Donor Stewardship | 5 Steps to Get Your Board Involved

Mission-driven professionals are selecting board members for different reasons today than they did in years past. Previously, these individuals were chosen based on their connections and the amount of financial support they could provide to the organization. Today, it’s much more important for board members to have a deep connection and passion for the organization’s mission.

This means your organization’s board will likely take interest in getting involved with your mission in ways beyond their governing duties. They care about your mission and want to see it succeed. This is a great thing!

As a leader, you can help your organization achieve its mission by recruiting your board of directors to help you carry out donor stewardship strategies.

Donor stewardship is vital when it comes to helping your organization retain supporters, boost predictable revenue, and amplify engagement among donors. This is because your stewardship strategies help build relationships between donors and your organization. Someone needs to build these relationships, so why not choose a group of individuals already dedicated to your cause like your board members?

In this guide, we’ll cover five steps that you can take to engage your board and get them involved in your donor stewardship strategies. These steps include:

Before we dive into these five steps, let’s run through a quick overview of why your board members are the perfect candidates to help with your stewardship strategies.

Why your board is perfect for stewardship

According to Bloomerang’s donor appreciation guide, the average donor attrition rate is heavily influenced by the communication, appreciation, and stewardship strategies of the organization. In the cited study by Adrian Sargeant in the above article, 13% of lapsed donors stopped giving because the donor was never thanked, 9% stopped giving because they had no memory of giving, 8% of donors lapsed because they had no information about how their money was used, and 5% of donors thought the charity didn’t need them.

This graphic includes donor stewardship statistics regarding why donors commonly stop giving.

These statistics show just how important it is to follow up with donors by thanking them and communicating their impact on the mission.

So why are your board members the perfect candidates to take on these activities? Imagine that you’re a donor, and you receive a handwritten letter from the organization to which you donated. Would it mean more if it came from an intern or from the chair of the board? Board leaders carry a lot of clout and are recognizable in the community. Donors love to have direct contact with these important individuals, and follow-up messages from your board help solidify your donors’ connection to your cause.

1. Ask your board members about their interests.

Start getting your board members involved by asking them about their interests. This allows you to build stewardship strategies and activities based on what will most engage them.

Taking interests and personal strengths into account will result in more motivated board members, increased job satisfaction, and better stewardship outcomes.

Consider the following examples:

  • One board member is incredibly outgoing and loves to meet new people. They may be the perfect candidate for attending as many events as possible and making face-to-face connections with supporters at events.
  • Another board member is also outgoing but has an incredibly busy schedule. Instead of committing to attend events, this individual may prefer to make phone calls to thank new donors for their generous contributions.
  • A final board member is less outgoing, preferring to stay home rather than attend events, and absolutely dreads making phone calls. Instead of asking them to perform these activities, this individual may be a better candidate for writing letters to donors.

People are more likely to do a good job working on activities that they feel passionate about. Therefore, start with these interests, passions, and personal strengths before you start randomly assigning your board members stewardship tasks.

2. Assign tasks for each board member.

Once you know your board members’ interests, you can start assigning tasks accordingly. Generally, these tasks should focus on showing supporters your appreciation. Write out a list of some tasks that your board members might be interested in and ask them for additional ideas to add to the list.

To get started, here are three suitable tasks for board members:

Writing letters to donors

You should provide an immediate thank you email to supporters after they make a donation. These are generally pre-written and triggered to send immediately after a donation has been made online.

However, because these mass emails are sent out to every one of your supporters, independent of their engagement history with your organization, there’s only so much you can do to personalize them. You can take your appreciation to the next level by asking your board members to write letters to donors.

You can write your thank you letters to donors based on a template, but they should be personalized and customized with the recipient’s name, engagement details, and even their interests.

Calling supporters to say thank you

Donors appreciate follow-up messages after they’ve contributed to an organization they care about. What’s the most personal way to follow up? Having a one-on-one conversation. Calling donors has been proven to retain more donors.

Bloomerang’s study found that the donor retention rate for supporters called after their first donation rose from 33% (no phone call) to 41% (one phone call) to 58% (more than one phone call).

This graphic shows donor retention rates based on number of phone calls.

