Start a Conversation: Stewardship

Barry Nelson, CDP consultant

Let’s start with the basics: the difference between cultivation and stewardship lies in timing within the donor-organization relationship.

Cultivation is the process by which we build a relationship and engage with a donor and educate her about the mission of the organization with hopes the conversation will lead to a contribution.  Public media is pretty good at cultivation.  Our programs and services speak volumes; our role as fundraisers is to convert consumers of our content into donors through carefully-crafted messaging, which may include offers and should include impact statements.

Stewardship happens after the donor has made an investment in the organization.  Maintaining a good relationship with a donor is not only a smart practice, but stewardship lies at the heart of Development efforts at hospitals, educational institutions, human services, arts and cultural organizations worldwide.  Those who invest in meaningful stewardship activities reap the rewards in the form of more and bigger gifts. Stewardship comprises more than a gift acknowledgment, thank-you call, or occasional additional gift solicitation.  With stewardship, we go beyond our often-transactional nature of fundraising.

In her landmark book, Beyond Fundraising: New Strategies for Nonprofit Innovation, Kay Sprinkel Grace notes that stewardship is more than a practice, it is an attitude:

“A strong stewardship program is the single greatest contributor to an organization’s ability to go beyond fundraising.  Donors who are drawn more deeply into a relationship with an organization through effective stewardship become its advocates and promoters.  A credible theory exists that a donor’s self comes with each gift.  The philosophy of stewardship is based in large part on that theory.  Organizations that dismiss the importance of stewardship endanger their potential for successful donor and fund development.” 

While we all want to be better at stewardship, the question is often one of resources: how do I justify committing staff time to communicating with donors with no immediate guarantee of ROI, when that staff person’s time could be devoted to procuring a gift through a direct solicitation?  It doesn’t have to be an either/or prospect.  I would argue that stewardship is key to converting a ‘giver’ (of a one-time gift) into a ‘donor’ (of a second, third, or fourth, or possibly transformational, gift).  It increases the overall bottom line and provides growth in donor retention.

Sprinkel Grace acknowledges staffing challenges in Beyond Fundraising:

“Organizations that successfully implement donor-focused development programs assign budget and personnel to ensure that donors feel appreciated and informed.  Because most organizations cannot assign a separate staff person to the stewardship function, it should be part of every staff person’s job description and every board member’s stated responsibilities.”

Some options for smaller membership departments:

  • Encourage members of the staff not currently responsible for fundraising (outside of the occasional pledge drive) to provide a brief story or report on positive, impactful activities, and turn it into a ‘…because of you” message
  • Create a quarterly e-newsletter that highlights station activities using donor-centric language filled with gratitude; include member testimonials and forward-promotion of events and programs. MailStyler is an option that nearly anyone on the staff can use out of the box.
  • There are a number of easy-to-use options for email marketing/stewardship, such as Constant Contact, Emma, and MailChimp. Most have an email address import capability, and some integrate with CRMs such as SalesForce to facilitate segmentation
  • Communicate with donors when you have something important to talk about to preserve your time, and more important, the donor’s time


It is not enough to combine a stewardship message with a solicitation; stewardship must stand on its own and demonstrate gratitude and impact.  Indeed, as Sprinkel Grace points out:

“A trusted rule is that for every one time you ask for money, you should contact them two other times without asking for money.” 

We need to give the donor credit when the station receives an award, produces an impactful series, ignites the airwaves with live music, or tells stories that stop people in their tracks.  One way to do that is to remove the ‘We’ and ‘I’ from our messaging and focus on ‘You’ and ‘the community.’

A quick note about Sustainer stewardship: due to the ongoing nature of sustaining memberships, the assumption might be that these members want less communication from the station.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Sustainers are deeply involved with the organization, and proper stewardship reinforces the wisdom of their commitment.  That will facilitate upgrades, additional gifts, and planned gifts.

WGBH’s Daren Winckel notes that their Sustainer stewardship program is an amplified version of the typical donor experience.  ‘GBH does not treat Sustainers as a giving group with tiered benefits (such as a club or giving society), but instead focuses on being meticulous and providing rapid responses in the form of acknowledgements, sending timely annualized giving statements, and a speedy path to EFT conversion (reminding the donors that EFT helps the station run a tight fiscal ship).  Sustainers are treated like their best customers, and the organization reminds them of the special quality of the relationship often.

