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4 Effective Stewardship Opportunities During a Pandemic

Posted: 8/15/2020

Click here to read on NonProfitPRO

by Steven Shattuck, bloomerang

The nonprofit sector has encountered more challenges in 2020 than we ever could've ever imagined. Fundraisers are working hard to keep up in this brave new world as people continue to endure the social and economic struggle that the coronavirus pandemic has brought about.

However, even throughout these troubling times, nonprofits can set themselves up for future fundraising success while encouraging financial support now. How?

By continuing to put donor stewardship at the forefront of your communications plan.

You may ask how exactly stewardship helps in a crisis, given it takes a concerted effort from your staff without the expectation of an immediate return. We have found that, uniquely, crisis stewardship produces faster outcomes than normal fundraising periods. More on that in just a bit.

What is donor stewardship, and why is it important?

Donor stewardship refers to non-appeal outreach that seeks to build relationships with your nonprofit's supporters, usually after a contribution has already been made to the organization.

Stewardship is massively important to nonprofit strategy because it improves donor retention rates — the percentage of supporters who return to your nonprofit and continue to give after their first contribution.

A mountain of research suggests that donors stay loyal to nonprofit organizations more often when that nonprofit has put in the effort to build a relationship with them.

We've compiled some of that research in this donor retention guide; specifically a study from Adrian Sargeant that shows when donors lapse or don't give to your nonprofit anymore, it's usually due to a lack of stewardship efforts on the organization's part. Five percent of supporters who lapse do so because they thought the charity did not need them, 8% because they didn't know how the money was used, 13% because they never received a thank-you, 18% for poor communication or services, and 36% because they thought another organization was more deserving.

All of these reasons for lapsing can be solved, at least in part, by crafting effective stewardship and communication plans.

In this guide, we'll dive into some of our favorite stewardship strategies that nonprofits can use in times of crisis, specifically. These effective strategies include:

  1. Segmenting your nonprofit's supporters
  2. Scheduling face-to-face meetings with your supporters
  3. Hosting awesome stewardship events
  4. Communicating the impact of donations made to your nonprofit

When you implement these strategies and continue building relationships with supporters, you can rest assured that after the crisis, they'll be willing and able to contribute again. They may even want to give more to make up for lost time!

Let's take a closer look at these strategies together so that your organization can effectively incorporate them into your own plans for success.

1. Segment Your Supporters

Credit: Bloomerang

1. Segment Your Supporters

As you reach out to your supporters, they'll be much more likely to engage with your messaging if it's customized to the type of donor that they are. This is especially important in times of crisis, when your messaging may be much more pointed and urgent.

Use the data analytics already stored in your database to decide what segments will be most likely to engage your supporters. You may choose to segment your supporters based on data such as the following:

  • Gift frequency or recency. What you say to and ask of a first-time donor should look different than what you say to a monthly donor, a long-time loyal annual donor or others in your database. For example, you may ask a lapsed donor to rejoin the fold with a one-time gift, while asking monthly donors to upgrade their current commitment.
  • Donation level. You'll likely address your major donors differently than your mid-level supporters and your mid-level supporters differently from your lower-level donors. Segmenting by donation levels makes it easy to reach the right audience with the right message and ask amount.
  • Donor interest. If you have a wide service offering, your appeals should speak to an individual service offering area that a donor has shown an interest in previously. Nonprofits with limited service offerings can still achieve this. For example, an appeal from an animal shelter to multiple supporters may look different depending on if the supporter adopted a cat or dog in the past. If you have fund designation information recorded on donor profiles, you can segment by that in order to infer interest areas.

Once you've segmented your supporters, you can use those segments to craft marketing messages that are highly targeted to the segmented groups.

The purpose of this is not only to ensure that your messaging resonates, but also that you avoid alienating donors.

Compare sending one generic crisis appeal to your entire database, versus sending three different versions of that appeal to lapsed donors, recent/active donors and current monthly donors. The lapsed donor appeal could speak to past support, while the recent/active donor appeal could thank them for previous support while also explaining the current crisis need. A monthly donor appeal could do something similar while asking for an upgrade or an extra "13th" gift.

Without segmentation, you run the risk of a monthly donor thinking, "I'm already giving monthly; why are they asking me?" or an active donor thinking "I just gave; don't they know that?"

I had a chance to interview a fundraiser who was able to raise thousands of dollars more during COVID-19 than she did in the same period in 2019; you can listen to the conversation here. Segmentation was a big part of their success!

There are many interesting segments that become evident during times of crisis.

For example, your ability to host in-person volunteers on-site may be limited. How can you appeal to that group who is otherwise locked out of their previous method of support? You may also have longtime corporate sponsors that aren't able to sponsor your events because they have been cancelled or postponed. What can you ask of them instead?

I compiled a list of unique segments during the COVID-19 crisis and how you might reach out to them here.

This strategy is much easier for nonprofits to accomplish when they have a robust donor database with integrated email marketing. With connectivity among these tools, your nonprofit can customize email templates and then employ their segments to send the message quickly and easily. Plus, new data obtained from the messages sent (like email open and click-through rates) can be streamlined directly back into the donor database.

2. Schedule (Virtual) In-Person, Face-to-Face Meetings

Credit: Bloomerang

2. Schedule (Virtual) In-Person, Face-to-Face Meetings

Although social distancing guidelines prevent nonprofits from having in-person meetings with their supporters, this doesn't mean you can't have face-to-face interaction. We recommend scheduling virtual meetings with your supporters.

With technology today, your staff members have the ability to discuss important matters with your supporters using video and audio. This allows them to communicate using both verbal and visual cues, making for better and clearer conversation.