Calling donors takes just a little extra time and effort from your team but can have a significant impact on your overall engagement. For interested board members, provide a list of donors and phone numbers that they can call. Be sure to give them details about each supporter’s gift to guide the conversation.

Also, consider providing board members with a loose script they can follow during these phone calls. While you don’t want them to sound robotic, scripts can guide conversations and ensure all important information is conveyed.

Attending events for face-to-face conversations

As mentioned above, having conversations is one of the most personal ways you can develop relationships with your supporters. While these can take place over the phone, they are best held in person. Generally, your organization’s meetings with major prospects are handled by the major gift officer. However, board members can do their part by attending other in-person opportunities.

When board members attend your organization’s events, they can do more than show their support for your campaign and cause. They can also build relationships with your donors by socializing and conversing with your supporters.

Encourage your board members to break free of their inner circle and meet new people at events. You might even give them access to your donor database app so that they can review basic information about supporters before diving into conversations with them.

3. Assign goals with each task.

Each task you assign your board members should always have specific instructions and goals associated with it so they can make sure they’re meeting (and hopefully exceeding) expectations.

When you assign stewardship tasks for your board members, be sure to define what they need to do, how often they need to do it, and what their metric for success will be.

For example, let’s say you’re explaining to a board member that they will conduct phone calls with new donors. You might say that they should go through a predetermined list of supporters and make phone calls for two hours each week. In this case, the expectation may be that they make 15 phone calls twice per week.

Or, if another board member said they would attend events and converse with supporters, you might ask that they attend four of the six events you host each year and take notes after conversations with five people per event.

Defining specific expectations with your board members gives them direction and eliminates the possibility of overwhelming them or leaving them unsure if they’re doing enough for your mission.

4. Check in regularly with board members.

Once you’ve set expectations with board members, check in with them regularly to see how they’re doing with their stewardship tasks. While they govern your organization, they still need light oversight to be sure things are going well.

Keep in mind that your board members are essentially volunteers at your organization. Double the Donation’s volunteer guide explains that all volunteers need “some form of supervision, especially if your volunteers are new.” If your board members are new to stewardship, be sure to check in on their progress and provide additional guidance as needed.

You might decide to check in with them:

  1. During board meetings. Add checking in on stewardship activities as one of the items on your organization’s meeting agenda. If your board meets pretty regularly, this could be your only form of supervision. If not, you might decide to add another type of oversight as well.
  2. Over email. Try asking board members to send a progress report and any questions on a regular basis. Stress that this is designed to help them and provide guidance rather than supervise that the work is being accomplished.
  3. One-off when necessary. If board members don’t enjoy the task they were assigned or have questions about it, make sure someone is available to answer those questions or address the issue. The last thing you want is for your board to start feeling burnt out.

Regular check-ins serve the dual purpose of ensuring your board members are enjoying their stewardship tasks and holding them accountable to ensure the tasks are completed.

5. Show board members their impact.

Just like your donors and other volunteers, your board members want to know that their efforts are making a difference. Inform your board members about how their contributions have impacted your mission for the better.

Track key metrics like your donor retention rate and average donation amount. As more stewardship activities are completed by board members, you can expect these metrics to improve. Then, you can report back to your board members about the impact they’re having on your organization.

Compile a report of these key metrics before and after your board members start their stewardship activities. Then, update and share it on a regular basis.

In addition to reports, be sure to also recognize their hard work and show appreciation for their activities and accomplishments. You can spotlight them in your year-end report or newsletter, expressing gratitude for the additional hours of work they put in to help your organization succeed.

Donor stewardship needs to be completed at your mission-driven organization to maintain relationships and drive donations. Your board members are in a unique position to complete stewardship activities and help retain additional supporters.

Encourage their efforts by ensuring the stewardship activities you assign align with their interests and with your organization’s needs. Then, provide oversight during their work. Finally, share the impact they’ve had on your mission and how their hard work is helping you succeed.

Jay Love is an expert on getting board members involved in donor stewardship. Author: Jay Love

Co-Founder and current Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang

He has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.

Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.

He is a graduate of Butler University with a B.S. in Business Administration. Over the years, he has given more than 2,500 speeches around the world for the charity sector and is often the voice of new technology for fundraisers.