Occasionally WGBH delights Sustainers with unpublished benefits, such as an e-blast with an offer of free tickets to a concert, provided by a promoter who wants to fill the remainder of a house.  Due to the unpredictable nature of e-mail delivery by individual ISP’s (which can result in frustrated donors who respond ‘immediately’ but received the notice minutes after other donors), Daren suggests asking Sustainers to sign up for SMS text alerts, which level the playing field and provide additional contact data for member accounts.

Another idea is to create a pre-roll for station underwriting credits thanking Sustainers as a group.

So, we’ve started the conversation.  Please share your ideas and practices around stewardship, particularly those that facilitate the process for small and medium-sized stations with limited staff. 

Introducing Barry Nelson

With a new year comes new and exciting ideas.

CDP will be adding 2 New Communications Series that will be featured on our blog in the coming year. We enlisted the help of consultant and longtime friend of CDP and public broadcasting: Barry Nelson.


Barry Nelson is a 36-year radio veteran and has spent 18 years in public media fundraising as a manager, strategist and marketer.  He has worked with WNYC, WQXR, WQED, Ideastream stations, WAMU, Nashville & Cincinnati Public Radio, and WYPR, and is the former Director of On-Air Fundraising for WGBH & WCRB.  He produced the WCRB Kids Classical Hour, winner of the New York Festivals Gold World Medal.  Barry is also the owner of Nelson & Associates Fundraising.

Details of our New Communication Series are below:

Start a Conversation:

One of the things we love, and frankly, feel is an essential part of the CDP is the partnership aspect of best practices.  The CDP is a collaborative community; we look to you for ideas, questions, and challenges that the community can address or solve.  To that end, we are STARTING A CONVERSTION about various topics; including fundraising messaging, big data, operations, stewardship, etc.  We hope that you will use the comments section on the posts to weigh in with your ideas to continue these conversations offline during our periodic “Let’s Chat” sessions.

Idea Engine:

Here at Contributor Development Partnership HQ, we know that best practices come from everywhere and everyone in the CDP community.  CDP’s IDEA ENGINE is an opportunity to share thoughts on new ways to approach fundraising, data, and scalable projects that will generate higher NET revenue for stations.  We will be firing up the Idea Engine throughout 2017 and invite you to send along your ideas to share with the CDP community.  Who knows? The Next Big Thing could be generated through our collective wisdom!


Stay tuned to our blog as we begin to START A CONVERSATION and fire up the IDEA ENGINE this year. To ensure you get timely blog updates, please click on the CDP logo above to return to the mail blog roll and add your email address in the top right corner to receive an automated message when new content is posted.

Five Years Later: How #GivingTuesday Reached Ubiquity


Does your station promote #GivingTuesday? Was it a successful event for you this year? On its fifth anniversary, it continues to grow. Forbes featured an article diving deep into why this day has become a sensation and here’s our take on it…

Thanksgiving is the season of spending time with loved ones, mouthwatering food, and most importantly giving. The days after, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, catapult the nation into coupon hungry shoppers determined to get the best deals.  Some fully embrace the discounted days with open arms while others associate it with overcrowded malls and greed. Giving needs to be tossed back into the mix. In 2012, Henry Timms thought of creating a day dedicated to giving and what better day than the Tuesday after markdowns hit the displays.

It’s been five years and #GivingTuesday has only gained traction and expanded. In the first year $10.1 million funds were donated compared to this year’s recorded $47.7 million.

How does a small idea turn into a monumental phenomenon?

  1. The Community:
  • It was created with creativity, collaboration, and the goodness of people around the world
  1. The Flexibility:
  • It has a flexible, decentralized framework making it easy to join the movement. There is no discrimination between market power and size of the organizations participating.
  1. Global Adoption:
  • Anyone can participate anywhere in the world, which is spreading like wildfire.
  1. Online Giving Technology:
  • With stronger online giving technology, sharing one’s donations on social media in a non-bragging way has never been so easy.
  1. Social Media:
  • The “#” at the beginning of the name and shareable nature made it easy for word-of-mouth communication and expansion of #GivingTuesday. Online networks spread content all around the world and this has been a topic of conversation.

To read more about this article by Susan McPherson, click here.

Please share with us ( ) any thoughts or insights you had on this year’s Giving Tuesday.

Coming Soon…


CDP is happy to share that the 2017 Masterpiece Sweepstakes will begin on December 15, 2016 and run through March 15, 2017.

This year’s contest will feature the upcoming premiere of Victoria as well as the return of Sherlock, two programs that are sure to resonate with our current and prospective audiences who will have the ability to enter daily for a chance to win a VIP grand prize trip to the United Kingdom in collaboration with VisitBritain.

