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  • Writer's pictureJustin Buck

How to Say Thank You (and Steward Your Donors)

Last time, we talked about what to do After the End (of Your Campaign). This time, we're taking it to the next level: Thank and Steward.

Here's how NOT to do it (but so many of us do):

Big, corporate words like moves management and segmented donor portfolios can be off-putting and scary. But the concepts are crucial for nonprofits of all sizes. Maybe you came up in a large organization with a full development staff and the tools to execute these strategies. Maybe you started out or ended up at a small- to medium-sized organization with big impact and a small tech budget. Either way, following up an end-of-year campaign with a THANK YOU ought to be a given.

Thank You is the First Step in Post-Gift Stewardship!

But it’s far from the last. After you’ve captured the data, it’s time to put it to work! I’m not a pro angler, but we’re going to use some fishing language to simplify moves management and stewardship in this second installment of How to Follow Up a Fundraising Campaign.

1. Set the Hook with Thank You

Hand-written thank you notes in the digital age can seem quaint, but they’re a huge touch. Whenever possible, having program participants, beneficiaries, or clients write a meaningful thank you note to donors supercharges that thank-you with the real-world benefits. Coach your note writers by telling them what donors want to hear, but let their voices come through.

Don’t neglect the opportunity to write the thank you from you, too! Within six weeks of receiving a gift, no matter how small, invest the $0.52 in sending a thank you. What’s that? You don’t have their address?! A quick thank you e-mail or video in their inbox can do the trick. Not good at the language? Let me help:

“Dear [Donor],

Your help means the world to me—and to our clients. Last year alone, we [insert short, easily digestible impact data]. And we couldn’t do it without you. Would you give me a call at [phone number] to come see how your gift makes a difference? [Insert a click-here visit schedule option for e-mails] When we all come together, our small actions make a big difference. Thank you for being a part of the team helping [insert your impact].

Thank you so much,


2. Reel ‘Em In!

Did you see what happened in that sample thank you note? Not only did we quantify the impact of their gift (and I suggest making it personal to the level of gift they made), we invited them to engage. We want to get these donors—no matter how big or small the gift—in the door.

Invite them to come see your mission, whether it’s a tour of your facility or a coffee on the courthouse square where you do your work. Either way, it continues the conversation and puts your human face—and the face of your work—on that relationship. The closer you can bring your donors to your mission, the more likely it is they will make a follow-up gift.

3. Stock the Pond—and Feed the Fish!

You might expect me to share recipes for catfish or bigmouth bass here, but bringing these donors into the fold isn’t about a one-time deposit at the bank! Rather, this is where we need to change a mindset among fundraisers and mission-achievers. We’re not after a single gift from a donor, and this isn’t catch and release!

Bring that donor into your team, introduce them to other donors at your organization, and keep nurturing the relationship with contacts and content that reinforces their decision to give to your organization. Don’t ask them for money on your follow-up coffee or even the next time you see them. Just keep them coming back. When your next event comes up, when your next campaign rolls around, or when the time is right, offer them an opportunity to invest in your mission. Best case scenario: You secure a recurring monthly gift at any level.

I highly recommend learning about the Benevon model and adapting it to your organization’s needs and fundraising style. This keeps your community of donors coming back to the mission for their charitable giving and turns them into mission advocates that help fund your work and bring others to the table to help.

When we talk about “stocking the pond,” it’s easy to think of this pool of donors as something to be closely guarded and protected against competition. But this is a relationship with donors who want to do good in their communities. Research indicates, in fact, that helping donors align their giving with other organizations working in their area of passion or impact interest increases their level of giving across the board.


How you follow up these gifts at the end or beginning of a year—or even in your regular campaign work—determines if you’ll ever see them again. Reinvigorate those relationships with returning donors and steward those first-time donors, remembering that if you secure the third gift you’ve likely got a donor for life (unless you screw it up). Change the way you think about thanking and stewarding donors using this approach to capture their impact interest long-term and build your portfolio of individual donors. Thank them, get them close to your mission, and develop their interest in your organization. Because “Thank You” isn’t the end of a transaction, it’s a crucial touch point for building relationships.


Justin Buck is a nonprofit solutions expert who brings experience as a volunteer manager, development director, executive director, and board leader to a consulting practice helping nonprofits of all sizes. He specializes in development strategies including grant writing, nonprofit leadership, strategic planning, and capacity-building. To schedule a free call or coffee to discuss your nonprofit's biggest challenge, email!

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