Supporter Stewardship: 5 Ways to Build Lasting Connections

Feature image text: Supporter Stewardship: 5 Ways to Build Lasting Connections. Hands hold a paper heart.

It’s no secret that supporters lie at the center of any nonprofit or association’s long-term success. In many cases, they make donations, volunteer, and even pay membership dues in support of your organization.

To maintain and strengthen these connections, organizations must craft an effective supporter stewardship plan. That means developing a strategy to keep donors invested in your organization and motivated to donate again.

In this guide, we’ll first discuss the basics of supporter stewardship, then delve into five key ways to create long-term, productive relationships.

What is supporter stewardship?

Supporter stewardship is the process of strengthening your organization’s supporter connections through effective communications and appreciation. By building strong relationships with supporters, you’ll deepen their loyalty to your cause and inspire future gifting.

With successful supporter stewardship, your organization can:

  • Retain more long-lasting support. Empower supporters to stay invested in your cause for years to come.
  • Generate more revenue. Having engaged supporters leads to future time and financial donations.
  • Spend fewer resources acquiring new supporters. Typically, recruiting and onboarding new supporters is more costly than retaining your existing ones.
  • Build an engaging community. With a meaningful and active community, supporters can feel excited about making a difference while connecting with like-minded individuals.

While it may not be feasible to engage in one-on-one interactions with every supporter, there are ways to make them feel individually valued by your organization.

How to steward your supporters

Having a supporter donate to your cause should never feel like a transactional experience. Instead, it needs to feel like the start of a meaningful relationship. To build this relationship, you’ll need to create a stewardship plan with a mixture of communications, activities, and feedback channels.

Follow these five tactics to develop your supporter stewardship plan.

1. Segment your communications

The foundation of any great relationship is communication. Keep your supporters updated about the ongoings of your organization, how their support is making a difference, and upcoming initiatives so they can stay engaged after making their first gifts.

Since your supporter base is likely diverse, you’ll want to segment your communications. Segmentation lets you group supporters based on different characteristics like gifting frequency and event history.

You can segment supporters by their:

  • Involvement, such as volunteering. Tell supporters about upcoming events that they can participate in to support your organization.
  • Communication preferences. Whether it’s email, private messages, or text, communicate with your members on their preferred platforms.
  • Average gift amount. By segmenting supporters based on their gift amount, you can write messages that celebrate generous gifters and encourage others to donate again.
  • History with your organization. Newer members can benefit from learning about your organization’s origin story, founders, and milestones.

Segmentation allows you to send messages tailored to supporters’ specific interests and involvement with your organization. This ensures that your supporters are more likely to read and respond to your communications.

2. Emphasize their impact

Your supporters want to know how their donations are making a difference in your organization and the community that you support. Keep supporters invested in your organization by sharing the impact of their contributions with personalized thank-you letters and additional communications.

Imagine that your organization launched a new community program with the help of your supporters’ donations. To thank your supporters and show them the achievements of this community program, you can send out a message that details:

  • The amount raised.
  • How the program uses these donations, such as renting a community center.
  • What community the program uplifts.
  • The number of people that the program supports.
  • Messages from the team running the program and the community.
  • Future milestones for the program.

An effective way to help supporters understand how their involvement in creating positive change is to use storytelling backed by statistics. An impact story forges an emotional connection between supporters and your organization’s purpose, making them feel like a driving force behind your work.

3. Express your appreciation

When supporters donate their time and money to your organization, they want to be personally appreciated. After being recognized for their gifts, supporters will feel good about donating and become motivated to give again.

To thank supporters for their generosity you can:

  • Send an automated thank-you email after every donation.
  • Spotlight key supporters on social media and forums.
  • Reach out around the holidays or their birthday with a celebratory message.
  • Host a virtual or in-person appreciation event.
  • Create a thank-you video with messages from your team.
  • Send appreciation gifts, such as branded merchandise.

By using a combination of these recognition tactics, your supporters will feel appreciated throughout the year and keep your organization at the forefront of their minds.

4. Offer multiple engagement opportunities

Having a range of engagement opportunities is essential for organizations with a diverse supporter base. Hosting multiple events lets supporters decide exactly how they want to stay involved.

Popular supporter engagement opportunities include:

  • Volunteering. Let supporters take a more hands-on approach to helping your organization with volunteering initiatives, such as lending a helping hand at community events.
  • Signing up for your email newsletter. By signing up for your newsletter, your supporters can stay up to date on your organization’s current initiatives, upcoming events, and community milestones.
  • Subscribing to receive texts from your organization. Younger supporters may prefer texts from your organization to learn about events.
  • Attending events. From virtual meet-ups to happy hours and everything in between, your organization can hold different events during the year that appeal to supporters’ interests.
  • Following your organization on social media. Your organization’s social media is ideal for demonstrating the difference your organization is making in the world, highlighting events, and showing the community you uplift, all while encouraging supporters to respond in the comments.
  • Promoting membership tiers. By creating different membership tiers, your supporters can upgrade their status in your organization by giving more, thereby providing them with access to exclusive perks like events, resources, and branded merchandise.

With different types of events and topics, you’ll ensure that supporters can make the most out of their time with your organization.

5. Request and implement feedback

Let your supporters know that you value their experiences and opinions by sending out regular surveys to ask for feedback. This shows that you’re dedicated to maintaining your relationship with supporters, building better experiences, and ensuring that they are satisfied with your organization.

You can gather supporters’ feedback by:

  • Sending out regular surveys where they can rate their experience.
  • Requesting feedback from supporters after they attended events.
  • Creating an email where supporters can send their feedback.
  • Encouraging supporters to communicate what they most enjoy about your organization and where you can improve.

After getting this feedback, you can directly gauge how satisfied supporters are with their involvement with your organization and where you have room to grow. Remember that your stewardship plan will evolve over time to better meet supporters’ preferences.

Be sure to thank supporters for responding, tell them that you value their input, and explain what changes you will make going forward.

Stewardship is the way we take care of our supporters in order to give them the best experience possible so that they will feel empowered to do more for your cause. Investing in your supporter stewardship journey will allow you to build long-term relationships and deepen connections that will inspire supporters to donate again.

As you implement these five supporter stewardship techniques, keep an eye on your retention rates and other metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of this initiative. With this data, you can determine how to improve your results moving forward, strengthen relationships, and ensure that supporters are getting the most out of their involvement with your organization.