Stewardship ideas for Valentine's Day and beyond

This blog post was originally published on February 5, 2021, on the IUPUI Lilly Family School of Philanthropy website. Kristi Howard-Shultz serves as a contributing writer for the school's blog.


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and there’s no better time to express appreciation to your donors. In a year that has been so tough, could we ever love them more?

Start small but start now

With only a few days to drop cards in the mail, there’s still time to send a handwritten note. You can send notes to key donors or just those that have given this month. Your development team can send them but, when it comes to thanking donors, the more the merrier!

Involve others in your organization. Not only does this offer a variety of voices and perspectives to donors, it is also a wonderful way to engage board members in fundraising without having them make an ask. Sending a note from program staff can offer insight into the work of your nonprofit and help staff themselves understand the value of fundraising. A note from a beneficiary of your services can help the donor understand the impact of their gift and the beneficiary connect with another side of your work.

Whether you actually start now or plan to later, handwritten notes are a wonderful way to steward donors, and expanding who is responsible for stewardship in your organization lightens the load and has many benefits beyond the work itself.

It’s achievable

Break it down into segments. You may be your development “department”—a one person shop. You don’t have to have a sophisticated database manager to get started. Below are some ideas on how to break up stewardship by segment so that it is a manageable task—both in volume and messaging.

  • New donors

  • Returned donors

  • Monthly donors

  • Major donors

  • Long-term donors

If you do have a specialized staff with greater human and financial resources, all the better! These segments can be fleshed out and all receive regular and specialized messages, outside of gift acknowledgements, tailored just for them.

Make it a habit

It’s easy to put stewardship on the back burner. Schedule a regularly occurring time that’s hard to miss. Maybe it coincides with a staff or board meeting. Maybe it’s not realistic with your current level of staff and volunteers to make it monthly; so make it quarterly. The key is to get it on the calendar and then backdate all the related tasks.

For example:

  • Call donors the first Wednesday of the month/the day of the board meeting

  • One week out: Run lists (no more than 10 calls per person)

  • One month out: Write script (most will be voicemails; keep it short and sweet)

  • Three days out: Distribute the lists and scripts to your staff, board, and beneficiaries that are helping you make the calls

  • Three days after: Follow up (clean the lists, say thank you to callers, note feedback, record gifts; some donors make an additional gift when you call to say “thank you!”)

Plan ahead

What stories can you tell and who can you recognize via:

  • Your annual gala

  • Local awards

  • Earned media/cause marketing

  • Social media

  • A newsletter drip

This takes advanced planning and sometimes tremendous coordination. It is well worth the effort to celebrate all that you do and those that help you achieve your mission.

It pays dividends

Everybody wins when you expand and formalize your stewardship efforts.

And, in the end, you raise more money to serve more and better!

green sweater_web (2).jpg

Hi, I'm Kristi

Throughout my career, I’ve watched organization after organization hire consultants that are ineffective or don't take time to truly understand your organization. You're left without an actionable plan
or a mess to clean up
after they walk out the door.  

I’m committed to meeting you where you are and walking alongside you to build a plan that translates your vision into action now and into the future.

Post Archive 

Tags