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Ask and repeat: Is your stewardship model flawed?

Since I began my fundraising career more than 20 years ago, the holiday season has held a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons.

The first is that it’s a season of generosity. Each year I’m blown away by the amount of people who give out of the goodness of their hearts to help those experiencing homelessness, going hungry or in need of a little extra love.

The second is because it’s also a season of gratitude. Nonprofits have an opportunity to shower their donors with thanks and strengthen their ties to the mission.

These two things have been escalated even more in the last two years. Donors have poured their hearts into missions in phenomenal ways, and as nonprofit fundraisers, it’s our responsibility not to take it for granted.

Unfortunately, stewardship practices are beginning to fall behind.

In this blog, we’ll examine the flaws in traditional stewardship models and discuss how we can adapt our methods of building relationships with donors.


The changes the industry is experiencing have started to point out the flaws in the traditional ask-and-repeat model.

Donors want more. Ask after ask with nothing more to it won’t get you far.

Don’t believe me? A survey found that 53% of donors who don’t make that second gift said it was because there was a lack of communication – or a lack of connection – between them and the nonprofit.

The organizations donors choose to support will be the ones who prioritize a deeper connection.

As donor expectations rise, nonprofits must find a way to build layered and sophisticated relationships with their donors at scale.

Stewardship is an important piece of that puzzle.


How can organizations give folks the relationships they’re craving? I believe it happens in three distinct ways:

1. Prioritize

Every organization struggles with bandwidth issues. When strapped thin, it can be difficult to justify an investment in an area that doesn’t provide an immediate return. But this is where most organizations I meet go wrong.

Stewardship is an essential piece in the donor relationship puzzle.

Take the time to audit your program. Identify a few areas you can start to make strides in, whether that’s through thank you calls or video messages, then implement those elements. If you prioritize this change, you’ll be surprised how far it can get you.

2. Innovate

So often I hear, “If we could just get our donors here to see our work and the miracles that happen, they’d be sold.”

You can. You just have to think outside of the box.

There are so many new platforms out there that allow you to build personalized content to develop deep relationships with donors. Whether it’s a phone call, a text message or a heartfelt video showing the life they’ve transformed, you have the ability to layer strategies across channels to foster relationships and showcase the work their donations make possible.

3. Believe

What’s the holiday season without a little faith? For stewardship to take off, you must believe in the investment of relationships.

Instead of an outdated ask-and-repeat model, a modern stewardship program builds a line of communication with your donors that strengthens their trust in you. If they believe in the life-transforming work that you do, they’ll be more likely to make that next gift.

Any major shift in thinking can be overwhelming. But in the spirit of the holidays, I challenge you to pause and reflect on all the generosity your donors have showered you with in 2020. Don’t they deserve some extra effort?

Glenn McKinney

As Senior Vice President at RKD Group, Glenn McKinney works with faith-based organizations like rescue missions and life-transformation ministries to provide innovative mail, online, phone, research, major gifts and planned giving strategies for clients. A strong champion of RKD’s donor-centric philosophy, Glenn and his team consistently exceed clients’ fundraising goals.

Glenn has 23 years of experience in the mission space. He spent eight years working for two missions in New York -- New York City Rescue Mission and The Bowery Mission -- before moving to the agency side for the last 15 years.

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