Gift Planning Stewardship Best Practices: Cultivating Lasting Donor Relationships


Gift planning plays a vital role in ensuring the long-term sustainability of nonprofit organizations. While securing planned gifts is essential, proper donor stewardship is equally important.  However, inadequate stewardship is a top-three finding in our gift planning program practice area. Effective gift planning stewardship practices are key to cultivating lasting relationships, honoring donor intentions, and encouraging continued philanthropic support. Let’s explore some best practices for gift planning stewardship that your organization can implement to engage and retain your gift planning donors.

  1. Personalized Communication

    Building and maintaining a strong relationship with gift planning donors begins with personalized communication. Always ask donors their preferred frequency and channels of communication and subsequently build a stewardship calendar for donors in your portfolio, accordingly.  Tailor your messages to acknowledge donors’ unique motivations and interests, and provide regular updates on the impact their gifts are making to those served by your organization. Consider different communication channels such as personalized emails, handwritten notes, in-person meetings, or phone calls to express gratitude and keep donors engaged. Remember, thoughtful and personalized communication demonstrates your appreciation and commitment to their philanthropic journey.

  2. Ongoing Engagement Opportunities

    Most gift planning donors have a long-term connection to your organization, and they value opportunities to remain engaged beyond their initial gift. Create avenues for ongoing involvement, such as special events, seminars, or workshops related to their areas of interest. Organize exclusive donor appreciation events or recognition programs to foster a sense of belonging and connection to a community of like-minded individuals. Invite your CEO, President, Dean, and board chair to speak at these events.  These engagement opportunities will strengthen your gift planning donors’ connection to your organization and encourage continued support.

  3. Donor Education and Stewardship

    Educating gift planning donors about the impact of their gifts and the benefits of gift planning is crucial. Develop educational materials, including brochures, newsletters or webinars to help donors understand the various gift planning options available to them and how these options align with their philanthropic goals. Offer personalized guidance through one-on-one meetings with staff or a consultant to help donors articulate their values and goals and how to incorporate those into their estate plan and philanthropic planning. This educational approach enhances donor stewardship and helps ensure donors’ wishes are met effectively.

  4. Timely and Transparent Reporting

    Transparency is paramount in gift planning stewardship. Provide timely and accurate reports that demonstrate the impact of donors’ gifts. Create comprehensive and easily understandable reports that outline the specific projects or programs funded by their generosity. Include information on how the funds were utilized, testimonials from those served by your organization, and measurable outcomes. Importantly, regular reporting allows you to reinforce the top two reasons why donors added your organization to their estate plan.  According to the Giving USA Foundation Special Report: Leaving a Legacy, an organization’s mission and impact on those served were to the top two motivations for donors making a legacy gift. (Giving USA Foundation, 2019) Regular reporting not only strengthens the relationship but also builds trust and confidence in your organization’s financial accountability and integrity.

  5. Recognizing Donor Impact

    Recognition is an essential component of gift planning stewardship. With donors’ permission, acknowledge their lasting impact on your organization by publicly recognizing their generosity. This can be done through donor walls, naming opportunities, listing their names in annual reports, and legacy society membership. In addition to thank you letters, express gratitude by offering personalized tokens of appreciation, such as plaques, certificates, or lapel pins (donors wear these to events). By celebrating donors’ generosity, you create a culture of philanthropy and inspire others to follow their lead.


Effective gift planning stewardship is about properly expressing gratitude for donors’ generosity, building strong and meaningful relationships, and ensuring their philanthropic goals are realized. By implementing personalized communication, providing ongoing engagement opportunities, offering donor education, delivering transparent reporting, and recognizing donor impact, organizations can cultivate lasting relationships with their gift planning donors. Investing in these stewardship best practices will not only strengthen the relationship between your donors and your organization but also lays the foundation for sustained support, ultimately benefiting both your organization and the community it serves.


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