Best Practices in Stewardship

Best Practices in Stewardship

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By Ron C. Emanuel, CPA, Business Assurance & Advisory Services Manager | Not-for-Profit Team

Many not-for-profits rely on gifts from donors to accomplish their mission.  It is in the organizations best interest to cultivate these relationships from the beginning.  While every not-for-profit would love to bring in new donors, retaining them is equally, if not more, important.  How can your organization start off on the right path with first-time donors?  Let’s take a look at a recent study conducted and presented by West Avenue Associates at the Virginia Association of Fundraising Executives monthly meeting in October.

The Study

West Avenue Associates (WAA) selected 25 local Richmond-based not-for-profit organizations to understand their various stewardship activities of first time donors.  Their approach was to send an unsolicited donation of $20 to each organization selected as a first-time donor, with the exception of one, via handwritten checks and hand-stamped envelopes.  WAA then collected certain data based on the responses of each not-for-profit organization and highlight best practices.

The Results and Best Practices

WAA found, of the 25 donations made, all but one of the organizations sent an acknowledgement response.  Here are some results from the study:

  • 50% (12) responded with two weeks*
  • 92% (22) sent acknowledge letters*
    • All but one were one-page letters
  • 8% (2) sent a card acknowledge
  • 29% (7) had handwritten envelope
  • 13% (2) had “Thank You” pre-printed on envelope
  • 96% (23) mentioned IRS requirements or included a receipt*

The acknowledgement responses received included the following:

  • 42% (10) signed by President/E.D./CEO
  • 42% (10) signed by Development Leader / Representative
  • 83% (20) had inked signature, with 5 including additional handwritten comments*
  • 13% (3) enclosed additional materials with acknowledgement (e.g, marketing, development)
  • 17% (4) sent additional correspondence within six week period*

* Based on the results of study, WAA considered these as best practices.

Letters of acknowledgement can serve as the first step in cultivating relationships with donors.  Organizations should utilize the letter to reiterate their mission, highlight programs, extend an invitation to visit, celebrate the donor’s gift, and remind the donor about matching gifts opportunities.

Every organization should allocate time and resources towards stewardship to ensure donor relationships get stronger.  Building these relationships involves planned communications, getting donors involved in the organization’s mission and engaging them.  As with many things in life, the first impression can be a lasting impression.

Source:  West Avenue Associates (2015), Stewardship 2015 Best Practices – – The RVA Way.  West Avenue Associates provides counsel to the leadership of non-profit organizations related to key issues like fiscal discipline, operational sustainability, planning, and rational, data-based decision making.  Additional information can be found at

About the Author

Keiter CPAs is a certified public accounting firm serving the audittax, accounting and consulting needs of businesses and their owners located in Richmond and across Virginia. We focus on serving emerging growth businesses and companies in the financial servicesconstructionreal estatemanufacturingretail & distribution industries and nonprofits. We also provide business valuations and forensic accounting servicesfamily office services, and inbound international services.

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The information contained within this article is provided for informational purposes only and is current as of the date published. Online readers are advised not to act upon this information without seeking the service of a professional accountant, as this article is not a substitute for obtaining accounting, tax, or financial advice from a professional accountant.


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