Optimize your website for crowdfunding success with these 6 nonprofit web design tips.

The Top 6 Nonprofit Web Design Tips for Crowdfunding Campaigns


The ultimate goal of any nonprofit website is to convince supporters to take the desired action, whether that be signing up for an email newsletter, registering for a volunteer opportunity, or anything in between.

No matter what your goals, your website must be carefully structured and designed if your organization expects to reach the ideal outcome.

If that outcome happens to be increasing visibility and scoring more donations to your nonprofit’s crowdfunding campaign, you’ve come to the right place!

In this article, we’ll give you 6 tips that will help you design your website in a way that’s conducive to crowdfunding success, including:

  1. Make sure your donation page is easy to get to.
  2. Use your crowdfunding campaign to keep your website current.
  3. Pack an emotional punch.
  4. Standardize branding.
  5. Keep mobile in mind.
  6. Provide crowdfunding donors with other ways to get involved.

Let’s jump in!

Ensuring that your donation page is easy to get to will result in more online donations to your nonprofit, since donors can readily access your form.

1. Make sure your donation page is easy to get to.

Why it’s crucial:

Considering that crowdfunding relies on a large number of donors to be successful, campaign visibility and accessibility are arguably more important with crowdfunding campaigns than they are with other fundraisers.

To maximize donations to your campaign, your organization must make the giving experience as easy as possible on your donors.

If supporters have to search your website endlessly to find your crowdfunding page, chances are that they won’t even land on the donation form, nevertheless hit the “Submit” button.

Point is, a giving experience that is frustrating in any way is much more likely to be abandoned before the gift has been made, which won’t do much to further your crowdfunding campaign!

How it’s done:

If securing more donations to your crowdfunding campaign is your organization’s main website goal, treat it as the centerpiece!

The key here is to make your crowdfunding page as visible as possible (organically, of course). You should provide supporters with multiple pathways to access your campaign donation form.

For example, you might give supporters the option to access your page by:

  • Including a call-to-action and a link to your campaign page on your homepage.
  • Adding information about your crowdfunding campaign to your “Ways to Give” page.
  • Featuring a “Donate Now” button in your top navigation that specifically links out to your crowdfunding page.

Of course, this list certainly doesn’t cover all of the options. If there’s a natural opportunity to lead website visitors to your crowdfunding campaign donation form, then by all means, guide them!

To sum up: Ensuring that your navigation structure clearly points website visitors to your crowdfunding page will result in more donations to your campaign, since supporters will know exactly where to go to embark on the donation process.

Your crowdfunding campaign will provide your organization with plenty of updates that you can repurpose on your website to keep your content fresh.

2. Use your crowdfunding campaign to keep your website current.

Why it’s crucial:

Amidst a million other important efforts and concerns, in can be all-too-easy to forget to update your website… or to simply sweep updating under the rug.

However, updating your website is crucial to its effectiveness. You need to update regularly to reassure donors that your organization is still active and interested in keeping them in the loop with what’s going on at your nonprofit.

Furthermore, an out-of-date website can make your organization appear less credible. Think about it: have you ever landed on a business’ website that looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1999? You probably weren’t too inclined to believe that that company was up with the times and a current expert in their product or field.

Point is, regularly updating your website can be a difficult feat, but the potential ramifications of not updating can be even greater.

How it’s done:

Luckily, your crowdfunding campaign will give your organization plenty of material for updating your website!

As we’ve discussed in a previous post, it’s important to regularly give your supporters updates during your crowdfunding campaign. Doing so keeps them oriented with your progress and demonstrates the results of their contributions in a more tangible way, both of which lead to a more invested base of donors.

You can repurpose the updates from your crowdfunding campaign to generate new content for your website. For example, you could update your homepage daily to share current campaign progress or publish a series of news article to your blog about the positive work that crowdfunding donations have already made possible.

And those are only a couple of the possibilities! No matter how you choose to leverage them, crowdfunding updates give you the fodder you need to keep your website current.

To sum up: By using news from your crowdfunding campaign, updating your organization’s website on a regular basis will be much more manageable.

Adding emotionally-charged images and stories to your nonprofit's website can make it more compelling to your donors.

3. Pack an emotional punch.

Why it’s crucial:

People are often motivated to give charitably because nonprofit causes tug at their heartstrings in some way. In other words, supporting nonprofits is usually (at least in part) an emotionally-charged pursuit.

That being the case, organizations generally do better at engaging their supporters and convincing them to give when they make an emotional appeal as opposed to a logical one.

By packing an emotional punch with your content, chances are that your website will be more impactful to your donors—both when it comes to conveying your message and encouraging more donations. After all, it’s those visceral reactions that lead to impulse giving!

