Adding an Ask to Stewardship Communications

Posted on 07/15/2019

When you’re stewarding your donors, should you also ask for their next gift? Some development professionals would say no, arguing that donor stewardship should always be distinct from a solicitation. Saying “thank you” and sharing the impact of a donor’s past support needs to stand apart. Asking for additional support (or even hinting at the need for it) may only confuse donors and make them think your appreciation is not genuine. 

Other fundraisers might say that excluding an ask from any communication or interaction with past donors wastes an opportunity with a captive audience. The very function of stewardship is to celebrate past support and prepare donors for their next gift. No one is going to understand the ongoing needs and urgency facing your institution more than your recent donors. 

The right approach may vary, which is why it’s more important to focus on how you might incorporate a solicitation into your stewardship communications than on if  you include an ask at all. With that in mind, here are a few guidelines to follow when thinking about the right approach:

  1. Start your communication by expressing gratitude. Make it strong and sincere so that your donors know they’re valued. 
  2. Make the stewardship direct and personal. Use the word “you” as much as possible so that donors feel a strong connection to the institution’s well-being. 
  3. Describe the impact of past support. Tell stories about specific individuals who have benefited from donors’ giving. Remember that it’s not about the money; it’s about what the money does.
  4. When you do make an ask, keep it subtle. Simply mentioning that there’s an ongoing need for support and including a reply device or link to a giving form can go a long way.

Penn State’s College of Medicine recognizes that including an ask in stewardship communications can be a powerful means for generating additional support. They recently sent an email to lapsed alumni and friend donors with a subject line reading, “You’re the best.” The body of the message outlined a few specific ways donor support has made a difference and included a link to the online giving form. The email closed by letting recipients know that they would receive a mailing soon asking for their renewed support. The e-appeal turned out to be one of the year’s most successful campaigns for the institution by accomplishing two goals—expressing gratitude to nearly 1,000 past donors while also generating more than $4,000 in additional gifts. You can view a sample of the email here.

Thanking donors for their support is a crucial part of good stewardship, but your communications with donors can also open the door to future gifts. When donors feel their gifts matter—especially when you share exactly how those gifts have helped—they’re more likely to give again. So what better time to make an ask than when you’re letting donors know how much you value their support?


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