Donor Stewardship: 5 Techniques for Building Relationships

Mark Kelly
August 17, 2018

Manage your supporters more effectively with these donor stewardship techniques.

If there’s one thing that challenges nonprofits campaign after campaign, it’s knowing how to effectively steward key donors to provide necessary support to your cause. Whether your nonprofit has an undefined donor stewardship strategy, or your organization isn’t exactly sure what your donor stewardship goals should be, your team should take the time to brush up on some donor stewardship best practices.

Donor stewardship has been around as long as nonprofit fundraising. However, with leaps forward in donor management technology, there are now so many more ways your team can engage key supporters and lay the groundwork for future giving.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the top ways nonprofits can maximize their donor stewardship efforts by implementing the right software solutions. Your team should:

  1. Maintain smart donor stewardship profiles in your CRM.
  2. Tailor your donors into stewardship segments.
  3. Use marketing automations to maintain regular stewardship.
  4. Engage (and re-engage) donors with relevant stewardship opportunities.
  5. Choose integrated donor stewardship software.

Donor stewardship doesn’t need to be daunting for nonprofits like yours. Let’s take a look at some of these smart ways your team can build lasting relationships with software-powered donor stewardship.

Maintain smart donor stewardship profiles in your CRM.

1. Maintain smart donor stewardship profiles in your CRM.

Above all, the key to effective donor stewardship practices is to actually know who your donors are and where they fit in among your community.

Too often, nonprofit organizations think of donor stewardship as a one-size-fits-all undertaking.

Rather, your team should develop perfectly tailored donor stewardship strategies to your different constituents, and the only way to truly personalize your approach is to keep clean, accurate data in donor stewardship profiles.

You’ll maintain these robust profiles in your nonprofit’s CRM so that they can be accessed on a moment’s notice to provide context for your relationships and offer insight into what kind of engagement efforts could be successful for different individuals.

Your donor profiles should track relationships from day one, meaning that as soon as an individual meaningfully engages with your cause, your CRM should generate a unique profile for that new constituent.

By doing so, your team can start collecting data that will help you tailor future engagement opportunities. For example, if you see that a prospective donor tends to give online, you might focus your engagement with them on digital channels, rather than sending formal fundraising letters.

When your team is able to offer supporters relevant opportunities to engage with your cause, those individuals are more likely to donate in the future and remain active members of your community.

Tailor your donors into stewardship segments.

2. Tailor your donors into stewardship segments.

Another great way to get to know your donors is to create stewardship segments in your nonprofit’s donor management software.

Stewardship segments are groups of donors (or prospective donors) who share similar characteristics.

Using your CRM’s data reporting tools, you can track the habits of these groups and better predict how they’ll respond to certain stewardship strategies. This way, you’ll have both an on-the-ground and bird’s-eye understanding of who your community members are.

Keep in mind some of the following markers your team might use when splitting donors into stewardship segments:

  • Campaign. Segments that group together constituents who all participated in similar campaigns can help identify which of your supporters is most likely to contribute to a similar fundraising project (or who is unlikely to donate to a very different campaign).
  • Donor type. You’ll want to know how your major donors behave, trends in your first-time giving constituents, and who among your community prefers to donate to capital campaigns vs. peer-to-peer fundraisers. Creating segments by donor type can shine a spotlight on these preferences.
  • Demographics. Knowing how many donors you have from a particular region, or what proportion of givers are women, can help your nonprofit better understand your core audience and how to make stronger connections with different donor demographics.
  • Channels. Some donors only give when solicited first via direct mail. Others only donate when they’re sent a link on social media to make their gift. Track the preferred giving and communication channels of donors to plan more effective stewardship.
  • History. You wouldn’t engage with an individual who has regularly donated to your cause for over ten years in the same way you’d address a first-time donor. Segment constituents by their time with your community so you can properly steward supporters.

The data you keep on individual donors doesn’t just tell a story about who they are, but can contribute to the larger picture of who your community is. Segment your supporters into cohorts like the ones above to plan more impactful stewardship efforts.

Use marketing automations to maintain regular stewardship.

3. Use marketing automations to maintain regular stewardship.

Proper stewardship depends upon staying front of mind with your constituents, so your team should have marketing automations in place to regulate this process.

Luckily, your nonprofit can benefit from smart marketing automation software to keep your constituents connected with your cause.