While designing your website around an emotional appeal won’t directly influence the success of your crowdfunding campaign, it can aid it indirectly. The more you can inspire donors with your cause and impassion them with your mission, the more likely they are to donate to your campaigns.

How it’s done:

Take a nod from your crowdfunding campaign page, and make sure to tell your story through words and photos on your website.

While you should do so throughout your site, appealing to your supporters’ emotions is especially important on your homepage. The very first impression your visitors will have of your website is the look and layout of your homepage, so it’s important to get your message across immediately.

Design your homepage around an emotionally-charged photo of your work or those you serve, and make sure to include a shortened version of your mission statement above the fold (the part of the webpage that visitors can see without scrolling).

As One Project, an organization committed to supporting secondary survivors of sexual assault, perfectly portrays their work in an emotionally compelling way on their homepage:

As One Project tugs at their website visitors' heartstrings with a photo that illustrates their cause and a mission statement that captures their work.

In you’re still in the market for more examples of successful, emotionally-charged nonprofit websites, you’re in luck. You can check out this excellent resource with 200 of the best nonprofit websites of the year, broken out by organizational focus (i.e., international, environmental, animals, etc.).

Whether you review sites through that resource or through other means, the important thing is that you’re analyzing industry-wide best practices and drawing inspiration from the great work of your peers. See what your colleagues in the field have done with their sites, and find ways to leverage those techniques to tell your nonprofit’s emotional story.

To sum up: Nonprofit work is emotional by nature. Increase the chances that website visitors will be swayed by your cause by using compelling stories and images to pack an emotional punch, particularly on your homepage.

Standardizing branding throughout your nonprofit website ensures that donors always feel secure when browsing your site.

4. Standardize branding.

Why it’s crucial:

As all nonprofits know, building trust is key to securing donations. This is especially true for online donations, which are more impersonal since there’s no aspect of face-to-face interaction to help donors feel secure.

If your organization wants to maximize the number of online donations received (and we’re assuming you do!), you must do everything in your power to make your website appear as trustworthy as possible to your donors.

Standardizing branding across your website is one of the most straightforward ways to do just that.

By keeping branding consistent across the board, it becomes a seal of trust. When donors see your look and logo across all pages of your website, they’ll be consistently reminded that they’re investing in a credible cause they care about.

How it’s done:

All pages of your website should have the same look and feel, derived from your logo.

Before you start designing, consider creating a style guide that outlines all design standards. Here are just a few of the many things you’ll probably want to think about:

  • Color scheme. Color schemes should be based off of your logo and include no more than 5-6 colors. There should be 2-3 main colors (brights) as well as an array of neutrals to complement them.
  • Color usage. Beyond simply having a scheme to work with, you should determine which elements will appear in which colors. For example, what colors will donation buttons and other CTAs be? Hyperlinks?
  • Font. Use one font throughout your website, and stick with it. When selecting a font, keep in mind that sans serif fonts are more legible on screens.
  • Images. What types of images will your organization use on your website? Should images be shaped, sized, or formatted in a particular way? Where will images be sourced from? Do you need to secure any permissions? These questions all need to be answered in your style guide!

Once you’ve got your style guide, it’s time to decide how you’ll brand your donation forms. There are two routes your organization can take: hire a web design firm or build your own forms using the built-in customization tools available with your fundraising software.

If you don’t have much design experience or CSS and HTML knowledge, we highly recommend hiring a web design professional. This person can help you maintain a cohesive design throughout all your donation forms and create custom solutions that are tailored to your organization.

Completing the design in-house? Check out this list of amazing websites to get ideas on how you can brand your website’s donation forms.

Important: don’t forget to brand your crowdfunding campaign page, too! Considering that donors are submitting their sensitive information there, they’ll feel much more comfortable giving when your form clearly reflects your organization.

To sum up: Clear and consistent branding across your website builds trust, because donors can be certain that they’re supporting a credible nonprofit.

Now that most donors approach websites from their smartphones, it's of the utmost importance to create a mobile-responsive website that provides them with the best possible experience.

5. Keep mobile in mind.

Why it’s crucial:

Now that mobile phones are so advanced, more and more people are using them to browse the web on the go.

In fact, it’s been estimated that a majority of browsers are now visiting nonprofit websites from mobile devices. The problem is that many nonprofits haven’t yet caught up with the times and optimized their websites (including their donation pages) for mobile users.

It might not seem like a deal breaker at first, but a website that isn’t mobile-responsive can cause your crowdfunding donations (and online contributions in general) to take a hit. Websites that aren’t mobile-friendly aren’t user-friendly, so mobile donors are much more likely to become frustrated and leave the site before submitting their donations.

