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The Instant Stewardship Primer for Giving Days

This article was written by Ariel Glassman. She is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from her and from the work she did while part of the Ostara team.

Yesterday, we parsed out the many benefits of instant stewardship of your giving day donors – and promised we’d explain how to get it done today. 

So: here’s a step-by-step primer on how to flawlessly execute instant stewardship on GiveBIG.  

Because you’ll be executing instant stewardship in a fast-moving environment on the day of GiveBIG itself, it’s useful to separate this primer into two sections: What you need to do prepare for instant stewardship before GiveBIG, and what you need to do on GiveBIG itself.

Spoiler alert: Much of the work actually happens before GiveBIG – and it builds on work you were already planning to do.  

Before GiveBIG:

Draft a basic template for the content of the email you will send to each giving day donor in response to their gift. Keep this short and sweet – length isn’t as important as response time and personalization.

Create, ask and confirm a list of the participating development and non-development staff. This activity can become unwieldy above 5 people, so stick to that upper limit.

From all the participants, define one person as the staff lead for this process. The instant stewardship process will flow more smoothly if it is clear where the buck stops, and who has the answers to any questions participants have. In this case, if you’re reading this post, it’s probably you. Make sure this person is set up to receive all the gift notification emails from the GiveBIG online platform.

Define which participants will steward which donors. For example, you might assign donors under $100 to your development associate, donors from $100 to $500 to the development director, and donors above $500 to the executive director. Make sure everyone knows in advance exactly when they need to take action, and for whom. Creating an automatic set of “if-then” rules like this reduces confusion and process friction, and increases the speed of execution.

During GiveBIG:

The staff lead should immediately steward all the pre-scheduled donors whose gifts automatically processed at midnight as soon as they can, if you haven’t done so as they pre-scheduled their gifts. This applies to donors of all sizes, even if you have multiple people handling different segments of donors. Don’t expect your teammates to be up and stewarding donors with you at 6 AM (or 12:01 AM), especially if they’re not fundraising staff. Begin the automatic rule-based stewardship when your team has arrived at the office for their normal day – and make sure you’ve set an expectation for what time that is. I’m looking at you, arts organizations.

Each participant should open up the donor database and be prepared to look up each donor as they give so that your stewardship can include personal, relational details. Keep it open all day.

The staff lead should watch the inbox receiving your GiveBIG gift notification emails like a hawk. If you have 3-5 people participating, it will be easiest for the staff lead to receive and distribute all emails to participants for stewardship, based on the automatic set of rules created. This helps keep most of the internal pressure for instant stewardship on the fundraiser who is the staff lead, and makes it easier for other staff who are participating. The easier it is for other teammates to help you, the more likely they will be to help you again next year.

The actual instant stewardship email can happen in one of two ways:

Open up a new stand-alone email message. This method takes a little longer, and requires the content of the email to provide more context and explanation, so that what it references it is obvious at a glance to the donor receiving the message. After all, they’re busy people too – don’t make them work to figure why you’re landing in their inbox. However, organizations with a very formal brand and personality may prefer the clean and sophisticated feel of this method.

Forward the actual gift notification receipt back to the donor, and include your personal message with it. This has fewer steps and thus takes less time, and the inclusion of the receipt and the pre-populated subject line help you set the context for the donor.  For these reasons, I prefer this method, but it may work best for organizations with a more casual and personal brand or relationship to their donors.

Distribute high-fives liberally among your teammates throughout the day (yes, it’s OK to high-five yourself if you’re flying solo on this). If you really want your teammates to help you again next year, gift them little treats or coffee shop gift cards the next day to thank them.

And that’s how you do it. But what should it look like? I’ve written a few samples that should help you figure out how to adapt this tactic to your organization, including what types of information in the database to eyeball for each donor so you can personalize them more – such as repeat GiveBIG participation, artistic engagement in performances or exhibits, and more.

The most important goal is to ensure that it sounds like it came from a real human (because it did!), and that it contains at least one detail particular to the donor. These examples assume that you’ve chosen to forward the gift notification back to the donor, so you don’t have to mention the gift amount again, and the context is obvious to the donor immediately.

An arts organization might write…

“Hi Mary – thank you so much for this amazing donation! You also just brought us closer to completing our matching gift challenge. I hope you’re enjoying your subscription this season. Thanks again for supporting TheaterXYZ on GiveBIG! 

Have a great day! 


An education advocacy group might write…

“Hi Jamie – thank you so much! This is really wonderful. It feels so good to see our community coming together around early childhood learning in real time. Thanks for being on our team for the third GiveBIG in a row! 



A few final thoughts:

If you’re having trouble finding teammates to participate, try gamifying the process to create an incentive. For example, offer a desirable prize to whoever can demonstrate the fastest turnaround time between receiving a notification and sending the instant stewardship email.  The email timestamps make it easy to prove.

While speed is of the essence, you’re also a human, not a robot, which is kind of the whole point of this activity. So of course it’s alright if you miss the 90-second window for a gift because you needed a bio-break, or because your executive director had a time-sensitive question. It’s fine if you can turn these around within 5 minutes rather than 90 seconds. I just happen to know 90 seconds is generally possible, because I’ve done it myself, over and over.

Some large organizations have thousands of GiveBIG donors, and some smaller organizations have very few staff. If you’re worried about having the capacity to execute instant stewardship for all GiveBIG donors for any reason, it’s fine to focus this effort on certain donor segments. Create a donor pyramid from your past GiveBIG data to look at how many donors you’ve had at each level, find the level where the number of donors giving that amount drops dramatically, and use that as the floor for instant stewardship outreach.

Go ahead and steward your pre-schedules now to get them done! That can lighten your day-of load.

Voila! Instant stewardship – a powerful tool for donor retention and making the absolute most of an opportunity like GiveBIG.

Now, ask yourself: since instant stewardship of online donors only takes 90 seconds, and notifications of your regular online gifts also get pushed to you… why not execute instant stewardship for online gifts year-round?

Happy fundraising!


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