Non-Profits use Direct Mail for Stewardship

February 25th, 2020 by

As a direct marketing maven, I love to see when non-profits use direct mail for stewardship.

A strong donor stewardship program helps build donors’ loyalty to your organization. It means engaging them in a variety of ways outside of actual fundraising ask. We need to do everything in our power to insure that we retain their gifts.

The truth is that donor retention rates are low and getting worse. According to the 2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report, the average donor retention rate was 45.5% in 2017.

That means that less than half of all donors return to non-profits each year. This leaves organizations in a never-ending struggle to attract dwindling numbers of new donors.

That’s why donor stewardship is so important. We need to think about the lifetime value of a donor.  Sure, we’re happy about that first gift. But the job doesn’t stop there. We need to look at donors and how we get them to stay with your organization for a long time.

Remember, current donors have already made a commitment to your organization. Hopefully, they understand your mission and believe in it. And, we all know that retaining existing donors costs way less than acquiring new ones.

Saying Thank You

We can never say THANK YOU enough to our donors. There are lots of ways to do this. Every organization needs to have a system to express gratitude and appreciation to our loyal supporters. That is the way to build relationships and drive recurring gifts.

For large organizations, it becomes almost impossible to physically meet with every donor. Certainly, that would be the best way to keep them committed to your agency. For most non-profits, there is not enough person-power to do the kind of one-to-one stewardship to retain and convert our donors.

In that case, we need to use every tool in our marketing toolbox to help us do this.

Non-profits need to create a Stewardship Calendar so they can stay in touch with their donors on a consistent basis. Donors need to feel appreciated. Every contact with them needs to be thoughtful, relevant and content driven. The more times a donor hears from us, the more important we are in their lives. The more they feel appreciated, the higher the likelihood that they will renew their gift.

The first step in stewardship is the timely thank you of their gift. This must be a meaningful acknowledgement of their contribution. A thank you note is the way to go. But don’t just use a generic thank you card – get creative. For example, if your agency supports children’s causes, have the cover of the thank you note showcase a child’s artwork. Consider using the back of the card to iterate your agency’s mission. This is an opportunity to showcase the impact of the gift. Your job is to make your donor feel good about their gift.

The communication with the donor does not stop with that first thank you card. Stewardship is an on-going commitment to staying in touch.

Social Media

Social Media definitely has its place in stewardship. Most nonprofits have a Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter account. But social media in the nonprofit world is about more than getting “likes.”

When social media is done well, social media messages can help you engage your supporters. Your goal is to capture and preserve their attention. This is the place to use some creativity and humor. You want to establish a dialogue that helps donors feel like more than cash machines.

Social media can also increase awareness of your organization or brand. Strong branding and recognition will help support fundraising efforts. You might even use social media specifically for some fundraising drives. Some non-profits use Giving Tuesday as a big fundraiser for both new donors and in donor retention.

But non-profits cannot just hang their hats on social media. Not everyone uses social media. Your stewardship calendar needs to switch it up. You need to use a variety of channels to keep in touch and consistently say thank you.

Direct Mail

I love direct mail. It offers non-profits a way to get right into their donors homes, consistently and on a timely basis. Non-Profits should definitely include direct mail in their stewardship program.

Holiday cards are a good way to stay in touch. Plus, this is another opportunity to say thank you. Personalize the cards. Sign in blue ink. Do not send a blank card to a donor. If it doesn’t look like anyone from your organization cared enough to sign it and say thank you, your donor will not feel the love. In stewardship, form letters don’t cut it.  In the for-profit world, statistics show that personalization can increase response by up to 300%. It’s just as relevant in the non-profit world.

What about their Giving Anniversary? It’s another opportunity to say thank you and acknowledge their many years of support. This also gives you a chance to follow up and ask for the renewal gift.

Most of my readers know that in addition to being a direct marketing maven, I am passionate about the causes I support. One of my favorite organizations is the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, Florida. In addition to supporting our annual fund raising drive, my husband and I have made a legacy gift to the organization to sustain the future through the Create a Jewish Legacy campaign.

A Great Stewardship Example

I got a great stewardship piece the other day from Create a Jewish Legacy.  The piece stood out – good stock, in a 5 ½ x 7 ½ envelope, script font, hand canceled stamp. I opened up the envelope and pulled out a card that “popped-up” to a tree. The mailer was timed to arrive with the Jewish holiday of Tu B’shevat, the New Year of the Trees.

There was a pull-out tab with the relevant, content-driven thank you messaging.

The relevant content was clear: “as my ancestors planted for me, so do I plant for future generations.”

The thank you was stated multiple times: “we gratefully acknowledge your legacy commitment.” “Your generosity and dedication will ensure that the values, culture, and heritage of Jewish life will continue to be strong and vibrant for many years to come.” “With sincere appreciation from the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, its agencies, synagogues and schools.”

From a Stewardship perspective, it was a great piece. It made me feel good. It empowered my commitment. I felt appreciated.

The mailer powered conversation among donors to this campaign. In fact, there were people who called into the agency saying thank you for the thank you. One donor called to say that she was displaying it in her living room bookshelf. Another donor told me he thought it was the best thank you he ever got from a fund-raising organization. Other than one long-time donor who complained that the agency spent too much money on the piece, the reception was excellent.

As I mentioned earlier, an organization can never say Thank You to its’ donors enough. This Stewardship initiative was an excellent example of how non-profits successfully use direct mail to do it.

Scroll Down to see Examples of the Mailer


Create a Jewish Legacy (CJL) is a community-wide initiative of the Jacobson Jewish Community Foundation (JJCF) of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County. The JJCF is proud to partner with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s LIFE & LEGACY program, a national force in promoting legacy giving.


stewardship direct mail piece