Think about it: wouldn’t you be much less inclined to give if you had to zoom and pinch your screen, scroll up, down, left, and right, and fill out a bunch of tiny, illegible boxes to make a donation?

How it’s done:

How you build a mobile-responsive website will be dependent on how your nonprofit is approaching web design.

If you’re…

  • Designing your website yourself, the website builder that your organization is using should use a responsive design framework that automatically conforms your site to the device it’s being viewed on. However, just because you have this feature doesn’t necessarily mean that your site will translate well to mobile, so be sure to keep mobile in mind as you’re designing.
  • Working with a web design firm, make sure to select a firm who offers mobile-responsive design. Most firms should offer this service now that mobile is so prevalent, but it can’t hurt to double-check!

Remember: the best way to tell if your site is actually mobile-responsive is to test it out for yourself. Take out your smartphone and try donating to your crowdfunding campaign!

To sum up: Mobile-responsive websites provide mobile donors with the best possible user experience. When donating to your crowdfunding campaign is easy, donors will be much more likely to follow through!

By offering your crowdfunding donors other ways to engage with your organization throughout your website, your nonprofit will build a base of more invested donors.

6. Provide crowdfunding donors with other ways to get involved.

Why it’s crucial:

Crowdfunding campaigns can really give your donor acquisition a boost. These campaigns require widespread sharing and are low-stakes for donors, so they’re the ideal opportunity to recruit a lot of new donors to your cause.

In order to transform one-time crowdfunding donors into donors who give again and again, it’s crucial to actively continue building relationships with them. One of the best ways to do that through your website is by offering supporters other opportunities to get involved with your organization!

Not to mention, some supporters who land on your website might want to support your organization, but might not be ready to make a monetary gift. By providing a variety of engagement opportunities on your website, you can win the support of people with a variety of preferences.

How it’s done:

Post-donation engagement opportunities don’t even have to be limited to your acknowledgement page! In fact, they should be incorporated throughout your website.

The key is to match up your webpages with relevant opportunities. Some opportunities might be relevant across the board (for example, an email newsletter subscription box might remain at the bottom of the site on every page), while others would be very specific to certain pages (for example, the opportunity to volunteer for an event might only be limited to a dedicated volunteer information page).

No matter where you place them, all opportunities should be framed as calls-to-action (CTAs). Use short, clear, and actionable language to ensure that donors will understand exactly what you’re requesting.

With the right CTAs, who knows? That supporter who came only intending to give $5 to your crowdfunding campaign might be transformed into a lifelong volunteer!

To sum up: Including other engagement opportunities around your website actively continues the conversation both before and after crowdfunding campaign donors have given. With a wealth of thoughtful engagement opportunities backing you up, you should have a larger base of recurring donors to rely on for your next campaign!

Your nonprofit’s website strategy can greatly influence how much money you’re able to raise during your crowdfunding campaign. With these 6 tips, your website should be conducive to crowdfunding success.

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Hear stewardship advice from a variety of nonprofit experts

Donor Stewardship Expert Advice from 29 Industry Leaders

Donor stewardship is one of the most, if not the most, important activities a nonprofit does. That being said, it can be a tricky beast.

NonProfitEasy’s team has compiled advice from a variety of experts from the nonprofit sector on how nonprofits can perform effective stewardship for their donors.

Listen to your donors

You’d be surprised how much you can learn about your donors if you’re willing to listen! If you develop trusting relationships with your donors they’ll be the only focus group you ever need. 

Amy DeVita, Chief Operating Officer at Third Sector Today and Top Nonprofits, says:

“Although I’m not personally involved in nonprofit fundraising, I’m very fortunate to get to interview some incredibly successful nonprofit leaders in my line of work! The best practice that I’ve heard time and time again: “Listen” to your donors.

At first blush, it may seem counter-intuitive that “listening” is more important than “telling,” “suggesting,” or “asking.”

But, by listening, you are letting your donor tell you how they want to be further engaged with your cause— and they will be charting the course to a successful and more meaningful relationship for you to follow.”

Vanessa Chase, Fundraising Consultant and Owner of The Storytelling Non-Profit, says:

“Survey your donors! If there’s one tip that I think can make a big difference for stewardship plans it’s to do a donor survey.

Send one annually that includes 5 to 7 questions about donor demographics and their overall satisfaction. It can provide non-profits with vital data points about their donor audience and how they can better steward their audience.”

Craig Linton, Founder of Fundraising Detective, says:

“Never miss an opportunity to get feedback from your donors. Not only does it strengthen your relationship, but it can identify common problems that you can solve to improve your donor experience.”

