Nonprofit Investment Management Blog

12 Ways to Steward Endowment and Major Donors

Posted by Megan Lencoski on Jun 6, 2022 5:08:23 PM

12 ways to steward endowment and major donors new

Your stewardship plan can consist of any engagement that fits your organization, donors and mission. Here are 12 ideas to add to your major donor stewardship plan.

1. Communicate Appreciation as Soon as Possible.

Most nonprofits have at least a basic acknowledgment policy that involves a thank you letter with the gift date and amount (and if you don’t, start one TODAY!). But to increase the likelihood of another donation, organizations should make their thank you card special by sending them promptly and making them personalized.

In her book, Donor Centered Fundraising, Penelope Burk states, 

Your thank you (letter) should get out the door within 48 hours. Period. No arguments… If you don’t thank donors, promptly, you’re destroying all the rest of your hard work. Timely follow-up matters. A lot.” 

This holds especially true for major and endowment donors. To steward major donors, treat them as VIPs. By making it a priority and reaching out to the donor immediately, you are showing the donor how important the gift was and how excited you are to receive it. 

Poor communication reduces donor retention, and not hearing from the organization will leave the donor wondering if their gift was needed or appreciated. Never assume donors know how their gift will make an impact. Be specific about how their donation is furthering your mission and how they are making a difference. By creating a grateful and warm donation experience, you ensure the donor has a positive disposition towards your organization.


2. Make the Donor Feel Like a Hero.

To increase the chance of a repeat gift from that donor, organizations should go the extra mile to make the donor feel like a hero. Find ways to show appreciation through your thank you letter and receipt by sharing a story, photo, organization stats or a program update. Bonus points if it is a handwritten card! Get creative and use donor-centric language on all materials.

Using specific units (i.e. your $5,000 donation paid for 100 nights of safe shelter for women and children) to showcase the impact of their gift is very effective and memorable. Mix in stats with impactful stories that were made possible because of their support. Validate the effect of their contribution by showcasing the amazing work your organization does.

After the gift is received, use this as an opportunity to ask your major donor how they would like to be communicated with. Would they prefer a call, text, email or letter in the mail? You can send them a survey or ask them on your phone call (see below) and save the information in your CRM. Meeting the donor where they are is just another perk your organization offers them that puts you ahead of the rest.


3. Incorporate Phone Calls.

One of the best strategies a development officer can use to steward major donors is to call them individually. This is a great first step in a major donor stewardship plan. Calling major donors allows you to respond promptly, create a personal connection and get real-time feedback. Major donors like to be included and feel like their opinion matters, so ask them questions and learn about their connection to your mission.

Before you scroll down, we know making phone calls can be intimidating. Maybe you’re not sure what to say or how to start or end the conversation, or maybe you feel you just don’t have time. But setting aside just 10 minutes a week to call major donors and interact with them will increase gift levels and donor retention. By spending a small amount of time every week, you save yourself massive amounts of time and money to acquire new donors in the future. If you need some help figuring out what to say, here is a donor thank you call sample script made by Bloomerang.


4. Create Donor Impact Reports.

Organizations need to continue with engagement even after the initial thank you is made. Fostering the relationship you have nurtured with a donor is key to continued support. Your programs are busy accomplishing amazing things with your donor’s money, but they don’t know this if you don’t tell them. And considering the program wouldn’t be able to run without your donors, it is very important to keep them in the loop.

Creating a donor impact report is one way to show donors how their gift is making an impact. These reports can be made from a template and sent as an email or letter. Every month or quarter, update the template with a new success story, stats and dates to send to your segmented group. This will allow your donors to stay engaged throughout the year and hear updates on the campaign they supported. The more stories they hear about the good you are doing, the more it will inspire them to give in the future.

It’s important to communicate regularly with program coordinators to ensure the proper delivery of outcomes, stories and metrics. Explain to the program staff why sharing success stories is so important and how to do so. Do you want quick wins or written narratives? Can they email them to you or save them in a shared drive? Taking the time to work with your program staff upfront will pay off when they are sending you so many stories you don’t know what to do with all of them.

