Your Mass Donor Fundraising Is “Stewardship” (and here’s why that’s important)


Jeff Brooks recently wrote an incredible post called “Fundraising vs. Stewardship: Which Is More Important?”

You should read it.

I want to show you how the “which is more important” argument – though it sounds academic – is having real-world consequences for your organization right now.

And it’s those consequences that cause some organizations to out-raise their peers, and some organizations to never “make the leap” to the next level. 

Where It Starts

Here’s what I think this whole debate comes from:

  • I think most organizations don’t believe that donors enjoy giving to anything other than events.

Organizations believe that it’s not really possible that a donor could enjoy giving to a piece of direct mail, an email, a radio-thon, etc. 

These organizations believe mass donor fundraising is somehow a negative act.  They believe donors don’t like appeals or emails.  That we fundraisers have to “twist the arm” of donors, or emotionally manipulate them, to get donors to give a gift. 

The Demonstrably Untrue Argument

If you believe that arm-twisting or emotional manipulation is necessary to get a gift, of course you will enjoy stewardship activities more than “fundraising” activities. 

These organizations think something like, “Now that the icky job of fundraising is done, it will be so great to steward our donors.”

There’s even an argument that goes something like this: Stewardship is the way we keep our donors giving to us year after year.  

That’s demonstrably untrue.  How do you explain all those organizations who don’t do any meaningful stewardship, yet they retain a significant portion of their donors each year? 

The Consequences

In my experience, believing that mass donor fundraising is a negative act results in the following tactical mistakes:

  • Asking donors less frequently than you could be
  • Refusing to put a reply card and reply envelope in your printed receipts
  • Refusing to turn your newsletter into a fundraising vehicle
  • Always telling a story of “the good you’ve already done” in appeals and e-appeals

All of those things are done out of a belief that Asking in mass donor fundraising is a negative thing and will – sooner or later – drive donors away.

However, it’s doing the opposite of those things that raises the most money AND increases donor retention:

  • Asking donors more frequently than you think you can
  • Putting a reply card and reply envelope in your printed receipts
  • Turning your newsletter into a revenue-generating machine
  • Never telling a story of “the good you’ve already done” in appeals and e-appeals

Every one of those things, done well, works like crazy.  (It’s why so many of our clients are having incredible years.  Some of them are sharing that they’re embarrassed to talk about how much money they’ve raised to their peer organizations.)   

So I ask you a question: if the definition of “stewardship” is something like “making donors feel good about their giving so that they give again” – then if all of those tactics above increase donor retention, don’t they qualify as effective stewardship?

Donors Love to Give

Donors get joy from giving – whether that’s giving to an appeal letter or at an enjoyable event.

Donors love to give.

In every way, in any form.

They don’t give every time they are asked.  (In the same way, you don’t buy your favorite product or service every time you see it advertised.  And you don’t feel bad about it when you don’t.)

So as an organization, ask yourself if you believe that mass donors love to give to your mass donor fundraising.  Because if you believe donors love to give, you’ll make different decisions about your fundraising.  And those choices will help you raise more money.

And it will bring more joy to your donors at the same time.  

Two Easy Steps to Cultivate Your Major Donor Relationships

cultivate majors

This is more of a reminder than a blog post.

The reminder: spend more time on your major donor fundraising!

Here’s why this is so important: the latest research I saw said that the average nonprofit receives 88% of their “individual donor revenue” from just 12% of their individual donors.

In my experience, disciplined major donor fundraising is the biggest-impact / least-used fundraising tool for most nonprofits.

At this moment, let’s not talk about the reasons why that is. Instead, let’s talk about two simple things you can to do start doing a better job today.

Do These Two Things

Here are two really simple things you can do to “go a little deeper” with your major donor fundraising:

  1. Subscribe to the blog from Veritus Group. They are the best at setting up internal systems to do major donor fundraising well, and at understanding what major donors want from your fundraising.
  2. Call one top donor today just to say “Thank you.” The donor you call should be one you haven’t spoken to in a while. And to make it easy, here’s a simple script for you:

“Hi [DONOR NAME], this is [YOUR NAME] from [YOUR ORG] and I’m calling just to say Thank you. Don’t worry, I’m not calling to ask for money. But we haven’t communicated 1-to-1 in a while, and I want to make sure you know how much you are appreciated. You and your generosity have done amazing things! So thank you, and are there any questions you have that I can answer, or anything you’d like to know about what your gift has accomplished?”

I’m pretty sure you can take it from there.

But the trick is to call at least one top donor today. It’s a small step. But a BIG step for that donor.

And you’ll be on the path towards a better relationship and better future fundraising results!