Sometimes the best fundraising strategies require nonprofits to not ask for funds. This is because, rather than treating donors like ATMs, you’re working hard to establish valuable relationships with them. 

It’s expensive to acquire new donors — much more expensive than it is to retain the old ones! Some donor lapse is expected in any nonprofit, which is why donor acquisition is still important. However, by reducing the number of lapsed donors, you can take the financial burden and pressure off of your organization’s acquisition strategies. 

This concept is especially important during difficult times. The pandemic and resulting economic downturn required individuals everywhere to reconsider their budgets, meaning that many have halted their philanthropic giving. 

As a result, many nonprofits have been understandably struggling to find funding, but it’s important that you don’t get bitter or downtrodden!

The pandemic won’t last forever. Focus on your stewardship strategies so that when it ends, your faithful supporters will resume their regular contributions to your organization. 

We recommend the following strategies as your nonprofit works to perfect your stewardship plan during these tough times: 

  1. Offer non-financial ways to contribute. 
  2. Host virtual stewardship events. 
  3. Hyper-personalize supporter outreach. 
  4. Track your success. 

In order to incorporate these tips into your nonprofit’s stewardship strategy, you’ll need to start off with effective software and data to guide your decisions. Top-notch donor management software designed for nonprofits is a great place to start. Because this software is where you compile your supporter data, you’ll be able to access important information and expand upon it as you dive deeper into stewardship. 

Read on to see how focusing on stewardship strategies will help your nonprofit remain resilient throughout and after the pandemic. 

1. Offer non-financial ways to contribute.

Over 30 million individuals in the United States filed for unemployment at the onset of COVID-19. This means that there were 30 million people just trying to make ends meet and relying on government help to pay bills. The number is astounding, so it’s no wonder that so many people found themselves unable to also make contributions to nonprofit organizations. 

Now, while still experiencing the financial and social crisis brought about by the pandemic, we’re starting to adjust and settle into a “new normal.” Your supporters haven’t forgotten about your mission and many would love to find new ways to get involved. 

Give these supporters ways to contribute to your mission without additional strain on their wallets. Non-financial contributions help your mission and only ask supporters to contribute time rather than money. 

Because many individuals are finding themselves with more time on their hands than usual, these alternatives are a perfect solution! But what do non-financial contributions look like? Our favorites include: 

  • Advocacy campaigns. Keep an eye on any decisions made by community representatives and state and federal legislatures that might impact your mission. Then, start an online petition, a click-to-call campaign, or other mass messaging advocacy initiatives to influence that legislation decision to be made in your favor. Comprehensive advocacy software allows your organization to employ multiple advocacy campaign initiatives. Salsa’s list of top advocacy software can help your organization find the solution you need for any and all campaign types.
  • Volunteer opportunities. Even remotely, your organization can ask for volunteers to get involved with various aspects of your organization’s initiatives. Ask supporters to raise awareness for your mission using their social media platforms, essentially acting as influencer volunteers for your nonprofit. Or, you may ask talented supporters to help write copy or design graphics that you need complete. Get creative and play to the strength of your supporters! 
  • In-kind donations. While supporters may be unable to give money, this doesn’t mean they can’t give at all. Make a list of the concrete items that your organization needs for your programs. Ask for these items from your supporters. You never know what they may have on hand! Plus, supporters may find themselves more willing to purchase something for your organization off of a wish list rather than contribute money in its raw form.

When supporters participate in these valuable initiatives, be sure to recognize their contribution of time with as much enthusiasm as you would for financial gifts. After all, many of these individuals would likely give money if they were able to at this time, and many will still do so in the future. 

2. Host virtual stewardship events.

Nonprofits have been moving toward virtual strategies for a while now. From digital giving platforms to mobile giving technology, we’ve seen a gradual shift to online supporter engagement over the years. The pandemic sped up this process tenfold! 

Now, given social distancing guidelines, nonprofits have had to rethink their usual engagement strategies and transition them to the online sphere. One such strategy that has been shifted digitally has been events. Rather than canceling all of your nonprofit’s fundraising events, you’ve probably moved many of them to occur virtually. 

Consider adding virtual stewardship events to your calendar to make sure your supporters feel appreciated no matter the societal changes we experience.