For more great fundraising tips, check out our ultimate CRM tip sheet!

Quality over quantity of communications

Donors who have given to multiple nonprofits are likely inundated with follow-up communications. Make yours stand out by ensuring they’re high quality and meaningful!

Kivi Leroux Miler, President of Nonprofit Marketing Guide.com, says:

So many nonprofits send bad thank you letters – if they send them at all! Nonprofit thank you letters need to be thought of as a very important, highly strategic piece of communication.

A thank you is NOT just a tax receipt. It should look like a personal letter from one friend to another. Ditch the predictable openings like “Thank you for your gift of…” or “On behalf of our organization…” Draw in the donor immediately by placing them front and center. Something as simple as “You made my day…” is much better.

A great thank you is the first step in creating a relationship with your donor that will inspire them to give again and again.”

Tom Ahern, President at Ahern Donor Communications, says:

“A prerequisite for above-average donor retention is a well-planned, donor-centric communications program that begins with a welcome.

Jeff Schreifels, Senior Partner at the Veritus Group, says:

“It’s sad, but just like we’ve all become accustomed to bad or mediocre customer service and we accept it, it’s the same with donors who give large, multi-year gifts. They have come to expect very little of us.

This is where you can have an advantage over other charities. Your mindset should be that because they gave a gift, I’m going to do the unexpected and cultivate them so wonderfully that they can’t wait to make their next gift.”

For more great fundraising tips, check out our ultimate CRM tip sheet!

True gratitude will make all the difference

It’s because of generous donors that your organization has the opportunity to make a difference. Make sure they know how important they are by thanking them early, frequently, and in a variety of ways. 

Chris Moore, Executive Vice President of Innovairre, says:

“In today’s fundraising environment, where retention is the new acquisition, the days of having a revolving door of endless new donors are long gone!

The need to thank donors promptly and personally is more critical than ever.

After all, it’s not the first gift that’s most important – it’s the second, and first impressions count; you have to earn the right to ask again!”

Claire Axelrad, Principal at Clairification, says:

Effective stewardship can be summed up in two words: gratitude and impact.  Think hard about what you’re grateful to your donor for.

It’s not money; it’s the impact they’ve made possible. Tell them; show them.

It doesn’t matter how great your relationship is now. If you don’t demonstrate repeated gratitude and/or can’t show your donor their money is creating an impact, there won’t be much of a relationship for long.”

Joe Garecht, Founder of The Fundraising Authority, says:

“Your non-profit would not exist without your donors. So why not start treating your donors like the essential members of your team that they really are?

Your donors are the heroes of your work… your program staff and volunteers are important, but your donors are essential. Make sure they know that!”

For more great fundraising tips, check out our ultimate CRM tip sheet!

Always connect donors with your organization’s mission

A charitable donation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Make sure your donors or potential donors know where their money is going and the difference that they’re making to your organization. 

Marc Pitman, Fundraising Coach at The Nonprofit Academy, says:

One of the most important things to do in donor stewardship is connect the donor to the mission. We need to bring donors into what my friend, Shanon Doolittle, calls these ‘mission moments.’ We often overlook these because they’re things our nonprofit is doing on a regular basis. But these are exactly what the donor is investing in. And since they’re happening on a regular basis, it doesn’t take a lot of programming or organizational inconvenience to bring donors in.

The best part? When non-fundraising staff see donors get excited about their work, the non-fundraising staff start willingly helping with the fundraising!”

Sarah Bernstein, Founder and Owner at Philanthrodata, says:

“I would suggest that in acknowledgements and reports to donors, that nonprofits emphasize what they can accomplish with and because of donors, what donors have made possible, rather than a litany of the organization’s achievements.

For example, they could talk about what it means to the people they serve to know that the community (of donors) believes in their potential and has demonstrated that by investing in their future. Also, they should pay attention to the people who pay attention to them, especially the donors who follow them in social media.”

Lomesh Shah, Founder and CEO of NonProfitEasy, says:

“Too often, nonprofits will separate fundraising activities from their ‘mission’ as an organization.

We try to encourage nonprofits to always link any monetary solicitation with a tangible outcome.

This is an easy way to show donors that their donation is making a difference and showcase process after a fundraising campaign.”

Remember to follow up, and follow up, and follow up!

Donor stewardship is not a one and done sort of activity. It’s an ongoing relationship with donors that your organization should constantly be looking to deepen, develop, and grow. 

Julia Campbell, Principal at J Campbell Social Marketing, says:

“Donor stewardship does not mean just sending a thank you note and then contacting the donor again the next time you need money.

No. You need to tell donors how the gifts made an impact and continue to build the relationship with them.”

