The Stewardship Matrix: Creating a Plan for Donor Retention

Development staff often wear many hats, and remembering who to steward—and when—can be a daunting task!

Often we hear from great organizations that can’t figure out why they are losing donors. Many have a steady donor acquisition stream, but their donor retention rates are low and they are losing more and more donors each year. For many of these organizations, this rampant donor churn is the direct result of poor donor stewardship practices. 

But by creating a stewardship matrix for your team, you can turn this trajectory around. As a key fundraising tool, a stewardship matrix can help get your development staff and executive director on the same page for thanking and stewarding your donors—especially those valuable, and often overlooked, mid-level donors.

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In this how-to guide to building a stewardship matrix, we’ll cover the following topics and questions:

What Is Donor Stewardship?

What Is a Donor Stewardship Matrix?

How to Create an Effective Stewardship Matrix

Meyer Partners: Top Stewardship & Communication Consultants

From determining fundraising strategies to launching a stewardship plan, a stewardship matrix has a wide range of applications. Let's explore some key insights to maximize your stewardship and retention strategies—starting with a few essential donor-retention-related terms.

What Is Donor Stewardship?

Donor stewardship consists of all of a nonprofit’s activities to strengthen its relationship with donors after a donation is made. For most nonprofits, donor stewardship includes everything from managing and tracking donations to thanking donors for their gifts to offering additional opportunities (such as volunteering and event attendance) for them to get involved in your cause.  

Ultimately, the sign of a successful stewardship program isn’t just a retained donor who donates the same amount each year. Truly successful donor stewardship will result in growth in both the annual amount of a donor’s giving and in the types of their engagement. 

What Is a Donor Stewardship Matrix? 

A donor stewardship matrix is a chart that records when and how a nonprofit engages each of its donor segments. 

For nonprofits big and small, a stewardship matrix is crucial to organizing and managing an effective donor retention and engagement plan. While it takes time and effort up-front to develop, it will pay dividends in the long run, allowing you to easily tailor and target your communications and engagement strategies at the molecular level.

How to Create an Effective Stewardship Matrix

Now that we have the definitions under our belts, let’s make a stewardship matrix! While not every stewardship matrix looks the same, most contain common elements, including: 

The target donor segments

The purpose of each outreach strategy 

The methods of outreach

The outreach timeline 

The key staff member(s) for each form of outreach

As a starting point, take a look at this sample stewardship matrix. It’s more than likely that you’re already implementing a number of these types of donor outreach. In this sense, a stewardship matrix will help you accomplish these tasks in a more organized and efficient manner.

By following these tips and best practices, you’ll put your nonprofit in the best possible position for donor retention and stewardship success. Let’s dive in!

1. Get on the same page.

When making a stewardship matrix, start by scheduling a time for your team to align expectations for your donor stewardship. Use this as an opportunity to look at what touchpoints are currently working and what other communications you could easily add into the mix to improve your donor experience and increase their giving over time. 

Additionally, you should plan to speak to donors themselves and get their input and feedback. Ask them questions about their reasons for giving and additional engagement opportunities they’d like to see.

2. Segment your supporters.

Instead of using the same stewardship strategy for every donor, you’ll want to be more specific and personalized in your outreach. How do you accomplish this? Dig into your donor database and create groupings (also called segments) based on your supporters’ giving history, engagement history, and potential for expanded giving.

In our sample stewardship matrix above, we included the general categories of New Donors, Recurring Donors, Mid-Level Donors, Major Donors, and Planned Giving Donors. However, your organization may choose to get more granular in how you segment your supporters. For instance, you might distinguish between different types of recurring donors—those who donate on a monthly versus quarterly basis.

Ultimately, these segments should be built based on your donor pool—not the other way around! Even if it may make the process simpler in the short-term, don’t try to fit your donors into boxes that don’t apply to them.

3. Outline stewardship and recognition opportunities.

Spend time outlining every type of unique and meaningful appeal, acknowledgment, and communication that you will provide each segment of your donors. 

Remember: For the most effective impact, different types of donors will require different types of stewardship. Generally, however, consider including the following types of engagement opportunities in your matrix: 

Personalized, regular appeals with rich storytelling (these can serve as both an informative piece and an ask)

Prompt and personalized thank you calls and letters 

Newsletters (email or print) updating donors on organizational news

Impact reports on specific projects that each donor supported

Invitations to cultivation events and behind-the-scenes tours 

A short thank you video from your staff or service recipients

While your outline can follow our example above, it doesn’t have to. In this phase, feel free to get creative with how you organize and present information. Your outline is a chance to get everything on paper, and experiment with your approach without setting anything in stone.

4. Assign communication roles. 

Decide which staff member(s) will communicate with each group of donors. For example, your organization might decide all donors over $500 should receive a thank you call within a week of their gift, but maybe the Development Manager calls donors who give $500-$2,499, while the Development Director calls donors who give $2,500-$4,999, and the Executive Director or Board President calls donors giving $5,000 or more.

Don’t be afraid to add volunteers into the mix for building and implementing your stewardship matrix. While it will initially take some management by your staff, board members and volunteers can provide a meaningful touchpoint by reaching out to mid and major donors with a personal thank you call, handwritten thank you note, or a personal invitation to an event.

5. Track and collect data over time.

Ultimately, a stewardship matrix is never truly final. As your nonprofit, community and supporters change, so will your matrix. 

Many databases now offer dashboards which can be refreshed daily or weekly for your team to both view their to-do list of calls or other tasks and track key performance indicators (KPIs) and stewardship metrics. 

As a result, as you collect and analyze this data, you can tweak your stewardship matrix and planned activities to deepen your donor relationships and generate the best outcomes for your nonprofit. Over time, your donors will know they are appreciated and become increasingly inspired and engaged.

Meyer Partners: Top Stewardship & Communication Consultants

Developing and implementing an effective stewardship matrix can feel like a daunting task. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. As a full-service stewardship and communication consultant, Meyer Partners is here to help.

Not only can we help you develop a stewardship matrix tailored to your nonprofit’s needs and goals, we also offer comprehensive, data-driven marketing and communication services to optimize your fundraising, including:

Integrated, multichannel fundraising communications, including direct mail, email, social media, and video telemarketing campaigns

Campaign and program data analytics

Predictive modeling

Enriched donor segmentation tools

Ongoing house file maintenance

Landing page optimization

If you’d like assistance with creating a stewardship matrix or executing your stewardship plan, please reach out. Our team would love to help your organization, big or small, take the steps toward better stewardship, retention, and growth!

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