Major Donors: 6 Stewardship Strategies to Engage Them


Stewarding your major donors increases the chances that they’ll continue supporting your nonprofit. Here are six major donor stewardship strategies to use.

The first step to deepening relationships with your donor base is to improve your donor stewardship approach. Donor stewardship is the relationship-building process you use to get to know your donors and strengthen their commitment to your cause.

It’s especially important to build strong relationships with major donors. Nonprofit survey research shows that 88% of total dollars raised comes from just 12% of donors—these are your major donors. Since these donors contribute the bulk of your funding, you must regularly engage with them and show your appreciation.

Use these six strategies to build strong relationships with major donors:

  1. Invite major donors to events.
  2. Call donors and set up one-on-one meetings.
  3. Send handwritten thank you letters.
  4. Create a donor recognition wall.
  5. Invite donors to engage in other ways.
  6. Stay in frequent contact with donors.

According to Bloomerang's guide to donor stewardship, an effective major donor stewardship plan provides a long-term strategy for deepening donor relationships and earning recurring donations.

1. Invite major donors to events.

Whether in-person, online, or hybrid, events are a great way to get to know your major donors in a more casual setting. Invite your major donors to events such as:

  • Meet-and-greets with your staff
  • Happy hours
  • Auctions
  • Appreciation galas

Use these events to get to know donors and provide them with a fun, unique way to engage with your organization.

2. Call donors and set up one-on-one meetings.

Along with regularly engaging with your major donors online, calling them can add a more personal touch to your outreach. You can thank them for their contributions or invite them to one-on-one meetings.

When hosting an in-person meeting, choose a quiet, private meeting space, such as an office at your organization’s headquarters. Use these one-on-one meetings to get to know donors, answer their questions, and listen to their feedback. Ask for their opinions on different topics, such as your organization’s current funding priorities or a recent event they attended. Incorporate their feedback where possible to show them that you value their input.

3. Send handwritten thank you letters.

Just like phone calls, handwritten thank you letters can feel much more personal to donors. Fundraising Letters recommends making these thank you letters specific to the donor. In other words, do things like addressing the donors by their names and referencing the exact donation amount they gave.

4. Create a donor recognition wall.

A donor recognition wall is a public display of your donors’ names. These walls are visible reminders that show donors how much they mean to your organization.

For example, let’s say you just wrapped up a capital campaign to fund the construction of a new wing of your community center. To honor the campaign’s major donors, you could include their names and donation amounts on bricks within the hallways.

You can also create a digital donor wall to show your appreciation. This could look like creating a web page with donors’ names and a special thank you message or video and linking to it on your website. Either way, donor recognition walls show your appreciation for major donors and can even inspire prospective donors to give.

5. Invite donors to engage in other ways.

Inviting your major donors to participate in opportunities that don’t require a donation can strengthen their connection to your cause. This also offers them an engaging way to get more involved in the work your organization does.

Invite donors to take part in:

  • In-person and virtual volunteer opportunities
  • Advocacy campaigns
  • Events

Engaging major donors in these opportunities shows them how you carry out your work and, in some cases, how you’re using their donations to further your mission. For instance, they can see how their donations help keep your office stocked with necessary supplies or provide your advocates with the resources they need to spread the word about your mission.

6. Stay in frequent contact with donors.

Create a communication plan to ensure you’re engaging with major donors regularly. We recommend creating a stewardship timeline for each major donor that includes things like making phone calls, sending event invitations, hosting one-on-one meetings, and mailing letters.

Use your fundraising technology to help keep track of these major donor interactions. For example, use your donor management software to store information about every interaction you have with donors, whether you learn more about their interest in your cause or receive feedback about an aspect of your outreach strategy. You can also track where each major donor is within the communication process to determine the right time to send a message or another gift request.

Action steps you can take today

To increase the effectiveness of your major donor stewardship program, your strategies must be sustainable over time. Follow these three action steps to start building your major donor stewardship program:

  1. Choose your main donor stewardship activities.
  2. Create your major donor outreach plan.
  3. Track your donor stewardship activities and their success rate to identify your most effective strategies.