Eric Rardin, Vice President at Care2, says:

“Committing to year-round stewardship will retain current donors and recruit new repeat donors. Their funds are an extension of their faith in the organization and the missions, so remember: you’re not only stewarding their money, you’re stewarding their trust.

Care for your donors by investing in them — send a personalized thank you note; a formal, written thank you note; mid-year update; and a personalized ask the following year.”

Brian Dowling, Principal and Founder at SupportingFundraising.com and SupportingAdvancement.com, says:

One of the most important stewardship activities are reports sent to donors on a periodic basis informing them about what has been done with their investment in your organization. “

For more great fundraising tips, check out our ultimate CRM tip sheet!

Find ways to engage donors of all donation levels

Having industry leading donor stewardship means you are engaging potential donors at all giving levels, ages, and exposures to your nonprofit. Think about the different ways your organization can find opportunities to interact with organizations of all types. 

Alex Saavedra, Digital Marketing Manager at Greater Giving, says:

“Young donors are hands-on and serious about helping. The common thing among young donors is the desire to be involved—especially when working on limited budgets, the amount they care and want to participate may not be matched by how much they can give.

A donor is a long-term investment—if these donors have a positive experience with your organization when they’re young, they’ll continue donating long into the future when they have more disposable income.

Provide opportunities for young donors to get involved in other ways besides donating (such as volunteering and hosting their own local events such as a 5K).”

Bill Tedesco, CEO of DonorSearch, says:

“Prospect research can help your front-line fundraisers identify which donors have the capacity to give a major gift and a history of past philanthropy.

This will enable your development team to ensure that those major donors receive excellent stewardship to keep them engaged for years to come!”

Brian Lacy, Owner at Brian Lacy and Associates, says:

“Annuals funds are a great way to cultivate a strong pipeline of donors who have the potential to make a major donation down the line. The secret to your success in this effort will be your organization’s donor stewardship program!”

Focus on stewardship, not solicitation

Soliciting donations is only one part of donor stewardship. Make sure your communications with donors are varied so they’re receiving a diversity of information about your organization.

Farra Trompeter, Vice President at Big Duck, says:

“Celebrate your donors and make them feel like heroes. Highlight your accomplishments as theirs!

Highlight what your donors care about. Not sure what that is or why they give? Ask them via phone interviews or surveys.
Don’t just ask donors to give. Make sure to book-end any appeal with non-donation actions, updates on results, and word of thanks.”

Erik Anderson, Founder & President of The Healthy Non-Profit, says:

“Donors are not ATMs, they are people with wishes and dreams. Your job as a fundraising professional is to help people realize those dreams. You are not a mugger lurking in the shadows trying to snatch a donor’s wallet or purse. If there is one guiding principle that is paramount to all other fundraising best practices, it is treat your best donors like you would your childhood BFF.

  • Check-in with them from time-to-time.
  • Care about what is happening in their life.
  • Put their needs ahead of your own.
  • Spend time with them figuring out what they want their philanthropy to accomplish and then show them how your organization can help them accomplish their goals and dreams.

The more personal you can make your cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship interactions, the stronger your relationship will become. Philanthropy done right can be enriching for all parties involved!”

Bond Lammey, Senior Associate at Bentz Whaley Flessner, says:

“Put as much effort into creating a stewardship plan for your donors as you do in creating cultivation/solicitation plans. Your best future donors are your current donors, and if you neglect to demonstrate how much you appreciate your current donors, you run the risk of losing them as donors.

On a slightly related note, I recently made a first gift to an organization. About six weeks later, I got a letter in the mail from them. While this was a long time to wait for a thank you letter, I was glad to see it in my mailbox.

I opened it up…only to discover that it was a solicitation!

I was being asked for another gift before I had ever been thanked for the first one!”

Eliza McNulty, Board Member at the Associaton of Donor Relations Professionals, says:

“To be truly donor-focused, donor relations and stewardship programs must find the sweet spot between developing policies & procedures, gathering donor feedback and exhibiting empathy.

We must step into the shoes of our donors, aim to understand their feelings and perspectives, and use that understanding to guide our actions.”

For more great fundraising tips, check out our ultimate CRM tip sheet!

Mix up how you do donor acknowledgement

There’s more to donor communication than email and direct mail. Mix up how you interact with donors to separate your organization from the rest!

Joanne Fritz, Nonprofit & Charitable Organizations Expert at About.com, says:

Multi-channel fundraising is a hot topic, though no one talks about multichannel thanking. Consider thanking by snail mail just another channel for your campaign.

Many people who receive your direct mail appeal likely respond by going to your website and donating. It’s a matter of convenience, not dislike of the mail.

