You probably heard this a thousand times already: relationships matter.
As nonprofit professionals, you’re passionately dedicated to doing good. And it would be delightful if we lived in a world where that was sufficient for success.
In that world, money would simply fly in through the door and we could spend all our time running programs and offering services that help change the world for the better.
But that’s not the case!
We live in a world where nonprofit organizations need funding, staff, beneficiaries, and more.
For that, understanding and embracing relationships is essential and, without a doubt, the path to organizational growth.
It goes without saying that nonprofits take many different shapes and forms, but all have a variety of stakeholders—that is, individuals and groups with a stake in their work.
A successful nonprofit nurtures great relationships with all of those stakeholder groups.
What is a “Stakeholder”?
“Stakeholder” refers to any individual or group that has an interest in your nonprofit. It includes people directly involved, such as board members, beneficiaries, donors, or foundations that give you grants; and those indirectly involved, such as the media or the local community.
Stakeholders are essential to a nonprofit’s success because they support the overall movement of a nonprofit organization in different ways.
Proper stakeholder stewardship is essential to a nonprofit’s success. And stewardship does not always need to be about big sweeping gestures. As with any relationship, it’s the little things and attention that matter the most.
How to Steward Your Nonprofit Stakeholders?
Below, we share six key stewardship principles, but ideally, you’d create a customized stewardship plan for each one of your stakeholder groups.
1. Identify your stakeholder groups.
First, identify your stakeholder groups (i.e. donors, beneficiaries, media, etc). Once you do that, identify what are the subgroups that make up the larger categories. For example, your donors might be divided into major donors, first-time donors, monthly donors, and more. Not all stakeholder groups care about the same things. And even within the same stakeholder group, the different subgroups might not share the same interests.
2. Consider what each stakeholder group cares about.
Take the time to consider what each stakeholder group and subgroup cares about. What are their specific interests and priorities? How can you more effectively engage them? What information do they need from you? Who have you left out?
For example, your board might be concerned with your nonprofit operating in accordance with the local, state and federal legislation, your donors might be concerned with how their money is being used, while your employees might want to feel like they’re directly contributing towards your mission.
3. Create targeted stewardship plans.
By developing stewardship plans for each stakeholder group, you can better craft communications messages directly to the people who care most about your work.
With stewardship plans in place, you will ensure that you are not forgetting to include anyone in your outreach. This also will prevent multiple staff members from reaching out to the same person, potentially generating a conflicting or a confusing message, or potentially even having a stakeholder fall through the cracks.
4. Speak to stakeholders in their own language.
To do this, you need to track your communications. By tracking communication, it will become clear if a donor likes to come to small events versus large galas, whether a major donor likes to give openly or anonymously, and whether a grantmaker likes to speak over the phone or via email.
5. Target your communications.
An often overlooked basic: target your communications. Not every communication campaign needs to be sent to every stakeholder. It might make more sense to have a campaign focused only on one stakeholder group or a segment of it. The more personal and direct the communications feel, the better the relationship will be.
6. Keep track.
The use of data is critical to the successful execution of any stewardship plan. Data such as when and what kind of communication is sent; when and how donations are made; donor connections and contacts; events attended and volunteer hours spent; performance reviews; will all inform and hopefully advance the process. Without data, you won’t know what’s working and what isn’t; and how to adjust course.
Below we share key insights and a few simple activities to help each one of the main nonprofit stakeholder groups feel the love:
Nonprofit organizations often struggle to recruit and retain the right talent. This is an issue seeing that human capital drives success and that talent is recognized as the most important asset in today’s knowledge economy.
Poor employee engagement means high turnover, low morale, and poor customer service (for both beneficiaries and donors). Furthermore, it also poses a blow to your fundraising and tempers with your efforts towards achieving your mission.
Here are three insights to help you steward your team better:
1. Build a culture of trust.
When employees feel trusted, they are much more likely to perform, stay with your organization, and refer new hires to you. Autonomy and freedom are powerful forces when it comes to increasing employee satisfaction. No one likes to be mistrusted, micromanaged, and feel as if someone’s constantly breathing down their back. Encourage and appreciate independent initiatives within your organization.
Furthermore, work on your transparency to increase trust. To increase transparency in your nonprofit, consistently keep the team up to date with where the organization is headed. Whenever possible, allow employees to guide the direction of your nonprofit. Consider organizing quarterly meetings where important conversations can happen and feedback can be given. And take on the feedback – don’t just listen to it!