Plan messaging, set publication schedules, and craft segmented marketing messages with automated marketing tools. The more flexibility your team has over your marketing, the better you’ll be able to steward your desired donors.

With marketing automations, your team can more effectively share:

  • Stewardship letters. Draft direct mail stewardship letter templates tailored to your nonprofit’s most important segments. Then, automatically flow data like your supporters’ names into the your stewardship letters to give them a personal touch.
  • Event invitations. Send out tailored event invitations to specific donors or segments based on their predicted interest level. This way, your supporters only receive invitations to stewardship events that are relevant to their preferences and habits.
  • Email marketing. Your email marketing channel is one of your most important stewardship tools, so be sure to optimize your email strategy with marketing automations that allow you to plan and customize all email messages.

Even more important, though, are automated gift acknowledgements. The best way for your nonprofit to lay the groundwork for future giving is to set up automated thank you messages and annual gift acknowledgements that donors can use to file their taxes.

By regularly showing appreciation and acknowledging their support, your donors will feel like they truly make a difference to your cause, inspiring them to keep giving in the future.

Take a look at how Salsa Engage automates the gift acknowledgment process.


Engage (and re-engage) donors with relevant stewardship opportunities.

4. Engage (and re-engage) donors with relevant stewardship opportunities.

By far, one of the most effective ways to steward future donors is to regularly engage them, even if that means you’re interacting outside of fundraising.

Most nonprofit professionals understand the importance of these relationship building engagement opportunities, but fewer know how to maximize the impact of regular engagement.

Figuring out how to effectively plan engagement and stewardship opportunities doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. In fact, by leveraging donor management software to plan and execute stewardship events and campaigns, you eliminate the guesswork from honing your stewardship strategy.

Take a look at how you can enhance these classic engagement opportunities with software-powered stewardship:

  • Stewardship events. If you want your stewardship events to make an impact, leverage donor management software to curate tailored guest lists and determine what kinds of events your stewardship segments will get excited about.
  • Volunteer opportunities. Similarly, you can keep up the momentum of your donor relationships between gifts by sending supporters customized invitations to unique volunteer opportunities based on preferences tracked in their supporter profiles.
  • Advocacy campaigns. Calling on supporters to engage with advocacy campaigns can be a great way to keep them involved with your cause. Send tailored calls to action that invite individuals to share online petitions or engage in targeted actions relevant to their interests.

The bottom line? As you steward your donor relationships between solicitations, your team should be offering engagement opportunities that are designed for your unique constituents.

This shows supporters you understand who they really are and the important role they have to play in your mission.

Choose integrated donor stewardship software.

5. Choose integrated donor stewardship software.

Finally, the best way your nonprofit can make stronger connections with supporters and up the impact of your stewardship strategy is to invest in an integrated stewardship software platform.

You already know how important it is to keep your nonprofit’s software seamlessly connected. When nonprofits choose separate, disconnected software, they run the risk of common data management missteps and lose out on essential strategic insights.

This can throw a huge wrench in your organization’s stewardship strategy. By choosing an integrated fundraising and donor management platform, your team can create a 360 degree stewardship strategy that balances the importance of convenient giving with informed relationship management.

Think of it this way: how much easier would it be if your donors were automatically added to your supporter database the moment they make their first gift? Or as soon as a new volunteer signs up for an event?

Instead of having to manually transfer data from one system to the next, your nonprofit software platform can manage your supporter relationships in real time, providing your team the best perspective possible on your community.

When it comes to your stewardship strategy, understanding the ins and outs of your community is of the utmost importance.

By having a comprehensive view of who your supporters are, why they’re inspired by your cause, and how they like to get involved, you’ll be able to offer them giving and engagement opportunities that they’ll actually love.

Think your nonprofit is ready to optimize your stewardship strategy? Then now is the perfect time to invest in a comprehensive nonprofit software platform like Salsa.

Salsa CRM is an all-in-one fundraising and donor management solution. Discover all that Salsa CRM can offer your cause as you get started revitalizing your stewardship strategy.


With the right software tools, perfecting your donor stewardship strategy has never been easier. Now that we’ve reviewed these essential techniques, your nonprofit is ready to build better donor relationships.

If you want to unlock more supporter management and fundraising tips, check out these additional resources:

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