Improving Your Donor Base? Don’t Go Looking for New Prospects!

By Anthony Lehnertz

Far too many fundraising professionals today are constantly searching for more donors…constantly hoping to find that one diamond in the rough to give a first gift of $1,000,000 to their organization. Despite all of the prospecting and cultivation these professionals do to increase the first time donor base, they just seem to let donors go after that initial $50 gift. Why is that? Why would you spend time and money to get rejected by 90% of your prospects just to let a generous donor disappear after their gift?

I’m here to tell you that the best way to grow your donor base is not to go searching for new donors, but to start stewarding your current donors.

What is Stewardship?stewardship Joe Garecht, of the Fundraising Authority, does a great job of defining stewardship in his recent article, Are You Stewarding Your Donors?, he states: 

Stewarding after a donation is like cultivating before a donation: it is a process by which the organization develops an ever-stronger relationship with the donor, and involves constant communication to deepen the relationship.

Fundraisers put so much time and effort into cultivating first gifts from prospective donors, when they should really be putting most of that time towards stewarding current donors and, in turn, cultivating future gifts.

Finding new donors can be a struggle, in fact, studies show that retaining a first-time donor can be difficult as well. Just 18% of first-time donors make a second gift while 85% of third-time donors go on to make a fourth gift. So your success rate will be greater if you spend time cultivating gifts from current donors instead of trying to find new donors.

How to Steward Successfully

Even those who understand the importance of stewarding donors usually do not understand the lengthy process of stewardship. Successful stewardship is not an afterthought. The type of stewardship where a donor receives an automatic and non-personal thank you email after making a gift is hardly to be considered stewardship.

Proper stewardship requires multiple thank you’s in multiple different ways. There are many unique and memorable ways to steward a donor; however, the most important thing to remember is that all of these successful tactics focus on being personal.

Stewardship Styles

Obviously all donors are different and think differently so stewardship tactics should be shaped around the type of person you are stewarding. For example, men are generally assumed to be making donations logically. Therefore, you must steward them with hard facts that show what their money is paying for and why that money is needed.

On the other hand, women generally donate because of emotions and passions. She might respond better to a stewardship letter that talks about how much the beneficiary appreciates the gift that was made. Less data-based and more photo/emotion-based tactics might work better in this situation.

Whichever tactic you decide to use, don’t forget to make it personal. Stewardship is an important step in the donor relations continuum. A fundraising team that makes stewardship a priority will be a successful fundraising team!

Anthony Lehnertz is a senior at the University of Iowa studying Finance and Spanish while pursuing a certificate in Fundraising and Philanthropy Communication. He continues to learn about the importance of philanthropy in higher education while interning at the University of Iowa Foundation.


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