Donor Stewardship Plans: Definition+ FREE Template


A donor stewardship plan is a way to make long-term, lasting connections with nonprofit donors. Not only will these donors continue to make gifts in the future, but they’re also likely to leave a memorial donation as well. This is a great way to encourage donors to give more over time while also building something meaningful. 

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While one-off donations are important, most nonprofits strive to reduce churn. By retaining existing donors through a donor stewardship plan, it’s easy to create a real impact in the world. However, establishing a stewardship plan is no simple matter. It takes serious planning, especially if you’re just getting started. 

In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about donor stewardship plans. From there, we’ll discuss how to create your own plan that’s built with your specific organization in mind. Lastly, we’ll share free templates so you can hit the ground running. It’s time to take donations to the next level. 

What Is a Donor Stewardship Plan?

First, what is a donor stewardship plan and how does it work? This is a type of plan nonprofit organizations use to deepen relationships with donors who have made a gift. There are many different parts of a donor stewardship plan, including:

  • Encouraging repeated gifts
  • Thanking donors for gifts
  • Making donations in someone’s name
  • Updating donors on their impact
  • Involving donors in the organization’s work
  • Securing memorial donations

These plans ensure the financial stability of nonprofit organizations. Though attracting new donors is always a part of running a successful nonprofit, it’s also important to cultivate existing relationships. Someone who has already given is someone who is likely to connect with that nonprofit’s mission, making them a great fit for continued support. 

By creating a stewardship plan, nonprofits have a strategy in place for building upon existing relationships. This takes thoughtful insight, and it’s a long-term process. It involves understanding your donor base, taking action quickly, and building strong connections. 

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How Do You Create a Donor Stewardship Plan? 4 Steps

If you’ve decided a donor stewardship plan is right for your organization, it’s easy to get started in just a few steps. The right planning goes a long way towards cultivating authentic relationships with donors, so pay close attention to the steps below. 

1. Segment your donor list

First, all donors aren’t exactly alike. The ways you communicate with different donors depend on a lot of different factors. To begin, segment your donors into specific levels. When you have different categories, it’s easier to craft targeted plans with them in mind. What are different segments? Here are some possibilities:

  • New donors
  • Loyal donors
  • Major donors
  • Planned gift donors
  • Capital donor

Most categories will be based on the gift size as well as whether this donor has given before. From there, you’ll get to know the demographics of your donors as well as their communication preferences. It’s all about appealing to your donors’ generosity. To do that, you need to first understand who they are. 

Aside from the categories above, some nonprofits organize donor segments by gift frequency, average gift size, communication preferences, age, and so on. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to segmenting. As long as you discover a strategy that works for you, you’re on the right track. 

2. Create a communication strategy

Next, how will you communicate with your donors? Your donors want to feel included, and they also want to feel recognized. Giving selflessly to an organization is an act of kindness. Make sure you emphasize this compassion at the heart of every interaction. 

Create activities designed to engage donors while also thanking them. Aside from sending thank you’s after they make a donation, consider these other communication ideas:

  • Invite donors to volunteer with your organization
  • Send surveys to continue asking for feedback
  • Update your donors about major events, launches, and initiatives
  • Create reports on the impact of donor gifts
  • Send cards on holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays

Not only is this a system for donor recognition, but it’s also a way to stay top-of-mind. All donors should feel valued, even if it’s just in small ways. This is how you deepen connections and encourage repeat giving. 

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3. Make a clear timeline

Additionally, don’t leave the activities above to chance. You need a clear communication timeline to make sure you’re not waiting too long to interact with donors. Of course, you don’t want to bombard them with constant updates and phone calls, but you also don’t want to fade into the background either. 

For example, your timeline for a new donor might be as follows:

  • Thank you email (within 24 hours)
  • Welcome letter (within a week)
  • Email update about impact (quarterly)
  • Volunteer opportunity (biannually)
  • Holiday card (December)
  • Donor survey (quarterly)

By having a clear timeline laid out for each donor category, it’s easy to stay on track. Keep in mind your existing communication schedule, however. If you’re sending regular email updates, for example, make sure these don’t interfere with their “thank you” messages. Ultimately, it’s just about staying timely and relevant. 

4. Personalize the experience

Moreover, take any opportunity you can to personalize the experience for your donors. As explained above, they want to feel heard and included. It’s easy to spot mass-generated messages, and these can be a turn-off when used too often. Some ways to personalize the overall experience for donors are:

  • Handwritten cards
  • Personal event invitations
  • Send personalized volunteer opportunities
  • Encourage face-to-face interactions
  • Thank you phone calls

Recognize that all donors are different. They might not all like the same types of communication, and they might have different expectations. Learning to manage these differences, especially with high-level donors, is key to lasting relationships. 

5. Use feedback 

Last but not least, always ask for feedback. This is one of your most important assets as a nonprofit, yet too many organizations ignore it. When you ask for feedback, you have an opportunity to learn from those who know your strengths and weaknesses best. 

Through surveys and ongoing questions, learn what your donors need from you. This is the best way to encourage repeat gifts in the future. If you’re sending messages that just aren’t hitting the mark, you want to know about it. By engaging in feedback loops, you can optimize your current system and create real progress. 

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FREE Donor Stewardship Plan Template

To get started, feel free to use our donor stewardship plan template. This free template is available for download below, and it simplifies the donor process so you can stay on top of all new gifts. Feel free to edit it to suit your organization’s unique needs. 


Tips for Using the Free Donor Stewardship Template

When using the template, some tips will ensure it’s easier to use. You’re free to use this template and adapt it however you’d wish. However, its action items are a good foundation for any donor strategy. For additional guidance, follow these tips:

  • Teamwork: Assign a specific individual or team to manage this schedule. Make sure everyone understands who is responsible for what so there’s no confusion. 
  • System: Use a donor management system to automate many of these action items. Work smarter, not harder! 
  • Templates: Create templates in advance to use for regular communications, thank you’s, and so on. For instance, having a template with wording for memorial donation in advance goes a long way. 
  • Personalized communications: Ask your donors how they’d prefer communications, and focus on these preferences (phone, email, text, etc.). When you follow someone’s preferred method, they’re much more likely to pay close attention.
  • Value: Provide real value and meaning with each communication. Don’t send messages for the sake of it; make sure they count. Before each interaction, ask yourself what value is in it for your donors. 
  • Donor-centric: Lastly, focus your communication around your donors and their stories, not your organization. While you should certainly highlight achievements, emphasize the role your donors played in making them a reality. 

Though these plans can be overwhelming at first, they’re an important part of your ongoing strategy. The more you plan in advance, the better. For example, having a template for a donation that has been made in your name means it’s much easier to send these messages promptly. Automation is a great tool, so don’t be afraid to automate as much as possible. 

Take Your Nonprofit to New Heights

In conclusion, a donor stewardship plan is an effective way to drive engagement, boost gifts, and make a lasting impression on your audience. If you’re looking for a way to engage your existing donors while also strengthening these relationships, it’s time to make your own stewardship plan. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

Our free template is a great starting point. From there, customize your plan to suit your goals. As long as you’re collecting feedback and acting on these insights, you’re engaging your prospects and existing donors in meaningful ways. Nonprofits are an opportunity for real change in the world. Your donors are part of that story, so make sure you include them every step of the way. 


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