Feel overwhelmed by the thought of having to create more content? Segment your donors so it’s easy to create a personalized report on a mass scale. It can be as simple as a letter, as pretty as an infographic or anything in between. The important thing is to create a template you can use over and over again that will communicate the donor’s impact.

Canva is an online design tool that has a free version, and they even have a Canva for nonprofits program that gives their paid plan for free. Here are some great articles to help you easily design a donor impact report in Canva.


5. Get an Update on Your Endowment From Your Nonprofit Investment Advisor.

Reach out to your nonprofit investment advisor to receive an update on your endowment and investments. You can share your success, how the fund is doing and what you were able to accomplish with the funds you withdrew. Your endowment donors are very important to your organization and should be communicated with regularly. Keeping them at the top of your mind and checking in with them specifically on your endowment fund will go a long way to increasing donations in the future.

Do you have a nonprofit investment advisor who’s on your side and provides updates on your investments for you? If not, contact Carnegie Investment today to speak with an advisor who specializes in the unique investing needs of nonprofits.


6. Include Everyone.

Although you are the main contact between the outside world and your organization, donors enjoy hearing from all members of your team. How can you incorporate your mission into your stewardship plan? Could you record your students singing a song to send to scholarship fund donors? Maybe your art therapy program can make special art pieces that can be photographed and shared. Or share a video of your team finishing the project you were working on (more on creating videos below). You can also use volunteers to help with personalizing, hand-writing, stuffing, sealing and stamping letters.

Bring a list of major donors and have board members write a few thank you notes at your next board meeting. You can even create a stewardship committee with volunteers and board members that call donors and interact with them. Donor Centered Fundraising author Penelope Burk found that a thank you call from a board member to a new donor within 24 hours of making the gift increased the next gift by 39 percent.  


7. Acquire Feedback.

Major donors want to feel valued. Incorporate a survey into your major donor stewardship plan using your CRM or a service such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey. These surveys give you key insights on how to improve your major giving program. This also gives the donor a chance to share their opinion and ideas they have to help your organization. Don’t make the survey long or confusing. A few questions to ask include:

  • Why do you give to us?
  • How do you prefer to donate?
  • How do you prefer to be communicated with?
  • Which aspect of our mission is most important to you?
  • How would you rate your donation experience?
  • Are there any other comments or feedback you have?

Even if only a portion of donors fill it out, it’s important to send donor surveys. Knowing whether or not the major donor filled out the survey you sent them gives you insight into what type of donor they are. And the feedback you do get will be very valuable as you steward major donors.


8. Extend an Invitation.

As you begin to develop rapport with your major donor, don’t be afraid to send them an invitation to something you think they will enjoy. This could be a fundraising event for your organization, a community outreach event, a lunch meeting, another organization’s event or a tour of your organization. 

Interactions like these give you a chance to make a meaningful connection with the major donor. During these meetings, ask open-ended questions and listen more than you talk. You will have plenty of time to share success stories with them in between their stories and history. 

Begin the invitation process midway through their stewardship plan. This gives them a chance to engage with your organization as a donor, and if you’ve created a great stewardship plan, will educate them tremendously on your nonprofit. By the time you meet, they will have questions and want to learn more. 

Most important: Don’t wait until it’s time to ask them for another donation. Engage with major donors throughout the year so that when it’s time for another gift, it shows up in your mailbox without even having to ask for it. 


9. Send a Holiday Card.

Holiday time doesn’t only include Christmas and New Year’s. Everybody loves getting something fun in the mail. Use any holiday or celebration as a chance to praise your organization and engage with donors. You can recognize:

  • Cultural holidays
  • Awareness months (i.e. Breast Cancer Awareness Month) 
  • National days (i.e. National Ice Cream Day)
  • Organization-specific special dates (i.e. anniversary of opening doors/starting program) 

How can you connect one of these special days with your mission? Sending a card or email is a quick and easy way to make the donor feel remembered and appreciated. 