2. Invest in your employees.
Identify what your employees really want and value through a simple survey.
With limited budgets, nonprofits must allocate donor dollars strategically before investing in benefits or perks. Evaluate your paygrades to compare your salaries to those offered at similar nonprofits. Consider that the annual cost of living often increases, and so should your salaries – as the budget allows.
When considering growth opportunities for your employees, it’s important to include both lateral and vertical growth opportunities.
Pro tip: If possible, create lines in your budget for personal and professional development. These would then allow you to subsidize conferences, training, further education, and courses for your employees.
3. Listen to your people, a lot.
Creating clear job descriptions and investing in top-notch internal communication tools is great, but nothing beats true listening when it comes to employee stewardship. Talk to your employees often, and when you do – truly listen. Ask questions to understand what they mean and take the time to genuinely consider their feedback and comments.
Co-create your employees’ goals with them. This increases their sense of ownership and autonomy – both proven to contribute to increased employee engagement and satisfaction.
Keep sharing the “big picture” with your employees to help them connect their roles to the mission and feel more engaged.
Effective management and stewardship of prospects and donors is the cornerstone of successful fundraising. Once a prospect becomes a donor, the donor is (ideally) stewarded to the point that they stay involved in your organization. Donor stewardship should also aim to increase the value of donors to your organization.
Here are a few tips to better steward your donors:
1. Call your donors.
Hearing a real voice over the phone helps build connections and establish trust. For best results, get your board members to place the calls (but be mindful of their time).
Call as many donors as possible, if not all, regardless of the size of their gift. To make this process as efficient and as smooth as possible, schedule some donor thank you phone calls into your team’s calendar every week or organize a thank-a-thon, an office “donor calling” event where you can spend a whole day calling donors to thank them.
Pro tip: Create a donor recognition program that focuses on publicly recognizing donors who have made significant contributions. A recognition program is a great technique to inspire donors. When your nonprofit recognizes a donor, they become aspirational role models for the rest of your donor base. Donor walls are a great way to start acknowledging your donors. Online donor walls in particular can be a good and affordable start of effective donor stewardship.
2. Give donors a chance to be a part of the conversation.
Give donors the opportunity to speak as well. When you communicate online, it’s easy to get stuck in a one-sided conversation where your nonprofit does all the talking. When donors are given a chance to speak and contribute, they feel more engaged, valued, and appreciated.
If you’re sending out an email, close with a question that donors can respond to if they wish. Send surveys to get suggestions. Respond to comments or messages on your social media account.
Pro tip: While fundraising is essential, keep your focus on stewardship rather than solicitation. This will result in more commitment by the donors in the long run.
3. Report impact.
Thank your donors, and thank them often. And when you do – tell a story. Telling a story involves showing how your donor’s gift has impacted the life of a specific person, community, or animal that your nonprofit supports. Include your donors in the story by showing how their gift has helped. When donors know how their gift helps, they’re more likely to keep giving, give more, and stay engaged with your work.
Check out these 10 ways to thank your nonprofit donors.
Your board of directors plays a pivotal role in your organization’s success. They help set a nonprofit’s strategic direction, manage its finances, help to fundraise and provide governance oversight.
Yet, the relationship with the board can often be tense, unproductive, or downright more burdening than helpful for many nonprofits.
To tackle this problem and more effectively steward your board, here are three key insights:
1. Set the right expectations.
Take the time to develop a job description that outlines exactly what you expect from board members in terms of time commitment (number of meetings during the year and length of term), meeting and event attendance, levels of involvement, and fundraising activities. Vague statements will leave expectations up to interpretation and likely lead to a mismatch and issues down the line.
2. Be transparent.
Present the right information to the board. Boards are an oversight governance management vehicle. They can only really help you and advise you if they have the right and sufficient information.
This does not mean giving the board every detail about the programs. It does mean giving them a high-level overview of how each program is tracking toward its goals and key metrics.
Pro tip: Don’t try to avoid talking about things that might be more challenging. The more they know, the more they can help.
3. Measure board performance.
Performance evaluation is essential. It helps the board reflect on their collective and individual performance and helps staff identify where the board may need more support or direction.
If improvements are needed, ask the board members what they need in terms of resources and staff support. And don’t hesitate to let go of that board member that, despite their best intentions, never shows up to meetings and doesn’t reply to calls or emails.