John Haydon, Digital PR and Fundraising Expert at Inbound Zombie, says:

“Social media empowers donors to share stories about the causes they care about. If they care enough about yours to make a donation, they’ll care enough to share your campaign on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

One of the best places to promote sharing is on your “thank you” pages. These are the first pages donors see after clicking “donate”, so the likelihood they’ll share the campaign is relatively high.”

Adam Weinger, President of Double the Donation, says:

“Make sure to include matching gift appeals in your donor acknowledgements. It’s an easy way to let donors know that they might be eligible to double their donation!”

Transparency and trust come first

If your organization is doing great work and making a positive difference in the world then don’t hide it! Be open and honest about how you’re using donations or where your organization is looking to improve in the future. 

Larry Johnson, Founder of 8 Principles of Sustainable Fundraising, says:

“Seemingly counterintuitive, freely and openly admitting your mistakes, is one of the most powerful forces in renewing your donors. Total transparency—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

What does this do? It shows your respect for your investors and gives you the ability to continue making promises going forward. It’s one of those ironies of life.”

Erin Moyer, President at the Association of Donor Relations Professionals, says:

“To keep donors coming back, you must not only show them that yours is a quality organization with a solid reputation, but also one they can trust with their money.

After a first gift, each experience and touch you give your donor will help them further identify with your mission and ultimately strengthen your relationship.”

For more great fundraising tips, check out our ultimate CRM tip sheet!

Use technology to make your donor’s lives easier

Technology is revolutionizing the nonprofit sector by making it easier than ever for donors to engage with causes they care about. Figure out how your organization can embrace technology to make the donation process and stewardship process as simple as possible for prospects or donors.

Meagan Nordmann, Digital Marketing Lead for @Pay, says:

In order to keep an ongoing relationship with your donors so that they become repeat donors, organizations must be sure that the online donation process is as simple as possible.

Currently, most nonprofits require donors to visit multiple web pages, or remember a username and password, or download an app, or enter 57 keystrokes of payment information every single time they want to give.

There are express checkouts now that let donors give in just a few clicks, no matter what device they are giving from.

Rafi Norberg, President of Helperful, says:

“Linking to your donation pages or including call-to-actions at the bottom of your virtual communications will encourage some percentage of the folks who visit your website to become first-time donors.

This is a simple, automated way to improve your inbound donation pipeline.”

Click here to download our free fundraising software checklist.


stewardship penguins

8 Steps to Creating a Nonprofit Stewardship Program


I have previously discussed the importance of donor retention.

Keeping donors coming back leads to increased donations, stronger relationships, and more benefits that can help your nonprofit in extraordinary ways—but just because something can happen does not mean that it will.

Retaining donors is part science, part art. There are proven strategies and ideas to guide your retention efforts, but, ultimately, how you retain donors will be up to the creative, dedicated efforts of your staff.

Donor stewardship is how donors are retained. In other words: it’s the process by which nonprofits manage and care for donors in order to build relationships that last.

Forget the sugar coating; stewardship is not easy. It requires effort from everyone on your nonprofit’s staff. There are multiple parts to the stewardship process, and only when they’re all working well together will your nonprofit experience the true benefits of a powerful donor stewardship program.

To get you started, here are eight steps for how to create an effective donor stewardship program that will last:

  1. Clean your donor database
  2. Define stewardship at your organization
  3. Set clear, measurable goal
  4. Create a budget
  5. Assemble a stewardship team
  6. Create a communication plan
  7. Address how your team will approach lapsed donors
  8. Put your plan into action

Keep reading if you want to learn how to take your donors stewardship to the next level.

Step #1: Clean Your Donor Database

Donor stewardship boils down to contacting donors at the right times and in the right ways. In order to do so, you need to know your donors through and through. The tough part is remembering the important details for a lot of donors.

There are three important fundraising steps that a clean database makes easier:

  1. Donor segmentation
  2. Contacting donors
  3. Engaging donors

These three fundraising strategies are also an excellent step-by-step guide around which your nonprofit can organize its initial contact with donors.

Donor segmentation

Donor segmentation is how nonprofits organize donors into manageable groups. Donors might be organized according to location, donation amount, age, and other factors. Groups might experience overlap, such as how a baby boomer donor might also be grouped with major gift donors.

A clean database helps donor segmentation in two ways.

First, donor data needs to be organized and easily accessible in order for staff to be able to sort donors into groups. Data such as age, previous donations, contact information, and other relevant data should be available in every donor record.

Effective organization saves time and effort that fundraisers can put towards other fundraising efforts, such as speaking with donors.

