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Stewardship cheat sheet for building relationships with mid-level donors

Buried within the wealth of information in the 2022 Q4 Fundraising Effectiveness Project report was some troubling news.

Revenue from major and large donors declined -3.6% and -4.6%, respectively. If that’s not a hard pill to swallow, we don’t know what is. We’ll give you a second to collect yourself.


This speaks volumes to the challenges that many nonprofit organizations have in building a consistent pipeline to major giving. And this pipeline begins with nurturing relationships with mid-level donors.

The good news is that mid-level donors are looking for something relatively simple. Stewardship.

People like to feel special, and mid-level donors are no different. This group feels that because they’ve given your organization a significant amount of money, they should get something in return – and who can blame them? Like any relationship, this is one of give and take.

Having a strong stewardship program is essential to avoiding the loss of mid-level donors. But how do you get started?

Start by asking yourself a couple questions: How many times did you call your donors last year? Invite them to an event? Send them a card that didn’t include an ask?

Though they seem small, these are all things that can keep your mid-level donors coming back for more.

Here’s how you can create your own donor stewardship plan to build meaningful connections throughout the year.

Start where you are

Stewardship and donor engagement are scalable and attainable for any organization, no matter the size. Do a comprehensive communications audit of your current program. How often are you communicating with your mid-level donors?

The goal is to be in front of them every month. Once you determine how often you’re already communicating with them, you can then begin to build the rest of your plan.

Another key element of this audit is resources. Look at your labor pool and determine the frequency of distribution and which communication channels are feasible for your organization.

It's not about the ask

The most important thing to remember about donor engagement is that you can’t lump it in with your direct-response fundraising communications.

Stewardship must be intentional for it to work. How would you feel if you made a generous gift, only to receive a card that says, “Hey, thanks for your money! Can you give us some more?”

OK, probably not in those exact words – but you get the point.

Donor stewardship should be 80% donor-focused and 20% organization-focused. This means that when you send your stewardship cards or emails, you’re placing the emphasis on the donor and how they are helping the mission, not how your organization is helping the mission.

Organizations who do stewardship well celebrate the gift and use it as an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with donors. If a donor feels your gratitude, they’re more likely to make another gift down the road.

Stewardship Cheat Sheet

So how do you do this? Well, we’ve created a scalable cheat sheet that you can use to start planning out your year. This calendar is intentionally simplified to showcase how easy it is for organizations of all sizes to add stewardship into their regular planning.

Karla Baldelli

Karla is an elite nonprofit fundraising executive with a 25-year career in mid-level and distinguished donor fundraising, engagement and stewardship for major nonprofits. Her experience includes transformational roles with JDRF, Coast Guard Foundation, American Heart Association, Arthritis Foundation, The Salvation Army and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. While at the American Heart Association, Karla built the first-ever mega-donor event, Honored Guest Day.  She designed the campaign architecture for the $100 million Mission Lifeline Campaign and conceived the AHA’s National Giving Society, Cor Vitae.

Karla brings strong leadership and strategic counsel for thoughtful, year-round donor experience strategies integrated throughout campaigns and giving channels. Her expertise is changing the culture of major donor programs, including educating staff with her proprietary training, the Power of the Donor Experience.  Since coming to RKD, she has implemented a holistic program - leading with data insights and centered on the donor experience and organizational execution - that results in more inspired giving and increased revenue.   

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