Volunteers are, without a doubt, one of the most valuable resources a nonprofit can gain access to. Nonprofit volunteers usually give their time and skills to support nonprofit program delivery.
Volunteers can help your nonprofit save money, provide better support to beneficiaries, increase contact with the greater community, and make available the needed expertise. However, many nonprofits struggle to attract as many (right) volunteers as they would wish for, and when they do – they sometimes struggle to keep them.
Here’s how you can steward your volunteers better:
1. Clearly communicate expectations.
Familiarize your volunteers with their role descriptions in detail, including the inner workings of your nonprofit (to the extent required for them to thrive in their roles), their supervisor/point of contact, and the organizational internal communication system/platforms.
Clearly describe the desired behaviors and outcomes, as well as their expected contribution. Ideally, your volunteers will also understand how it is that their work contributes to the bigger picture.
2. Make volunteering enjoyable and useful to your volunteers.
Volunteers give their time and skills mostly because they’re passionate about your mission. Nevertheless, they need to be getting something out of it to keep volunteering – whether it’s skills or fun.
Your volunteers should feel like their expectations are heard and their questions answered. This increases the chances that they will continue their involvement with your nonprofit. Create an environment where volunteers can easily develop personal, emotional, and professional connections. In your onboarding process, resources allowing, include activities that will cultivate such connections among volunteers and between volunteers and staff (e.g. informal gatherings).
Pro tip: If possible, interview each new volunteer noting what they’re passionate about, what they’re hoping to get out of the experience, and what they’re excited to contribute. This way you’ll be able to tailor the roles to the individuals and check-in more easily later on. And as a bonus, your volunteers will feel more valued and appreciated.
3. Thank and recognize often.
Thank every volunteer who helps in any way. Treat everyone with the same respect and make sure no effort goes unnoticed – as much as you can.
Additionally, make sure you recognize the most active volunteers in your nonprofit (e.g. volunteer of the week/month or a reward). Publicly recognizing volunteers will make them feel proud of their accomplishments, increasing their satisfaction, commitment, and engagement.
Read more in our article on how to attract and keep the best volunteers for your nonprofit.
Beneficiaries are the people and parties who actually use the services and goods created, distributed, or allocated by your nonprofit organization. They are also sometimes called users or clients. Essentially, your clients are those who stand to most directly benefit from your work.
Your organization is ultimately responsible for the impacts of your projects on people’s lives and livelihoods, including positive impacts but also unintended negative impacts. Being accountable to beneficiaries can contribute to more effective and sustainable nonprofit management.
Note: In addition to direct/ultimate beneficiaries, there are also indirect beneficiaries. These, for example, include local community members and others who indirectly benefit from your work. For example, taxpayers may benefit from a local youth employment and training program because of increased educational attainment.
Here’s how to be better accountable to your beneficiaries:
1. Share information.
Beneficiaries need and have the right to timely access to relevant information on the project (objectives, approaches, budget, staffing, and contact details), what they should expect from your nonprofit (in terms of information, participation, respect, etc.), and how to lodge a complaint with your organization. Information should be shared in accessible ways including inaccessible locations, in the local language, and using pictures with limited text if literacy rates are low.
You can use sign-boards, posters, pamphlets, pictures (including cartoons), social media, media, TV, radio, films/cartoons, information sharing platforms, community or individual meetings/workshops, drama or music events, phone calls, individual meetings, and more.
Pro tip: When progress or learnings are shared, beneficiaries and stakeholders should have the opportunity to discuss and give feedback. The team should then work with them to explore suitable solutions and adaptations.
2. Consult on projects.
Consulting beneficiaries enables you to gain a greater understanding of the communities and their views, capabilities, needs, and concerns. Since these may change during the life of a project, it’s important to consult beneficiaries throughout. After surveys are conducted, it’s important to follow up with feedback sessions to share the results and discuss the findings.
Pro tip: Any consultation needs to follow the principle of obtaining free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) from communities. This is both good practice and the right of all involved in consultations.
3. Ensure meaningful participation.
Ensure that your beneficiaries have the opportunity to be involved in project design,
planning, and decision-making concerning activities as well as opportunities to lead or support the implementation of the activities.
That participation needs to be meaningful and therefore should enable beneficiaries to help shape, be involved in, and – whenever possible – lead on some of the activities.