This helpful guide explains that the best virtual events are those that are carefully planned and take into account the interests and values of your supporters. When you start planning your stewardship events, be sure to take into consideration:

  • The type of event that your supporters would like to attend. Choosing the right type of event is the first step to ensuring you have a great turnout. You might consider taking a virtual tour of our facilities, starting a book club about a mission-related topic, or simply hosting a virtual dinner for everyone to chat and network. 
  • Who you want to invite to the event and why. The audience you want to reach is important in the event-planning process. If you’re hosting a small and intimate event for major supporters, then a networking dinner and discussion may be an appropriate choice. However, if it’s a large-scale event with supporters of all types, you may host a more directed event such as the virtual facilities tour.
  • Your organization’s budget and resources to get the event started. Keep in mind that your supporters may tune into your virtual stewardship event from their laptop, their phones, or larger screens. Therefore, you’ll need video technology that works on all screen sizes. Consider your budget for your stewardship initiatives and explore the options for virtual event resources (keeping in mind the technology you already have on hand). 

Virtual stewardship events are designed to engage your supporters, show gratitude for their support, provide contact with your staff members, and have fun! Don’t forget that these events are a great way to entertain in a time when supporters are stuck at home. 

3. Hyper-personalize supporter outreach.

Your nonprofit isn’t the only organization that has had to make adjustments to engage your supporters over digital platforms. All organizations, for-profits and nonprofits alike, are working hard and competing to grab users’ attention over email, social media, and other digital outreach platforms. 

Therefore, your nonprofit needs to make sure your messages stand out amongst the crowd of those fighting for attention. 

That’s why we recommend that you take extra steps to hyper-personalize outreach efforts. This means that you should use the information in your CRM to plan and track every marketing message that your supporters see. Here are some strategies to hyper-personalize outreach based on our favorite marketing platforms: 

  • Email. Email marketing is immensely effective as it allows your organization to send messages directly to the inboxes of each individual supporter. However, this strategy needs to be perfected for supporters to really pay attention to the message. Be sure to use your supporter’s names in the salutation of the email as the first step to personalization. Next, make sure to use the donor segments in your donor database to send emails that will appeal to the interests of each recipient. Fundraising Letters offers free templates that your organization can use to personalize your outreach and ensure you didn’t miss any integral information. 
  • Phone calls. Phone calls are a great way to reach out to supporters for a one-on-one, pointed conversation. Be sure that when you reach out to your supporters, the first question you ask is, “how are you handling everything?” This shows them that your first priority is the supporter’s well-being. Then, you can jump into explaining the actions your organization has taken to support the front-lines of COVID-19 or to keep your employees and constituents safe. Be sure to also mention the other opportunities they can take to continue contributing to the mission. 
  • Video meetings. Scheduling video meetings is a great way to keep in touch with your major and mid-level supporters. We recommend keeping the video and audio both on for these meetings. It’s as close as you can get to a face-to-face meeting with these important donors. Plus, enabling video allows you to rely both on visual and audio cues to communicate, allowing for more effective discussions. Reach out and ask for input from these supporters and keep them updated with the latest news from your organization. 

Supporters respond positively to personalization. They’re more likely to ignore messages that appear to have been sent to a mass number of people. But if they feel that they’ve been singled out and your organization values them as an individual, they’ll be more likely to read and respond to your messaging.

Be sure that these messages always offer a next step for supporters to complete. For instance, provide them with additional resources to learn more about your mission, invite them to your next stewardship event, or remind them of the non-financial ways they can contribute. 

4. Track your success. 

As you start incorporating these digital efforts into your nonprofit’s stewardship strategies, you’ll need to keep track of how successful the initiatives have been. While you may not see fundraising impact right away, there are other performance indicators you can use to measure the success of your stewardship strategies. 

Consider analyzing stewardship strategy metrics such as: 

  • Advocacy and volunteer involvement. See how many of your supporters get involved with the non-financial engagement strategies. Set a goal before you launch the initiatives, then see how close you got to (or surpassed!) that goal. Analyze any opportunities you have to strengthen these initiatives, from additional marketing to additional offerings. 
  • Stewardship event registrations and turnout. Your virtual stewardship events likely have a set guest list. How did your turnout compare to the total number of guests invited? For those who did attend, send out a survey to see what could be improved upon in future events in order to attract more supporters. 
  • Outreach response rates. Track the number of supporters who respond positively to your phone calls and video chats. Ask them if they’d like to continue corresponding this way in the future. When it comes to emails, track the email open and click-through rates in your marketing software to see their success rates. You may even employ A/B testing to see if supporters seem to prefer one structure of email better than another. 

As you start incorporating new strategies, make sure you have a plan in place to also keep your information organized and uncluttered so that you can effectively measure your strengths and improve upon any weaknesses quickly and efficiently. 

This article explains how good data hygiene practices lead to “increased efficiency in lead generation, lead tracking, proper personalization, and even the handling of [supporter] service concerns” all of which are essential to proper stewardship.


Donor stewardship is important for nonprofits during the best of times. During troubled times and the global pandemic, it has become absolutely essential to effectively run your organization and prepare for the future. Employ these four strategies and watch your supporter engagement skyrocket!