Recognizing their donor-versary is a great way to engage with donors. A donor-versary is the anniversary of their first donation. Many CRMs can help keep track of these dates and automatically generate letters or emails if you set it up. If your CRM doesn’t have that capability, you can run a report once a month that pulls a list of everybody who made their first gift within that month. This will give you a list for your volunteers or stewardship committee to send donor-versary cards. 

Here’s a script to use in the donor-versary card: 

“Hello (donor name),

X years ago, you made your first gift to us. Since then, you helped (insert mission accomplishment) happen. We couldn’t have done it without you!

We have been (insert mission) for X years thanks to donors like you. Thank you so much for your continued support!”


10. Create a Giving Society.

Giving societies and donor clubs are groups set up by organizations to help cultivate and steward donors, keep them loyal to the organization and encourage them to give larger gifts in the future. Creating a giving society is a great way to honor major donors. According to Philanthropy Daily, nonprofits that have a donor club and consider it an important part of their fundraising efforts have an average per-donor contribution level 49.6 percent higher than those that don’t! 

A giving society creates a sense of community and belonging for the donor. You can: 

  • Showcase the members of your giving society publicly (in your lobby or on your website).
  • Share exclusive content or updates.
  • Offer special perks like board member or CEO interaction.
  • Hold private gatherings for small groups of people. 
  • Offer free tickets or VIP treatment at fundraisers.

You can also host an annual appreciation event for all the members of your giving society. This doesn’t have to be a grand gala, but there should be leadership and board members in attendance. Take time to share powerful stories of impact that were made possible because of major gifts from members of the society and thank them for taking action. Taking an evening out of the year to celebrate the donors who make up your largest donations will pay off in the long run.


11. Make a Video.

Considering that video is the most popular and fastest-growing medium in the world, it makes sense that a video thank you resonates so well with donors. Sending a video to your donors adds a personal touch that was never possible before the internet. There are many video services, both paid and free, including Loom, Vimeo and Zoom. Don’t be afraid to even take out your phone and record yourself.

This doesn’t have to be professional quality or have the perfect background. The imperfect and intimate nature makes it even more enticing. You can film yourself, your executive director, program staff or program participants (if appropriate). Have some fun with it! This doesn’t have to be a long video (in fact, shorter is typically better), but it does help to have an idea of what you want to say before you hit record. Jot down a few talking points you want to mention and jump into it. Once you see the positive reaction from the first few videos, you will look forward to doing them.

If you want to learn more, Kindful has a great article on how to create a powerful donor thank you video. 


12. Introduce Them to Volunteer Opportunities.

Major donors want to know all the ways they can be involved and help your nonprofit. Not everybody will have the time to volunteer, but some people would love to support your organization both fiscally and with their time. One study found that on average, volunteers donate 10 times more than non-volunteers. Can you imagine if all of your major donors increased their gifts tenfold? Don’t be shy to share volunteer opportunities and other ways to get involved with your organization.


Focus on Stewardship for Major Donors

Without healthy, long-term relationships with donors, fundraising can be a major challenge. Stewardship is a strategy to keep donors close to your institution once they have given a gift and to motivate them to give again, at an increased level. By creating a stewardship plan for your endowment and major donors, you will increase donor retention, decrease work for the development team and maximize fundraising capacity.

If you were to analyze the day-to-day operations at your organization, could you easily see that stewardship and retention are a priority? Or have you fallen into the trap of chasing the shiny new object and forgetting about your loyal fans? Choose one or two action steps from above that you can put into action to boost donor retention.

Do you have a nonprofit investment advisor that works with you and reports on your endowment fund? Contact Carnegie Investment today to speak with an advisor who specializes in the unique investing needs of nonprofits.


Topics: Nonprofit

Megan Lencoski

Written by Megan Lencoski

Megan is passionate about helping nonprofit organizations achieve their goals of maximizing impact and growing revenue streams. With over 9 years of experience working in nonprofit development, she understands that every organization is unique and faces different challenges. That’s why she meets nonprofit leaders where they are and tailors her approach to their specific needs. By providing customized guidance, practical solutions, creative fundraising techniques, and access to an extensive network of resources and specialized tools, Megan helps organizations create effective strategies that will help them achieve their revenue goals.

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