It’s very important to consider the voices of your beneficiaries and how they can be brought into different conversations about your programs.
These are the entities, both public and private, that help provide the resources necessary to do your work. They also include any entities that authorize or mandate your existence. Identifying funding sources is important but, and perhaps more importantly, so is developing relationships with funders. While it takes time, these relationships can make the difference in securing or not securing the funds needed for the future of your programs.
Here’s how you can foster better relationships with your funders:
1. Offer a personal point of contact.
Offer a personal contact at your organization that the funder can get in touch with at any time. This will show your willingness to work in partnership with them and create an environment of openness, accountability, and transparency. This person should not be your CEO but someone who is involved with the project being funded and is up to date with its progress at all times.
Pro tip: Be in regular contact with your funders. Open and transparent lines of communication also make life easier if there’s a part of your grant agreement that you’re not going to be able to fulfill for one reason or another. A trusting partnership makes it more comfortable to have a conversation about the issue.
2. Report progress in a human way.
Keep your funders up to date with any notable progress and milestones. Go beyond any mandatory reporting procedures that may exist. Funders love to see their money making a positive contribution! Send photos, videos, and quotes. All of these are a great way of capturing the impact their investment has made on a human level, beyond the spreadsheets.
Check what type of communication your funders prefer. Maybe they would like short, timely snapshots/updates via phone call, or a coffee date, or something else. Less formal reports also help to establish more of a collegial relationship and help diffuse the power dynamic between a grantmaker and a nonprofit.
Pro tip: Be timely with all mandatory reports and ensure that they include all information requested. You have to meet the basic requirements – providing your funders with the basic information they need to do their work. Otherwise, it’s unlikely they will want to partner with you again.
3. Be truly engaged.
The key to successful partnerships between nonprofits and funders is a sincere commitment to engaging in a fruitful relationship – one that goes beyond the formalities.
Invite funders along to see your projects and their investment in action. Whether it’s a new building or a new program – there’s always something to see. This will the funders with a personal memory of your organization’s good work. Arranging to have coffee and share “how things are going” from time to time, or penning a handwritten note, can also add a new dimension to the relationship.
Forming strong partnerships is a key step in creating a successful nonprofit organization. Working with partners lends you greater credibility and broadens the scope of what you can achieve. In good, effective partnerships, the partnership itself will represent more than the sum of the individual partners.
Developing and maintaining these relationships can be a challenge, so it’s important that nonprofits work to inspire their partners to get involved and stay involved.
Here are a few things that can be done to foster strong relationships with partner organizations:
1. Define a clear strategy and plan for the partnership.
Before you formalize your partnership, you need to make sure that you and your partner are aligned. Share your visions with one another, including targets and milestones. Develop short, medium, and long-term objectives and goals for the strategic partnership, and share this strategy amongst all responsible for the relationship.
Pro tip: Take time to understand what makes your partner tick. Try to understand their weaknesses and strengths. What are their strategic drivers? Who are the key players?
Then, see how yours match with theirs.
2. Develop strong systems and processes.
Even with a great understanding of the partner, a shared vision, and a plan for the future, you need strong structures and processes to govern the relationship and ensure it stays on track. These can but also don’t have to involve your strategic partner.
At the very least, you need a point of contact, a partnership coordinator, and a place where activities are logged. To take it up a notch, have shared online workspaces and documents and organize regular partnership summits/meetings.
3. Communicate effectively.
Good communication is key to pretty much anything, but it’s especially important when you’re working with people from other organizations.
From the beginning of the relationship, all feedback and proposed ideas should be openly communicated in order to deliver important information in a timely manner.
Pro tip: Individual relationships matter. After all, it’s individuals that talk to individuals on behalf of their organizations. Relationship building isn’t a trait that comes naturally to everyone, so make sure you highlight its importance within your organization and provide the necessary relationship-building training (if needed).
Membership programs help nonprofit organizations build a base of loyal supporters, draw on a large pool of individuals to help with planning, fundraising, public speaking, and other organizational tasks, and count on a chunk of annual income that comes with no strings attached. A membership program can enable a nonprofit to have a source of predictable income.
A successful membership program can also help establish credibility with funders and other stakeholders. Furthermore, once an organization gains a new member, the costs to keep that member decrease drastically. All of this makes members an important stakeholder group.