Specifically, your nonprofit should be sure to set up these meetings with your major supporters. After conducting research on your supporters, make a list of those who carry the most value in their relationship with your organization and set up the meetings.

In these meetings, there are a few vital components of conversation you won't want to leave out. Be sure to discuss:

  • The well-being of the supporter. This should always be your first priority and, therefore, the first question you ask your donors.
  • The actions your organization has taken in response to the virus. Show your supporters how you're being responsible, yet continuing to work toward the mission.
  • How they can get involved. This may be through their contributions, their thoughts and prayers, or their attendance at events.

By scheduling face-to-face interactions with your supporters, you can establish a connection with them and continue developing personal relationships.

If you can't arrange or if donors aren't willing to meet face-to-face (virtually), don't overlook the power of email and telephone.

We compared data from our customers who logged not only in-person interactions, but also phone calls, personal (1:1) emails and text messages against customers who didn't log such interactions.

The differences in revenue during the early months of the pandemic were astounding:

Percent change in revenue compared to spring 2019: phone calls, personal emails, text messages and in-person interactions.

Percent change in revenue compared to spring 2019: phone calls, personal emails, text messages and in-person interactions. | Credit: Bloomerang

During these conversations, you don't have to ask for funding (though you should trust your judgment if you feel the conversation warrants it). This shows supporters that you care more about their well-being and relationship than you care about their funding. The last thing you want is for supporters to start feeling like ATMs.

3. Host Virtual Stewardship Events

Credit: Bloomerang

3. Host Virtual Stewardship Events

If your nonprofit is like so many others, you likely host regular fundraising events for your supporters to attend and give back to the organization. However, stewardship events are a little bit different. This guide touches on how your nonprofit's events play an important role in your strategic plan. In summary, events are used to help nonprofits reach individual objectives and create lasting relationships with supporters that will undoubtedly result in greater long-term fundraising revenue for your organization.

Stewardship events are essentially an effective way to say "thank you" to your valuable supporters. It provides a platform to not ask for money, but to show your appreciation for past contributions.

During the age of social distancing, you can still host these events, but they will need to occur over virtual platforms. Be sure to send out exclusive invitations to ensure the event is an intimate affair among your valued donors. If you're looking for effective virtual event ideas that focus on stewardship, consider the following:

  • Behind-the-scenes looks. Is there a way to give supporters an inside look at your program offerings remotely? Consider livestreaming on Facebook the work that your organization does, in lieu of in-person tours or on-site visits.
  • Virtual dinner parties. While galas are generally fundraising events, dinner parties don't have to be. Encourage your guests to get dressed up while at home! You may even send a coupon or a voucher for a local restaurant to deliver dinner to each home as everyone sits down for a shared meal and conversation. You could combine a meal with a book club or a film screening; perhaps one that is related to your organization's mission.
  • Virtual performances. Performing arts organizations, museums, and zoos and aquariums have set a high bar for giving supporters unique viewing opportunities, but don't feel discouraged if you aren't that type of organization. Get creative! YMCAs can offer virtual classes, while animal welfare or environmental groups can host interactive and educational sessions on the different types of flora and fauna they support and protect.

Many of your supporters probably have a lot more free time on their hands now than they had previously. Therefore, having them come together and participate in a shared activity is a welcome excuse for virtual socialization.

Plus, with the right event, you can deepen their relationship with your mission and with one another. It's a win-win!

4. Communicate Donation Impact

Credit: Bloomerang

4. Communicate Donation Impact

When supporters do give to your nonprofit, it's essential that your nonprofit not only show your gratitude to those generous individuals, but also communicate the impact of their contributions.

Qgiv's nonprofit fundraising guide explains that one of the essential steps to raising funds is giving your supporters a reason to give. This idea confirms that individuals don't give to organizations; rather, they donate to causes and missions. If you communicate the impact of donations, you're essentially proving to the donor that their contribution went directly to the cause.

This is especially true in times of crisis, when you may be asking for donors to go above and beyond what they normally give, for a very specific purpose.

When you communicate the impact of a donation, you have the choice to do so before the donation or afterward:

  • Before the donation: This is when you communicate the potential of donation amounts directly on your donation page. This works especially well if you offer suggested giving levels. You may explain that a $100 donation will provide a puppy with all of its necessary vaccines and medical care, $200 will pay for vaccines and a month's supply of food, and $500 will shelter 10 dogs for a month.
  • After the donation: After a supporter has contributed to your organization, you may choose to follow up with them to show additional appreciation for their contribution. As you do so, tell them about the incredible impact that has occurred due to their generosity. For instance, you may explain to a supporter, "Your contribution of $100 allowed dogs like Fluffy to receive his vaccines and medical care so that he was qualified to be placed for adoption. He has since been adopted and has a new loving family."

We recommend that nonprofits communicate potential impact before the donation when raising funds on your general fundraising page and for your annual fund. This is because you can communicate the potential for the funds and recognize that your annual fund is used for a variety of purposes. This is because it can be hard to keep track of the exact impact of each donation to this fund.

However, if you're running a specific campaign, you may decide to communicate the very specific impact of a gift after it has been given. When the campaign ends, reach back out to your supporters with an additional thank-you, explaining how the campaign turned out, how many individuals were helped and maybe even a personal narrative from those aided.


Stewardship is essential during these difficult times. It helps your nonprofit raise more in your current fundraising strategy and sets you up for long-term success with your supporters. With these four strategies, your organization will come out of the crisis with a strengthened support-base. Good luck!

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