Second, segmentation does the work of grouping donors into manageable segments. In a clean database, it’s easy to access specific segments and figure out which segment(s) donors belong to. This makes stewardship easier when you wish to target a specific group of donors.

Contacting donors

Have you ever called a wrong number? It’s not a particularly positive experience.

It’s useless to call donors at wrong numbers or to not be able to find their contact information to begin with. Stewardship is all about interacting with donors, so you need their contact information to be up-to-date and readily available.

Engaging donors

It’s important to keep track of how donors wish to be contacted, how often, and with what information.

Whenever and however you contact donors, it’s best to vary what you talk about. If you’re always making fundraising appeals, then you’re building a relationship that’s contingent on donations. Make sure your donors know they matter more than that.

Maintaining a clean donor database is all about making stewardship as efficient as possible. Once you’re organized, a nonprofit CRM can help you get the most out of your donor database.

Step #2: Define Stewardship at Your Organization

Stewardship has come to mean a lot of things.  The term is tossed around pretty loosely.

With big picture concepts that lack specificity and a concrete meaning, like stewardship, it is extremely important that your team defines what your organization’s understanding of the term is.

As was mentioned earlier, stewardship is the process of providing donors with excellent care and service in the hopes of retaining them as supporters.

What needs to be defined on an organization-by-organization basis is what makes up the ‘excellent care and service’ of exemplary stewardship.

Numerous aspects of the donor-nonprofit relationship could fall under your organization’s stewardship umbrella:

  • Formal donor acknowledgment
  • Customized thank yous
  • Phone calls from development staff
  • Annual reports
  • Newletters
  • Social media shout-outs

Your organization might encompass all of those communications within its stewardship program, or only a few.

The important takeaway here is that your organization’s understanding of stewardship has clearly defined parameters.

Those parameters will be guideposts as you begin to lay out a stewardship plan.

Step #3: Set Clear, Measurable Goals

Maybe you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or pen the next great American soap opera or set foot on the moon. Goals keep people striving towards greatness, and they’ll keep your nonprofit on the right track, too.

Some goals can be largely unobtainable, in an attempt to keep your staff striving to be better, but it’s important to institute accomplishable goals. Positive reinforcement will keep your staff motivated, and they’ll get positive reinforcement when they complete important tasks that you set forth.

Good goals for a nonprofit stewardship program include:

  • Retaining a certain percentage of new donors from a specific campaign
  • Receiving increased donations from a certain percentage of donors
  • Reaching a higher number of donors through your stewardship program

Achieving these broader stewardship goals will likely entail accomplishing smaller tasks, such as sending communications at the proper times and in the desired proportions to specific donors.

Rewarding staff could be the key to a successful stewardship program. People work better when they’re happier, and when your staff knows that achieving certain standards might result in desirable rewards, it can help to motivate them on those slow days when the inspiration is running low, but you still need them to deliver the same exemplary service that makes your stewardship program so successful.

Step #4: Create a Budget

There are a lot of moving parts to a donor stewardship program:

  • Staff
  • Data attainment and organization
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Technology
  • And more

Stewardship doesn’t come free, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive.

The cost of donor stewardship will depend on the size of your organization, the amount of donors you have, and the budget you have to begin with. You might also consider the ways in which you reach out to donors, how much staff you need focused on stewardship and other factors.

It all boils down to one question: How much can you afford to spend on donor stewardship?

Stewardship shouldn’t bankrupt your nonprofit, but realize that it is a strategy geared towards raising more money. Whatever you invest into donor stewardship, you should expect to get back, and then some, through donations from the donors that your efforts help you to retain.

Step #5: Assemble a Stewardship Team

Once you have a budget in place, you’ll have a realistic idea of how many people and who specifically should be on your stewardship team.

Like with anything, in order to be successful your stewardship program needs a dedicated group of individuals running it.

It’s likely that your stewardship team will consist mostly of members of the development department, as these are the fundraisers already acting as the faces of your organization to donors.

Let’s say you currently have a standard thank-you template for email and direct mail, and phone calls are few and far between.  Soon, as part of your stewardship program, you’re planning on moving to more customized thank yous and implementing “check-ins” with major donors.

Those strategy changes are going to need additional manpower.  You might need to add a development staffer or reapportion tasks.

As you are planning, get the team together and outline stewardship job descriptions.

Step #6: Create a Communication Plan

How you contact donors matters. You don’t want to bombard people with too many emails, but you also don’t want to call so infrequently that they forget about you.

Ways to contact donors include:

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Direct mail
  • Social media
  • Carrier pigeon
  • And more

Fundly does not encourage the penultimate option, but we’d hate to hinder your creativity.