Here are three simple ways in which you can better steward your members:
1. Get the benefits right.
In essence, membership programs ask individuals to contribute something — usually money or time – to an organization, in return for which they become somehow affiliated with it for a set period of time (usually a year) and receive certain benefits.
Therefore, it’s crucial to get the membership benefits right. Offer benefits and perks that are of interest to your audience. For example, if your nonprofit is a museum or a gallery, you could offer member-only visit times or free parking.
While it can be tempting to develop levels upon levels of membership, it’s generally considered a best practice to streamline your membership program, reducing the number of levels, and making the benefits more consistent and easy to understand.
2. Treat members as a community.
Focus on transformational experiences for your members to make them feel like they’re part of your nonprofit community. Think about what kind of experiences you could offer to your members that pertain to your brand. What can you offer to your members that will intrigue them and motivate them to join or upgrade?
For example, could you organize a member-only event, offer a ‘day’ observing or joining in one of your programs, or a short mentoring session with one of your executives (depending on the membership level/tier)?
3. Segment your members for optimized communications.
First, optimize your data-gathering techniques by collecting information about your members’ engagement with your nonprofit by tracking how they interact with your cause.
Then, use the information you’ve collected to segment your members and then refine your communication strategies! If you know your members, you can specifically target them with relevant content.
Break up your donor list by preferred communication channels as well as interests.
Ideally, your members would feel like your outreach is addressed just to them (even if that might be unrealistic for most nonprofits), so be sure to always address and personalize your messages. You can even mention previous campaigns they’ve donated to or volunteered for.
Read more about how to run a successful nonprofit membership program.
By definition, media relations strategy is the calculated deployment of media to tell an organization’s story. It is the process of figuring out a message and distributing it to the right media sources so that you can reach your target market. While very important to a nonprofit’s success, media relations are not sufficiently talked about in the nonprofit world.
Here’s how you can start changing that:
1. Create a PR-friendly website.
Journalists use the internet to do their research. Make it easier for them to write about your nonprofit organization by creating a PR-friendly website. What does this mean?
Have a press link on the home page leading to a page containing names, emails and telephone numbers of one or more dedicated press contacts.
Ideally, there would also be a one-paragraph overview of your organization, downloadable high resolution pictures (logo, pictures showcasing your programs, key personnel etc). Include key stats pertaining to your work and impact. You can include an index of old press releases on this page too.
2. Don’t make it hard.
Don’t make it hard for media organizations to work with you. Be responsive and cooperative. Whenever you make it hard for a journalist to do their job, you do your organization a disservice: at best, you will seem unprofessional and inexperienced; at worst, you will appear to have something to hide.
If a journalist reaches out and you’re caught off guard, ask the interviewer what their deadline is: if they need a copy within the hour, ask to call back in 15 minutes, and use that time to sort your thoughts. If they have longer lead time, make an appointment for another time and ask if there’s any background information they need beforehand, then send it promptly.
3. Reach out to media organizations.
Sometimes, journalists will reach out to you. But sometimes, you will need to reach out to them. By doing this, you will start building solid relationships and you’ll stay top of mind for any future pieces.
If you’re reaching out, there must be a news angle in your story for it to appeal to them. Find the interest point and go from there. Personalize your email communications and be sure that you are sending them to the right journalists. Your email communications should appear to be individually sent, even if they are not.
To increase your reach and take care of your nonprofit brand, building stronger relations with the media is very important. You might want to consider hiring a team member or a consultant trained in communications with media, who could respond to media requests fast and in the right way.
Pro tip: Check out HARO, which stands for “Help a Reporter Out.” You can sign up for free email alerts that will let you know when a journalist, blogger, or reporter is looking for a story that you can relate your business to.
Great nonprofits create transformational relationships that move beyond the prevailing current “transactional” thinking.
It’s up to us to prioritize that and hold each other accountable. Together, we can make strong relationships a lynchpin of our work. Together, we can build an environment that values cooperation and respect.
A renewed focus on relationship fundraising will garner immediate and long lasting benefits for your nonprofit organization.
At Donorbox, we prioritize solutions that help our partner nonprofits increase their donations. We know that one of the most important aspects of stewarding donors is providing them with a smooth donation experience, so we built a solution responding to that need.
We also made it simple and affordable, ensuring a no-hassle process for everyone involved!
And check out our Nonprofit Blog for more free resources.