Holly Wagg

Holly Wagg

Fundraiser. Connector. Photographer. Adventurer. Extroverted-introvert. Digital architect. Change agent. Mother. Architect of random projects.

Online Stewardship for Your Donors

September 9, 2013

Last week I purchased my toddler a more powerful nightlight. She’s developed a sudden fear of the dark, and of the tigers she dreams about who apparently invade her room sometime between the hours of midnight and three in the morning.

As I set the nightlight on the checkout counter, I had to decide how to pay – cash, debit or credit.

In making this purchase, I had already decided what type of store I would search out this nightlight in and I had already selected the exact type of nightlight that would meet my needs. All I needed to do was make one last decision about finalizing my commitment to, or rather my transaction, to acquire this nightlight ― how would I transfer money from my wallet to the store?

What on earth does this long tale about purchasing a nightlight have to do with fundraising you may ask?  In the large world of multi-channel fundraising, there’s no real such thing as a direct mail donor, or an online donor, or a phone donor.

There are donors.  There are your charity’s donors. And there are the channels by which your charity’s donors choose to give to you.

This becomes an important distinction when thinking about donor stewardship over the course of a year.  Craft a plan for the online stewardship of your donors, and not the stewardship of your online donors.

Here are 5 ideas to guide, inspire and get you started in the creation of your online stewardship plan and to help you populate it with great content.

1)      Stewardship is everyone’s job.  It’s not just the fundraising department’s job.  And since online stewardship often involves the collaboration of colleagues from several departments (such as communications and IT, and in an ideal world, frontline staff and volunteers, too), producing an annual calendar of stewardship activities will tighten up your content creation strategy, distribute the workload, and probably produce some great and innovative new ways to steward your donors.

Here’s a sample of an online stewardship calendar that I quickly pulled together.  We like to encourage the 3:1 communications rule here at Good Works – thank your donors three times for every single appeal you make. To keep the donors you already have, you need to spend more of your time thanking/reporting back than asking.


2)      Maximize your content creation. When thinking about which stories or successes you should include in your stewardship plan, think about the opportunity to use only best stories your non-profit can tell.  If you only have two mind-blowing stories, then maximize those.  If you have 50, then perhaps whittle it down to a more manageable selection.  (My colleague Leah Eustace has a great write up on the storytelling process over on the Good Blog so I won’t talk much more about it here).

Then think about which medium (or media) these stories are best suited for, and then about the tools and tactics that you can feasibly execute online.  It’s only at that point you should that thinking about the data work of matching a particular group of donors to a particular stewardship piece.

I like to get the most bang for my buck, strategically speaking. You can use one incredible impact story, told a variety of different ways, an unlimited number of times. Your goal in using online stewardship tactics is to think about the benefits of using a specific medium and its strengths in demonstrating to your donors the impact their investment has had.

If you want a little bit more help, Kivi Leroux Miller is about to release her book, Content Marketing for Nonprofits, and I think it will be a dynamite read. For something a bit shorter, start with 10 Tips for An Effective Non-Profit Content Creation Strategy.


3)      Email is still the backbone. Today, email is the backbone of an online stewardship strategy (and yes, likely your online giving program as well).  Make sure that a thank you email with an attached tax receipt isn’t the last email you ever send to donors who give either online or offline.

Whether the whole message is contained in one single email, or the email is used to direct donors to where they can see a photo gallery, view an infographic or watch a video, email is key to the delivery of stewardship messages.

You can use email simply, and increasingly, it’s getting complex.  Here’s an example of a simple stewardship email from the Canadian Red Cross on how they used funds donated for Haiti, a slightly more dynamic email from MSF that also invites donors to participate in an update webinar on an emergency that they supported, and a more complex, yet visually stunning, personalized stewardship report from Charity: Water.

Note: This email infographic from the Canadian Red Cross released just after this article was first published is a brilliant way to visually depict what your charity does.


4)      Monthly donors + online stewardship = perfect match.  Email is such a cost effective way to connect with your monthly donors once-per-month, and tell them what you’ve been up to. I’m a monthly donor at Mercy Corps, and I look forward to the monthly email they send me to keep me engaged and connected.  They’re so well written that I actually think I’m having a one-on one conversation with their founder.

But also take this a bit further, and think about unique digital ways you can thank and engage your monthly donors.  Say NO – UNiTE releases a wonderful desktop calendar each month. Other charities send an eAnniversary card to mark the date their monthly donors started giving.


5)      Mini-Mission Moments. When I worked at the Y, we would begin every meeting with a Y story (or what most of us call mission moments).  This was a chance for one person to share a client story, or why they volunteered with the organization, or something that really fired them up about the good we do in our non-profit jobs.

The use of video or a photo-text combo provides your supporters with a brief opportunity to interact with what it is your charity does.  It’s a great way to use social media to give social proof and evidence of your good work. Content creation lends well to mini-mission moments because social media is all about choices – your supporters have preferences about where they follow and engage with you – and it’s your job to adapt your content to a specific platform.

Check out the guest post on Beth Kanter’s blog on 7 Fabulous Nonprofit Videos on Vine and Instagram or how to tackle Stewardship and recognition on Facebook over at NPEngage. The Calgary Zoo used Instagram for their 2012 annual report and gets accolades for being the first to do so. Some donors will never visit your website or open an email, but they diligently wait for – and even interact with – your Facebook posts.

The best mini-mission moments are dead simple.  It’s all about the donor (use the word you), and clearly show the problem and the solution. You can provide images of what’s happening behind the scenes, or live tweet or Facebook your mission is in action. And the bonus is that these can double as cultivation for the newest donors you hope to acquire.


Now that you’ve begun thinking about how you craft an online stewardship plan, be sure to merge this with your offline stewardship activities so that you manage one multi-faceted stewardship plan.  Get it on paper, get buy in, and this way you have a better chance of sticking with it from conception to execution.

With charities now losing more donors than they’re gaining – for every 100 donors gained, 107 were lost through attrition in 2011 – there’s no time like the present to ramp up your stewardship program.  Keeping the donors you already have is way more cost-effective than searching out new ones.

How are you approaching your online stewardship?  What tools and tactics are you using? What have you seen that inspires you?


This article originally appeared at Hilborn: the leading provider of information to Canada’s nonprofit sector. It’s also part of a two-part series on stewardship.  Check out the post my colleague Heather Brown wrote last month on offline stewardship.

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