20 Ideas to Virtually Steward Donors

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by Rachel Muir

As the town crier for donor love, I have a healthy obsession with donor stewardship. I love finding free and inexpensive ways to virtually steward donors with a personal touch.

Why the obsession with stewardship? In a word: retention. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Report, only 19% of new donors will make a second gift. But if you can just get them to make three or more gifts your odds of keeping them skyrocket as high as 64%.

In a pandemic world good donor stewardship has NEVER been more important.

Take away the galas, meeting for coffee, golf tournaments, happy hours, and cocktail parties and what do you have? Today we’re living in a virtual world where we are 100% reliant on technology to get our message through and humanize our connection.

Here’s 20 ideas to help you virtually steward and cultivate your donors

  1. Celebrate unsung holidays perfect for expressing gratitude, like Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving with a personal thank you email: “This Valentine’s Day we wanted to take a moment to reach out to someone special. You. Because of you hungry families are getting healthy meals…”
  2. Send your donor a video email of you, your clients, your staff and/or your beneficiaries thanking them shot on your phone. This does NOT have to be complicated (or cost money)! Case in point here.
  3. Send them a letter written by someone whose life they’ve changed.
  4. Call to check in on them or ask their opinion. It could be as simple as “How are you taking care of yourself today?” or as deep as “What do you hope we all learn or take away from this experience?”
  5. Host a virtual thank-a-thon where you give board members sample donor thank you scripts to thank donors. Give them a few donor discovery questions should they get a donor on the phone, like “What inspired your gift?” and “Is there any way we can make your experience more positive?” Give prizes to the winners who called the most donors or got the most people on the phone
  6. Give them shout-outs on social media. It can be directed at all donors, i.?e. “How do we love #donors? Let us count the ways!” or spotlight specific donors by publicly thanking them. If permitted, share their picture with a story of what they mean to your organization or give them the chance to share why your organization is important to them. *Disclaimer: Make sure donors are comfortable with being addressed publicly. Get their permission before using their name or picture in any form of communication.
  7. Craft a donor stewardship plan if you don’t already have one. Download this sample template as a starting point. Hint: to maximize first-time donor retention, structure your stewardship around longevity of the donors (new donor, etc) versus gift amount.
  8. Host a virtual behind the scenes event, be it a virtual coffee with the CEO or telephone town hall.
  9. Call out first-time donors as such in your thank you letter, i.?e. “Dear John, I’m overjoyed to receive such a generous first-time gift from you, and I’m thrilled to welcome into our donor family.
  10. Start celebrating your donor’s “Donor-versary,” the anniversary of when their made their first gift to you with a letter honoring the longevity of their giving, i.?e. “Dear John, 5 years ago you made your first gift to use. Since then you…[insert an amazing accomplishment the donor made happen]”
  11. Add a recurring weekly Stewardship Power Hour to your calendar where you call to thank and update donors.
  12. Download a time-saving digital tool like the Felt app, to help you craft meaningful handwritten cards using your mobile device. This handy tool plugs into your photo library on your mobile device so you can send a donor a personal handwritten thank you card with a photo you take of them without ever licking a stamp! You can even upgrade to have stationary branded with your logo.
  13. Make sure you’ve got a donor-centric thank you landing page. The thank-you confirmation page is the most underutilized asset in your donor’s online giving experience. If you do this page well, you can retain and even upgrade your donor. Use a donor-centric headline to thank them, like “You just did a great thing!” Tell them how their gift is on its way to have an impact and describe how with a beaming happy closeup photo. Add an optional comment box on your thank you landing page to ask what inspired your donor to make their gift.
  14. Record video emails to your donors using digital tools like Bomb Bomb, that make it easy and simple to send highly personalized and completely irresistible video communications to your audience from your desktop or mobile phone. Watch an example by Julie Edwards, the Executive Director of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia.
  15. If you’re close, make a plan to reach out to them and them know you’re thinking of them on their birthday, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.
  16. Nowadays unknown callers often go straight to voice mail but SMS text open rates are as high as 98% average. Use texting for donor stewardship with Textology, which lets you text and reply to donors all from your inbox!
  17. Looking for a simple and inexpensive way to personalize your email to the masses? Try Gmass, a mail merge tool that works with any Gmail account and lets you send and schedule mass email with the ability to tracks opens and clicks.
  18. Create a donor stewardship email series for new donors.
  19. Create a weekly or monthly stewardship feel good stewardship email.
  20. Use donor-centric subject lines like “Thanks to you… [our girls are visiting colleges today, etc…] of the beneficiary.

Want more help and tools to virtually steward and cultivate your donors?

Watch Rachel’s webinar replay “How to Steward & Cultivate Major Donors in a Virtual World” or download a copy of Rachel’s “Virtual Guide to Donor Cultivation.”

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