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Stewardship in the time of COVID-19

Stewardship in the time of COVID-19

December 23, 2020
Gail Glasser

Creating lifelong donors requires a special kind of love. With a pandemic in the mix, a nonprofit’s ability to navigate donor relationships requires additional creativity, intention and rigor.

Donor stewardship is an integral part of all fundraising. It promotes donor retention, encourages upgraded or additional gifts and may bring new donors through current donors’ recommendations. In challenging times, donor relationships need special attention to bloom and thrive. 

One important thing to remember is that the pandemic is real and on the minds of your donors. Not acknowledging that risks your organization seeming to be out of touch or, worse, insensitive about donors’ wellbeing. Avoid doing or suggesting anything that flies in the face of coronavirus precautions. Keep safety measures in mind. Keep local and state regulations — and common sense — at the forefront of your efforts.

Here are three tips on how to perk up your stewardship efforts.

  • All relationships undergo challenging times. The ones that last manage expectations. Our Tip:  Explore and match the donor’s intent. 

Stewardship begins when a donor makes their gift. The donor and the size of their gift will guide your strategy. You started this process during cultivation, but now is the time to ramp up the donor’s influence on your strategy. Explore their motivations and interests. The more you can tie their contribution to the part of your mission they care most about the better. Donor stewardship calls are a great way to seek information. Write a simple script with open-ended questions.  Then use it as a board engagement opportunity. Ask the board members to make the call and share notes on what they learn.

  • Sheltering-in-place and social distancing may have some donors in isolation or others a tad weary of the company they must keep all the time.  Our Tip: Creatively update the donor on the impact of their gift. 

Regular impact reports are vital to fulfilling a donor’s expectations. Report specifically, tightly and emotionally. Traditional annual reports, impact-highlighting newsletters or targeted e-blasts are good. But in coronavirus times, individual check-ins with major donors may set your organization apart. Whether you mask up and social distance yourself or Zoom it up, bring along a subject matter expert who can talk enthusiastically about program impact. Fearful of being too close? Host an exclusive insider-briefing call. Or video tape kids singing “You are my sunshine” with a by-name donor shout out at the end.  

  • From postponed life events to work/life balance anxiety, everyone is managing more stress than ever. Do not make your donor worry over their gift. Our Tip: Keep your efforts simple, sincere and highly creative. 

Unsure what that looks like?  Grab a bagel and coffee and head on over for a socially distanced coffee chat. Set up a lead donors’ webinar and have organization or mission-themed T-shirts delivered in advance. Clear out your supply closet and offer pandemic lounge-ware in one swoop! Creative group texts that share a photo of your mission in action may offer a quick update and keep you top of mind.  Deliver a signature cocktail before your virtual event goes live. Drop off challah before shabbat. Send holiday treats along with a personalized message. You get the idea. 

A strong stewardship process helps retain and grow gift levels even with life in a coronavirus lockdown. These efforts intentionally guide the donor toward the next cultivation, so show the love!


Gail Glasser

Gail possesses 30 years of leadership experience in strategic planning, major gifts, capital campaigns, annual campaigns, planned giving, integrated communication and board development. She serves as the director of philanthropic outreach for a national nonprofit. She is also a past president and chief executive officer of the YMCA of Central Kentucky, and she was the chief advancement officer for the YMCA of Greater Houston, YMCA of Greater St. Louis (now the Gateway YMCA) and Capital District YMCA. Gail has served as the chair of the North American YMCA Development Organization and was a leader in the Y’s diversity, inclusion and global work. Throughout Gail’s early career, she held student affairs positions at Illinois State University, University of Illinois and the University of South Carolina. Gail earned her bachelor’s degree in social work and her master’s in human service counseling and consultation from Illinois State University. She also holds a law degree from Saint Louis University. Gail’s favorite quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou