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By Amy Eisenstein

Imagine you donate to a charity for the first time. You receive a generic tax receipt and then, eight months later out of the blue, you receive a thank you call for a donation you barely remember making. Do you feel warm and fuzzy or in any way endeared toward that organization?

I know a lot of nonprofit leaders are hard at work right now coordinating thank-a-thons. While I’ll admit they’re better than nothing, that’s a low bar to be aiming for.

Instead, brainstorm meaningful and memorable ways to steward donors — not just during the holidays, but all year long. Most importantly, donors should be stewarded soon after they make a gift — not simply around the holidays.

5 Gratitude Practices for Better Stewardship

Here are five practices you can adopt to ensure better stewardship around the holidays, and more importantly, all year long.


1. Sooner is better.

Don’t wait for an annual thank-a-thon to thank your donors. Don’t even let the thank you letters get stuck on the executive director’s desk for a month waiting for them to add a personal note. Thank donors as soon as possible after a gift is received. Ideally within one week. You can always do more later, but sooner is better.

2. Be specific.

Generic letters fall flat. The more personal you can be in your stewardship efforts, the more likely they are to be meaningful to recipients.


For example, let donors know that you’re aware that they are a longtime supporter, or that this is their first gift. If you know something personal, feel free to reference it in your note:

I hope you had a wonderful time at your son’s wedding in Nevada.


They’ll know you are speaking only to them.

While you can’t be specific and personal for every donor, take time to add a note to certain categories of donors — first time donors, loyal donors, and your largest donors — whenever possible.

3. Connect to the mission.

Anytime you can connect your stewardship efforts to the mission of your organization, the more meaningful they will be. Some examples:

  1. Students can write letters about how a scholarship helped

  2. A performing arts center could send a link to a concert

  3. An animal shelter might send a small dog toy


These are just a few examples. I hope you’ll share more in the comments.

4. Accuracy matters.

I recently donated to an organization at the request of a friend. The thank you letter came a week later with my name and a man’s name, which was not my husband’s name. We had a good laugh, but it didn’t make us feel warm and fuzzy toward the organization.

The same could be said if the amount had been wrong or if some other important detail was incorrect. Take a little extra time to ensure accuracy.

5. Send letters, not tax receipts.

Does your organization send tax receipts? If they look or feel or read like a form letter / receipt, you’re missing an amazing opportunity to connect with your donors.

Instead of sending a receipt, send a gratitude letter. Feature a story, a photo and the dollar amount of the gift. Along the bottom you can mention that the letter can be used as a tax receipt as long as the letter mentions the dollar amount.


If you are planning a thank-a-thon this holiday season, no need to cancel it. As I said, it’s better than nothing. However, it should not be used as a replacement for strong, year-round stewardship

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