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From the donor’s point of view, stewardship is the most important part of the fundraising cycle. This is where you let your donors know you appreciate them and their support. In this phase, you already know they are committed to the mission. Now, it’s your turn to let them know that you, not only appreciate their donation, but you value them as friends of your organization.

One of my favorite stories was told by a speaker who worked for a major hospital. Her team of fundraisers had a donor relations department that supported their efforts. They were given their list of donors to contact every week, with full profiles. On the anniversary of the donor’s first gift, they would deliver a cake from a bakery who made dozens of cakes for them every month.

Stewardship should not just be for major donors. Of course, you cannot give everyone the same attention, but you can give everyone some attention. This is where volunteers come in. What if you had a group of volunteers who just sent birthday cards to all your donors during their birthday month? That would be fantastic! I know, because I worked at an organization that had been doing that for years. Major donors may receive the special gifts and the behind-the-scenes tours, but a birthday card goes a long way.

Stewardship is more than an occasional, end-of-year thank you, it really should be year-round. Even if you don’t have a sophisticated CRM to remind you, you can still send notes, make phone calls, and send emails to a broad range of donors. It takes planning and commitment, but, it’s worth it to keep loyal donors onboard. Thanking donors, regardless of the amount of their gift, is a worthwhile job for volunteers.

For long-time donors, stewardship and cultivation become one, and that’s okay. You should be in touch with your donors many more times that you solicit them. Expressing your gratitude, sharing news about your organization’s successes and challenges makes the donor feel closer to the organization and the mission. They are more likely to share the stories and news with their friends, family and colleagues, which might attract new donors. It’s all one big cycle.

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