01 Nov

Authenticity and Customization in Stewardship


I spend a lot of time training and coaching clients about the need to cultivate and steward donors with personal touches. One would think that when I saw a client sent out birthday cards to prospects that I would have been thrilled or that when I heard a client dropped off swag for donors that I would congratulate them. Here is why instead these things troubled me.

This large organization sent birthday cards to everyone for whom they had a birth date. Sounds nice enough, right? Even in the era of abundant Facebook birthdays, it is always nice to receive birthday wishes. The problem was that several of the people who received the cards mentioned that they found it odd to get a card since they had emailed the organization or, in one case, sent a personal letter to the executive previously and had never heard back.  Zero points for stewardship. The organization would have spent its time better making sure every email, call and letter was returned.

A small organization took the time to drop off branded mugs filled with candy for its larger donors. A donor, who is also a board member, called the development director furious that her money was spent on “swag” instead of mission critical programs and services.  This can happen, but this board member had previously criticized the organization in past years for spending money on t-shirts.  Zero points for stewardship. Just like fundraising is donor-centric so is stewardship. Know your donors! Other donors loved the mug and candy and one even said bringing it to her office was a great way to start conversations about her involvement. Score!

There is no one size fits all with cultivation and stewardship. Like everything else, prospect and donor touches are trial and error. As you think about your touches, make sure they are authentic and the right touches for your donor segment and individual donors. You can never go wrong with thank you calls from the board or development committee, an invitation to touch the mission (with no solicitation) or sharing news of your impact in a creative way. In this season of year end asking, make sure you are thoughtfully planning how to connect with prospects and say thank you to donors as well.


Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is President of Fridman Strategies, Inc. (, a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, financial resource development, governance and leadership coaching for nonprofits. She is the author of “On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service.” Nanette can be reached at


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