In addition to the grand prize, there will be monthly prizes courtesy of and the opportunity to win a Sherlock script signed by cast members. We expect the addition of Sherlock and this special prize to be a big draw for younger prospects.

As with previous contests, marketing assets will be distributed to help your station promote this program locally and include: station specific entry-URLs, web banners, social media copy, TV spots, flyers and a buckslip.

Stay tuned to your email regarding delivery of the promotional assets in the coming weeks and mark your calendar for a quick webinar that CDP will be hosting to review the details:

2017 Masterpiece Sweepstakes Info Session
Thursday, December 1 @ 3pm ET
Conference# 877-647-3411 Access Code #684338
Link to meeting:

A CDP Milestone: 200+ Stations Strong


After languishing at the 199 mark for some time (OK, maybe just a few months), CDP is happy to announce that our collaboration is now over 200 strong.

Virgin Island’s WTJX, a joint licensee all of us are dying to pay a visit to, is the station that gave us the official bump to 200.

wjtxNot to be outdone by her sunny sister, Rhode Island PBS also joined us in the same week, bringing the grand total of signed, participating CDP stations to 201. Given the proximity in timing, we felt it would be cruel not to give RIPBS the honorable mention.


Welcome aboard to both!

Google Announces New Rules for Mobile

Google recently announced two changes on their Webmaster Central Blog that stations should be aware of. The goal Google says, is to improve search results and the overall user experience. 

First up is pop-ups, or interstitial messaging that is intrusive in nature. Any pop-up messaging that covers content will not rank as highly in search results, warns Google. Changes to rankings will take effect as of January 10, 2017. Google notes that viewing content that is not immediately accessible on a small screen is “problematic” and the photos below give specific examples of what that means.


Of course this change could also be problematic for fundraisers who use pop-ups to ask for donations. Stations are advised to use caution and do a review of their websites to see what category any interstitial messaging falls into. Allyson Kapin from Care2‘s online social action network discussed her concerns in a blog post, wondering if “Google will soon penalize popups on desktop, which could negatively impact SEO for nonprofit websites.”

Not all interstitial messaging is considered intrusive, and the examples pictured below show that sometimes it’s essential. Search rankings will not be affected by banners that use a reasonable amount of screen space and are easily dismiss-able. Legal information, age verification and cookie warnings will remain unaffected, as will login dialog boxes.



The second change of note is that Google will be removing the “mobile friendly” label they added a few years ago to search results. Currently, users see results as pictured here. googlepost3According to Google, since 2014 there has been a vast improvement in mobile-optimization of websites. They claim that 85% of all search results now meet the criteria for a mobile friendly web page and thus plan to streamline search results for a less cluttered look in 2017.

Stations wishing to understand this criteria better can drop their URL into Google’s Mobile Friendly Test for an analysis of a particular page within your site, or the Mobile Usability Report in Google’s webmaster tools tests for friendliness across your entire website.

Will the new ranking rules impact your station? In the spirit of collaboration, CDP often shares station experiences out for the benefit of all. Tell us about it and we may feature your station here.

Kaizen: The Future of Fundraising


Kaizen – Japanese for “good change” – is a concept Blackbaud Chief Scientist Chuck Longfield feels all organizations can benefit from, nonprofit or otherwise. The philosophy, a consistent drive to be better, do better and innovate more, certainly permeates everything Longfield approaches. No resting on your laurels for this fundraising and technology guru!

In the newest report from npENGAGE, The Fundamentals of Fundraising, Longfield introduces us to the why; quite literally the ethos behind this report which, divided into four sections, packs an informative punch:

  • Section 1: Fundamentals
  • Section 2: Evolution of the Sector
  • Section 3: Technology
  • Section 4: Harnessing the Future

This kaizen philosophy goes beyond simple idealism and ascribes to the notion that one should not only strive to do better but that it’s a distinct responsibility of organizations to do so.

In flipping through this report, be ready to get inspired and energized. Discover new ways to look at the “same old same old”: for example, a related video recommended by contributor to the report, Karen Osborne. Check out How Great Leaders Inspire Action: 18 minute TED talk by Simon Sinek, author of the classic “Start With Why” and see how “getting limbic” with your marketing strategy can result in a more loyal brand following. This talk was aimed at the for-profit industry, but there’s no reason stations can’t benefit from Sinek’s mindset.

How is your station implementing kaizen? Send CDP a story about station improvement and we’ll feature you here and give you a virtual gold star.

****Click here to open the full “Future of Fundraising” report.