Recently, I was thanked by a client.

It was very meaningful.

It was simple.

It cost nothing.

I was honored to receive this certificate and be recognized for my work in front of the staff and Board members who I had worked with for the past two and a half years. This certificate will be framed on my office wall. This simple gift made me think about donor stewardship.

The key to stewardship is that it needs to be meaningful to the donor. That does not mean it doesn’t need to cost a lot.

I remember back to when I was an event planner and I bought lots of donor and sponsor thank you gifts… all from Tiffanys. Yep, that Tiffanys. I shopped there just about every other week and spent thousands and thousands of dollars to thank donors. It wasn’t my initiative, but I sure enjoyed walking into that store and being recognized by name. Ultimately, it was an inappropriate way to thank a donor.

So, what is an appropriate way to thank a donor?

Often the most simple thank you’s are the most valuable. Recognizing a donor in front of their peers is more valuable than gold.  If you can — and your donor is amenable — find a time to honor them at one of your upcoming events or receptions.  This is a free way to thank a donor and essentially “brag” about their good work to their friends.

Most donors prefer a simple thank you and would rather not have the organization spend part of their donation on a recognition gift. BUT you need to know your donor! If they prefer a small gift or plaque or other form of recognition, make sure to provide it.

You may also want to set up a system of how you thank donors based on the amount of the gift.

  • For every donation, the donor should receive a thank you letter and donation receipt. No exceptions!
  • For a $500 donation, perhaps the donor receives a hand written thank you note from you.
  • For a $1,000 donation, perhaps the donor receives a phone call from you, the Executive Director or a Board member.
  • For a donation greater than $1,000, perhaps the donor receives a plaque on your donor wall.
  • For all donations over a certain amount, perhaps you host a stewardship event to treat donors and update them on how their donation has made a difference at your organization that year.

For every gift I make to the University of San Diego, a student will call me to thank me. It is such a simple gesture, but it means so much to me. AND more importantly, it is nice to hear from a nonprofit and not be solicited.

Often donors just want to be “kept in the loop” and know their donation is making a difference. A newsletter – email or hard copy – is a great way to let your donors know what is going on. Also, don’t be shy to pick up the phone or set up a meeting with your donor to let them know when the program they funded has big (or even little) successes. The more you can connect the donor directly with the area they funded, the more likely they are going to continue to support you.

How does your organization steward your donor?

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