What Is Donor Stewardship?

Jan Fletcher

Donor stewardship is the cultivation of an ongoing relationship between a charity and its donors, through which the charity seeks to express gratitude for a donor's gift. Stewardship management typically involves an understanding of the motivations that spur giving to charitable endeavors. The process of donor stewardship often entails use of a data management system to track donations and note donor intentions. Two common premises behind donor management systems include fidelity to a donor's intent, and relationship building that seeks to understand and respect a donor's desire. Since charities often receive significant funding through both donor bequests and directives contained within an individual's will, most who work in this area seek to build long-term relationships with donors.

Donor cultivation is a critical part of the fund-raising activities of nonprofits.
Donor cultivation is a critical part of the fund-raising activities of nonprofits.

The motivations for charitable giving may vary to a wide extent. Some donors may give on an impulse, often in the wake of a disaster or other publicly advertised need. Many donors, however, typically develop a relationship with a nonprofit that continues for a long time and involves opportunities for face-to-face interactions. These in-person interactions give a charity's staff or directors the opportunity to gain valuable feedback on why donors choose to support this particular charity, and what the donors expect to receive in return.

Many donors do expect regular news reports on a charity's activities. This is one reason why charities often produce newsletters, or post reports on blogs or websites concerning how the charity is dispensing donations to benefit recipients. Another aspect of donor stewardship is honoring donors through public accolades. A donor may support a capital expansion, for example, and receive an honor such as having his or her name engraved on a walkway, or wall.

Managing a donor's giving profile is usually considered very important in cultivating responsible donor stewardship. Regional or national laws may come into play in how the information is managed. Charities may be required to track certain donations or bequests to ensure those donations are used per the donor's request. For tax-exempt charities, various laws may require adherence to accounting procedures that ensure the donation is handled properly. In some locations, fidelity to the donor's intention is required by law.

Donor stewardship is often viewed as a long-term commitment between the charity and the donor. Proper handling of a donor's bequest, particularly if given posthumously, is typically considered very important. Sometimes a scandal can negatively impact donor relations. For example, if excessive pay is awarded to the charity's employees beyond what is customary, that may taint a charity's reputation if the information becomes public.

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