Donor stewardship should happen every summer, even in a summer as weird as this one.


While summer doesn’t officially kick off until later this month, I always think of Memorial Day (which happened about a week and a half ago) as the kickoff of summer. I’m guessing that for you, like me, June 2020 isn’t feeling a lot like summer. The pool is not open. The nearby beaches are closed. My daughter’s summer camps: cancelled. Our trip to visit friends out of state: cancelled. BBQs, pool parties, parades: not happening.

I was reflecting upon one of my blog posts from a couple of years ago, “Wish You Were Here! Ten Tips for Summer Donor Stewardship.” (A quick definition: donor stewardship is the practice and process of maintaining relationships with your existing donors. With a strong donor stewardship program, your existing donors will continue to give, will enthusiastically spread the word about your organization, and hopefully will increase their gifts over time.) I realized that many of the donor stewardship tips I shared in that post cannot be easily carried out in an era of social distancing. Invite your donors to lunch, coffee, or lemonade. Host a rooftop BBQ or a Popsicle Social. Visit your donors at their vacation spots. All of these might be challenging. But there are a few tips that I still think organizations can carry out, even during this strange, socially-distant time.

A few donor stewardship ideas for any time:


  • Ask for advice about your organization’s upcoming plans for fall. The old adage applies: “As for money, get advice. Ask for advice, get money.”
  • Launch a Summer Instagram Photo Contest. Pick a theme related to your work, and ask people to post photos related to that theme, with a special hashtag. If you’re a foodbank, ask for food photos. A school could ask for photos related to learning, or a museum could ask for photos related to creativity. Your board could choose the winners (a great way to engage them over the summer) and donate a prize.
  • Create a summer newsletter that is more than just a report on the latest activities and data. You could design it as a “Summer Beach Read” and include stories, testimonials, even puzzles. It is easier to get away with this more playful approach in the summer than in the fall or winter.
  • Send an Independence Day/July 4 greeting to your donors. Unlike Christmas, Independence Day is a holiday that all of your American donors can celebrate and appreciate.

A few donor stewardship ideas for this particular time:


There are a few other things you can do that might be particularly well-suited to the times in which we are living.

  • Launch a Summer Book Club: invite donors to read something that is relevant to your work, or perhaps something that is relevant to the most pressing social issues of the day, such as racial equity and justice. Many donors have more time on their hands, and most of them are not traveling as much this summer, so a Summer Book Club with an online discussion might work better this summer than in other summers.
  • Ask for volunteer social media ambassadors – engaging your donors or their kids: Many parents are desperate for their kids to have something to do this summer. For those with tweens or teens, you could ask if they would be willing to act as social media ambassadors for your organization. You create and post content on your social media channels (photos, graphics, or videos), and you ask the ambassadors to share it. By posting it yourself, you control the content, but the content then spreads when the ambassadors share it with their networks. If you are concerned about the kids sharing things inappropriately or adding hashtags that you do not want, just remember: That could happen with any of your social media posts, anyway.
  • Send handwritten postcards to donors: When is the last time that you received a handwritten note!? You can create an inexpensive postcard on Vistaprint or a slightly more “upscale” one on Moo (these are just two of MANY places online where you can create and print custom postcards). Your postcard can feature a great photo of your organization from the past year, an infographic, a quote from a client… with bright summer colors and themes. Or, you can just order some attractive postcards with summer images on them. The great thing about a postcard is that it is inexpensive to send, and you can get away with just a quick note: “Dear Ted: We are keeping busy here at Acme Organization, even in the summer. I’d love to update you. Let’s set up a time to talk! Hope you are having a great summer, Jane.”


For this summer, in particular, one of the best things you can do is just authentically check in with your donors. Send them a note (hard copy or email) asking how they are doing, how their loved ones are doing, offering any help they may need, or just to say you are thinking of them. You don’t have to ask for a donation. You can just connect. We all need some authentic connection and care these days.

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