make lemonade!

My Top Tips for Effective Donor Cultivation

  • Steward from the start: Send that initial thank you letter and show your donor you care. Personalisation is key! Ask them how they want you to communicate with them.
  • Log everything: From an excel spreadsheet to a CRM such as Raisers Edge, every detail should be logged for future reference.
  • Listen to what they want and build a relationship: Don’t assume each donor wants the same thing in return. Every donor is unique and should be listened to.
  • Get them involved: One of the best ways to look after your donors is to get them involved in the work you do. Allow them to see your impact first hand, and become your biggest patrons.
  • Be transparent and build trust: Always tell your donors what you are spending their money on, and be open and honest about the way you operate.
  • Get creative: Believe it or not, emails are boring. Find new ways to share news with your donors, from videos to live engagement opportunities.
  • Respect their decisions: If someone no longer wishes to support your charity, let them go. There’s nothing worse than them walking away with a bad taste in their mouth.

With new rules approaching on use of data and the Fundraising Preference Service it’s even more important we keep our donors close.

What do you think we shoud be focusing on in donor stewardship? We’d love to hear.

Annie Jarvis, Development Coordinator, Cause4. @AnnieJarvis92

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