Guides & Resources

Begin Your New Year Fundraising Efforts Off Strong—Right Now!

Stewardship & Marketing: Donor Relations/Stewardship
Paid Advertisement
Chessie (Biggam) Hayes, CFRE, MPA, CNP

I think that we can all agree 2020 was a difficult year for most nonprofits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The year taught us as individuals that we need to be thankful for what we have versus what we want. Oprah Winfrey said it is best, “Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.”

As professional fundraisers, let’s change our mindset by prioritizing stewardship rather than concentrating on prospective donors and volunteers. According to Richard H. Levey in an article from The Nonprofit Times, “Fundraisers are increasing their reliance on distance and virtual activities, with 82% upping their donor retention and stewardship activities and 78% either giving their social media activities a boost; increasing the number of virtual events they hold; or conducting other online fundraising campaigns.”1 Here are some stewardship strategies your nonprofit could implement today.

1. Reach out to your current donors/partners with sensitivity and steward them in creative ways. Create a stewardship plan for your donors that is S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Retainable, and Timely). For instance, you can state that your team will call 50 of your major gift donors by the 31st of each month to improve your donor retention rate by 15%. Furthermore, go out of your way to let your donors know why you need their support again and create a mini campaign with a strong case for support. Your mini campaign can be as simple as social media ambassadors crowdfunding on social media for you.

  • If you are not able to run a mini campaign, ask yourself your nonprofit’s “why.” With your fundraising, marketing, and program management team, brainstorm with your team to find out your “why” and identify your purpose. Don’t stop there! As January kicks off the New Year, contact your supporters, express your gratitude for their previous support, and ask them why they give their time or treasure to your organization. This information from your stakeholders will help form your nonprofit’s fundraising plan and identity.

2. Put yourself in your donors’ shoes. Every year, I love to donate to several nonprofit organizations, see their stewardship processes and compare them to what my current organization is doing. It is fun being a “mystery fundraising shopper.” Moreover, before sending another e-newsletter, direct mail appeal, or special event fundraiser, speak with your donors. Consider asking them what they would like to see from your fundraising team and their efforts. Your current donors and volunteers are an asset to your organization, and you should treat them as such. Allow your donors and volunteers to give their time, talent, and treasure, not just one out of the three. 

3. Create a partner package with your corporate partners and foundations rather than several different appeals and event sponsorship requests. In the past, I have submitted sponsorship requests for our different fundraising events to my nonprofit’s corporate partners. As fundraisers, we want to make it easy not only for our donors to donate but also for our corporate partners to give. So, let’s give our corporate partners and foundations several options. Instead of sending different sponsorship packages for different events, create an annual sponsorship partnership packet that outlines all your fundraising event activities for the year. Putting everything together in one place allows for your corporate partners and foundations to allocate funds and budget more effectively. Moreover, creating these packages helps build your relationships with your corporate partners and steward donors by giving them your overall fundraising plan and organization’s mission. Although some may not think of this as stewardship, these partners will appreciate your organization making one ask versus multiple asks throughout the year. For example, at Meritan, where I am the director of development, we have three special events. Before submitting an annual fundraising events package to my corporate partners, I would submit a sponsorship request per event. I had several partners state that they wish they knew more about the other fundraising events, or they would have possibly donated to both events if they would have planned their budget to do so.

  • State your virtual back-up options for your events on your annual package as well. Is the event even possible to do virtually? If not, can you transfer their sponsorship to another fundraising event, or ask the corporate partner how they would like to proceed? They may just want to give to your organization without the marketing benefits of a specific fundraising event.

4. Cut costs where you can. First, I would like to state eliminating all costs is not the way to go. What you put into your fundraising plan is what you get out! However, I know that with the pandemic, fundraising and marketing budgets are decreasing or being cut entirely. So, cut costs where it makes sense for your organization and within reason. At Meritan last year, we created a “Cost Savings” award. Each month, our Chief Financial Officer gives out the award to the department that cost saved the most for that month. That way, you can make cost savings FUN for your nonprofit. Also, take a look at your fundraising expenses, evaluate where you can cut your costs, or even ask corporate partners for in-kind donations to alleviate that fundraising expense.

5. Concentrate on your fundraising’s social media and digital efforts. Take advantage of your fans and followers on your social media platforms. Take this opportunity to evaluate your social media followers. Are they social media advocates, donors, volunteers or prospective donors/volunteers? Create a social media strategy with your marketing team that aligns not only with your fundraising plan but also with your nonprofit’s strategic plan. Your nonprofit may solely have one social media platform (most of the time Facebook), or your nonprofit may be on all social media platforms. All you need is a social media plan, and a great place to start is the 50/30/20 Rule for Social Media. “Social media is all about connecting with people. If you’re feeling a little lost as to how to accomplish this, a good guide to follow is the 50-30-20 rule.”2 Here’s how it breaks down: 50% engage your audience, 30% inform and educate your followers, and 20% promote what you have to offer/fundraising. Another social media tactic is the 30/30/30 rule. “This means you’ll spend 30% of your content talking about yourself, 30% talking about others, and 30% posting fun and engaging info. This also gives you room to post real-time messaging and responses with the other 10% of your content.”3

John F. Kennedy once stated, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” As fundraising professionals, let us concentrate on gratitude and thankfulness to our current stakeholders, donors, board members, employees and social media fans. Without our current supporters, just imagine where your nonprofit would be in the first place. Take the time to say thank you for helping achieve your nonprofit’s mission and making a positive impact in your community. Let’s make 2021 the best year yet!


  1. Levey, Richard H. “AFP Survey Paints Gloomy Fundraising Picture Through 2021.” The NonProfit Times, The NonProfit Times, 22 July 2020,….

  2. “Social Media How-To: The 50-30-20 Rule.” Stray Media Group, 20 Aug. 2019,

  3. Harris, Genna. “30/30/30 Rule for Social Media Content: JB Media Group.” JB Media Group: Digital Marketing for Positive Impact, 16 Mar. 2016,


Chessie (Biggam) Hayes, CFRE, MPA, CNP, is the director of development at Meritan Inc., and she is a 2020 Outstanding Young Professional honoree.

Paid Advertisement

Read More

14 Jun 2024 Guides & Resources
03 Jun 2024 Chapter Leader Resource Guide
Paid Advertisement
Want The Latest AFP & Fundraising News Delivered To Your Inbox?Sign Up Now!

Recommended for You

Members: Sign in to view your personalized recommendations!

Sign in