Cultivation & Stewardship

5 Donor Stewardship Strategies That Increase Donor Trust

Strong donor relationships and retention are built on donor trust. This means putting donor stewardship strategies in place to show donors you will put their money to the best use possible.

Healthy relationships are built on well-earned trust. For nonprofits, this means putting procedures in place that cultivate donor trust and demonstrating time and time again that you take those steps seriously. 

Donor trust is the foundation for supporters giving toward your cause. It shows that they believe you will put their money to the best use possible. 

There are many ways to gain and maintain your donors’ trust. Below, we’ll introduce you to five donor stewardship strategies that you can put into action today to increase donor trust.

Download: Donor Cultivation & Stewardship Plan Template

1. Follow the Donor Bill of Rights

Donor trust isn’t just important for your nonprofit—it’s imperative for the entire philanthropy sector. Charity is built upon the idea that the public can trust nonprofit organizations to use their donations for the greater good. By following guidelines to ensure donor trust in your work, you’re ultimately helping the entire sector’s reputation.

To encourage and guide this collective commitment to donor trust, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and The Giving Institute created the Donor Bill of Rights.

This code of ethics includes ten succinct rights that every donor should have when interacting with a nonprofit. They cover everything from being informed about the organization’s mission and work to being allowed to opt-out of mailing lists and otherwise manage their data.

If you’re looking for a way to jumpstart your donor trust initiatives, this is a great place to start. Try printing out a copy of the Donor Bill of Rights and putting it in a high-traffic area of your office as a daily reminder. Read it aloud at your quarterly board meetings and discuss how you’ve demonstrated your commitment to each one during that time frame. Use these ten rights as a guidepost for how you engage your donors.

2. Give Thanks and Report on Impact

Thank-you notes are a great way to show donors that they are appreciated, but they’re also a key tool for building donor trust. A prompt and personal thank-you note shows a donor that you:

  • Have professional procedures in place to quickly process their donation
  • Can provide necessary donation documentation for tax purposes
  • Value them as a key part of your ability to fulfill your mission

If a supporter makes a donation and doesn’t hear from you again, or doesn’t hear from you for several weeks, they may question your effectiveness, capacity, and, ultimately, trustworthiness as a charitable organization. Timely acknowledgment of gift receipt is a critical step in establishing trust with your donors.

However, you also don’t want to stop at the thank-you note. In the months following a donor’s gift, follow-up to thank them again and share updates on how you’ve put the donation to use. Providing specifics on the impact you’ve made with their gift instills greater donor trust that can lead to repeated gifts in the future.

3. Keep Your Organization Transparent

Build it into your nonprofit’s culture to be forthcoming with information whenever possible. Rather than supporters having to search for details on your operations, provide resources upfront. This builds donor trust by minimizing donor questions about your organization’s policies and instead leaving them with a solid view into your nonprofit’s work.

There are several ways to commit to transparency. To build donor trust:

  • Be forthcoming with your financial statements. Let donors know what your budget is and how that breaks down by program area and overhead costs. Being upfront about what your overhead costs are and why they’re important for your operations can help donors see how that piece of your budget contributes to your mission just as much as programming.

  • Share key operations documents. Include a page on your website where donors can view board member information, governing documents, your most recent Form 990, and any other resources that provide a view into your nonprofit’s operations.

  • Respond to donor inquiries promptly. If a donor has a question about your operations, their recent donation, or anything else pertaining to your work, make sure they get a quick response. This shows you’re available to assist and resolve any issues in a timely manner.

  • Admit when you make mistakes. Nonprofits are run by humans, and we all make
    mistakes sometimes. If you make a mistake, rather than hide it or brush over it, be upfront about it. Tell donors what happened and how you’ll do things differently in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  • Update donors on fundraising goal outcomes. You might not always meet your fundraising goal. If this happens, be honest with donors. Tell them how much you wanted to raise, how much you were able to raise, and how that difference will impact programming. Likewise, if you raise more than you planned, tell donors how you’ll put that extra funding to good use. 

While it can feel vulnerable to put your shortcomings out there, donors will have greater trust in your nonprofit if you’re able to be transparent about them in a thoughtful way. 

When Invisible Children didn’t meet their 2014 fundraising goal for their #zeroLRA campaign, the nonprofit sent donors an update on what programming they’d have to scale back as a result, how they made those decisions, what they still planned to do in the upcoming year, and where donors could contact them with more questions. Their outreach provides a perfect example of the power of transparency in building donor trust.

4. Use Consistent and Clear Branding

If you’ve ever taken an online training on spotting digital scammers or keeping your computer resources safe at work, you probably know that one of the clues to look for to tell if a message is spam is if there are any typos or inconsistent styling.

Distributing professional materials ensures donors view your communications as legitimate. Make sure to proofread your materials and use consistent branding across them, including logo, color palette, and font choices.

You’ll want to use this same consistent styling on all of your platforms, including social media, hardcopy assets, your website, campaign pages, and email appeals. Doing so ensures your work is easily identifiable as yours. Donors can trust that what they’re viewing belongs to the cause they’re interested in.

5. Ensure Your Donor Services Are User-Friendly

Supporters want to know that their information is secure when making a donation to your nonprofit. You can signal this to them by having modern, user-friendly donor services. A few components to consider include:

  • Website: Use an easy-to-navigate template and consistent branding. Make sure your connection is secure and your site certificate is valid.

  • Donation forms: Keep these streamlined, requesting only information pertinent to completing a donation. Include secure payment options.

  • Contact information: Make it easy for donors to contact you if they’re having trouble. List your troubleshooting contact information on donation forms and key website pages and be prepared to respond quickly to relevant inquiries.

  • Mobile-friendly design: Donors are increasingly on-the-go and accessing your information from smartphones and tablets. Test your communications and pages on multiple devices to ensure they are mobile-friendly.

Build Trust With Donors Through Your Stewardship Activities

Donor stewardship is an opportunity to build relationships with your donors, and the foundation for any good relationship is trust. View your stewardship activities through the lens of boosting donor trust to cultivate life-long relationships with your supporters.


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