Creativity matters! It might sound simple to contact donors, but it’s not. This donor likes one phone call a month while that donor prefers two emails a week. It could be that simple, but a good communication plan will contact donors in multiple ways.

A variation of communications lets donors know that you care. Emails can be a good way to remain in passive communication, while the occasional phone call can reinforce a strong relationship thanks to a needed verbal conversation.

Contacting donors might sound mundane, but a creative mind can tinker with the options and keep donors engaged by contacting them in multiple ways, while obviously sticking to donors’ preferred communication methods for the most important conversations.

In addition to how you communicate with donors, it matters what you say. I mentioned before how only talking to donors about donations sets the precedent that the relationships don’t matter beyond monetary gifts. A donation-focused mindset won’t create the types of long lasting relationships that your nonprofit wants.

In addition to fundraising appeals, your nonprofit can share other information, such as:

  • Upcoming events
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Program information
  • Relevant stories

Varying the information you share is another way to get creative with donor communications. You don’t want donors to dread your phone calls, because they know that every one is another ask for money.

Instead, make donors hopeful that they might answer and learn about either a fun event you are hosting this weekend or a great way to get out and help the community.

Of course, all communications cost money, so your communication strategy comes back to the budget you have in place for your stewardship program.

Sending too many communications that don’t ask for money might cost your nonprofit too much, so plan ahead and decide on a ratio of fundraising to non-fundraising communications that works for you.

Step #7: Address How Your Team Will Approach Lapsed Donors

Unfortunately, no matter how solid your stewardship plan is, some donors are bound to fall through the cracks. The truth is that every organization has lapsed donor, supporters who haven’t given in over a year.

While this is a common thread for every organization, that doesn’t mean you can’t set a plan in place to address how you’ll regain these donors’ support.

Your approach may vary depending on your organization and the type of donors you’re reaching out to, but it should include the following steps:

  • Write personal letters to each lapsed donor. Not every donor stopped supporting your cause for the same reason and sending a mass email to all your lapsed donors will feel impersonal. Let your donors know that you miss them—not just their money.
  • Invite lapsed donors to events. Reconnecting with donors can be a difficult process, especially if you don’t have a chance to talk with that person face-to-face. Ask them to attend an event or encourage them to volunteer. Engaging with your nonprofit again can be great ways for lapsed donors to reconnect.
  • Don’t ask for a large donation at first. While a lapsed donor might have donated $50 every month in the past, encouraging them to so again might weaken your relationship. Instead, ask for a smaller amount and explain to them why every donation matters.
  • Get their feedback. Listening to your donors might be the best way to regain their support. When you reach out to lapsed donors, ask them for their feedback to show them that you care about making improvements.

When you have a set course of action, your team will be able to use these steps to regain a lapsed donor before it’s too late.

In addition, your organization can brush up on more ways to regain lapsed donors with this article on Salsa Labs.

Step #8: Put Your Plan Into Action

At long last! You’ve trimmed the bushes, swept the sidewalk, and shined the windows. Your stewardship program is ready for its big debut.

You deserve a pat on the back. It’s not easy to get a donor stewardship program up and running. Done patting? Good, because the hard work has only just begun.

Donors change. They change jobs, addresses, attitudes, and your nonprofit needs to remain abreast of it all. Strategies will need to be tweaked to stay up to date with who your donors are and what they want out of the stewardship experience.

If you don’t maintain a mindset of constantly altering and improving your program to meet the needs of your donors, then your stewardship program could stagnate and fail to retain the amount of donors you need.

I know, donor stewardship is a never ending journey, but life isn’t about reaching plateaus and coasting. Life is about climbing, reaching a plateau, perhaps resting there awhile, and then forging ahead to the next far off peak. Always strive to improve your stewardship program, and you’ll never cease to amaze yourself at how incredibly much you can improve donor retention.

The argument between donor acquisition and donor retention is almost pointless. Both matter, and the one you engage in the most depends on your nonprofit and its timely needs. Nonprofits need to engage in both, and an essential part of donor retention is the stewardship process.

For more fundraising information, check out more of Fundly’s useful resources: 

  • Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit CRMs: For more information about managing your donors, our comprehensive guide on nonprofit CRMs is the best place to look. You’ll learn about the top features that are essential to your CRM and much more!
  • Fundraising Letter Templates: Whether you’re requesting a donation for a crowdfunding campaign or an upcoming event, this guide has a list of 7 templates to help you craft the perfect letter.
  • 9 Types of Fundraising Software: Creating a foolproof stewardship strategies requires more than just a well-thought-out plan. Your organization’s team will need top-notch fundraising software to help make donating an enjoyable experience. Check out the different types of software in our complete guide.