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Stewardship: Basic & Simple

Cynthia Woolbright Discussing Stewardship Strategies

Stewarding donors is a vital and indispensable in ensuring retention and continued loyalty – not to mention creating opportunities to deepen your donor relationships.

As defined in Merriam Webster dictionary, stewardship is

the conducting, supervising, or managing of something, especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.

For us in advancement, our management and care include those who support our mission.

While we can be most creative with our stewardship strategies, especially for those at very significant giving levels, we can often forget to focus on completing the basics at all levels of giving.

We want to make sure that we are addressing the basics because once we do, we contribute to the overall retention of donors at all levels - one of the key priorities.

Remember well, the number one reason why people give is their belief in mission. Being asked also ranks up there. Once a gift is made, a donor wants to know that you received their gift. They also are interested in knowing if their gift, along with many others, is making a difference.

Simply stated, consider your alumni and parents, donor or not, at levels of support:


Define your levels for all your alumni and parents: for example, the first level might be “no gifts to $10,000 annually.” Once identified, ensure a timely receipt and acknowledgement of gifts (48-72 hours) and make periodic telephone calls to thank donors and increase the likelihood of consistency in giving. And, remember to ask donors:

  • what prompted you to make your gift (or increase)?
  • what might inspire you to increase your giving?

These calls are great opportunities for volunteers and staff to conduct engaging calls while getting to know your donors better.

Other ways to steward your donors might include:

  • Send your newsletter and/or magazine.
  • Invite alumni & parents to regional events.
  • Invite to Reunion, Homecoming, Parents weekend, etc.
  • Identify on-going programs for all alumni & parents to be engaged at your institution and identify ways for such to occur.
  • Invite periodic feedback opportunities via email, website, social media, etc.
  • Report on impact of gifts-at all levels.
  • Focus on recognition with alumni and parent donors---ribbons or something on their nametag at events throughout the year.
  • Send a post card, after year end closing, to indicate the funds raised, donors, participation, etc. and how each of them contributed to the success in raising philanthropic support.

Regardless of the size of your constituency (3,500 to 35,000 to 135,000), donors can be segmented by college, affinity, etc. Just make sure you are covering the basics consistently and well.


Follow the “basics” and add:

  • Donors to receive visits by staff to conduct stewardship interviews.
  • Discuss opportunity to increase their giving for the following year. When coming to campus for Reunion, Homecoming, Parents Weekend, etc., set up special welcome and registration areas for these individuals with students there to welcome them.
  • Invite these individuals to a special program that is “invitation only” for them. Let them meet and hear from students and/or faculty.
  • Send special postcards (three to four/annually) that demonstrates impact with their gift and those of similar level in giving.
  • Use social media.
  • Invite them to participate in a webinar by a faculty member. Or something similar.
  • Consider small group gatherings with faculty, other senior leaders and alumni/parents on advisory boards, in selected communities with special program.
  • Inquire of faculty who are traveling to conferences and who have the persona to attend a special gathering while s/he in the respective city, hosted by alumni and parent leaders.

High Flying

This is the chance to be very, very creative as each “high flying” donor will require individual strategies, though there are some that cut across:

  • Consideration for Trustees to host small group in select cities with President or Provost. Consider any place in major cities with alumni, parents or board members to access locations, topics, etc. such as a museum, hosted at a house, etc.
  • Develop strategy for President/Head to make personal calls---with content.
  • Invite them to meet the Board of Trustees (presumably some/most are in this category, though not all). Always asking for advice or inviting donors into the “inner circle” will be highly valued. Maybe some of your donors attend a portion of your annual Board retreat.

Foremost, always remember – do the very basics of stewardship well and consistently and develop some traditional engagement opportunities that remain institutionalized rather than by individual advancement officer or president.

Most important, take every opportunity to deepen your understanding of your donors.

Invite feedback and conversation. Then, listen. Listen. Listen.




1 Comment

Enjoyed this little 'refresher course' very much - and will share.

Jan 30, 2020 11:02 am
- Hyland Johns

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