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  • 5 Types of Phrases to Avoid in Donor Stewardship Messages

Think about the worst marketing message you’ve received in your inbox. Maybe it started with a generic greeting, or, worse, a misspelling of your name. Maybe it had a desperate or patronizing tone. Whatever the case, it probably left a bad taste in your mouth and didn’t inspire you to continue engaging with the organization. 

Similarly, your donors don’t want generic, confusing, or condescending messages in their inboxes. You should build a donor journey and stewardship process that is inviting, welcoming, and respectful at every turn. You want to leave a positive impression on all donors, whether you’re stewarding small, mid-sized, or major supporters.

This guide will review words and phrases to avoid in your donor stewardship outreach, along with some positive alternatives to use instead. These tips will help you better manage donor relationships and build genuine connections with your supporters.

Donor stewardship phrases to avoid (explained in the text below)

1. First-person phrases

While your nonprofit’s staff has undoubtedly worked hard to serve your mission with a variety of projects and programs, it’s your donors who really keep your organization in operation. Without their support, your nonprofit wouldn’t be able to fund its work and make progress toward its goals. 

With this in mind, your donor stewardship messages should stay focused on your supporters’ accomplishments, not your nonprofit’s. Donor-centricity helps supporters feel included in your efforts and valued as members of your team. Plus, it shows them that your nonprofit recognizes the vital role they play in keeping your doors open. 

Before sending donor stewardship messages, comb through them to swap out first-person pronouns like “I,” “me,” “we,” and “our” for second-person pronouns like “you.” 

For example, take a look at this sentence:

Our nonprofit helped save 100 stray cats this year!

To make this more donor-centric, you might say something like:

Your tireless support helped save 100 stray cats this year!

Use roughly twice as many second-person as first-person pronouns. Test your written copy using a communications audit tool to ensure an effective balance. 

2. Generic phrases

When it comes to creating effective donor stewardship communications, personalization is the name of the game. 76% of consumers are frustrated when brands don’t provide personalized experiences. This statistic shows that donors want to be recognized and valued as unique individuals. 

For example, starting an email message with “Dear Valued Supporter” is not as impactful as “Dear Eleanor” or “Dear Marcus.” Similarly, “Thanks for your donation” doesn’t have the same effect as “Thank you for your generous gift of $100 on May 3rd, which will provide meals for 10 members of our community.” 

This strategy applies to all types of support, not just donations. For example, if you’re recognizing a donor who recently participated in a volunteer opportunity, you might say “Thank you for helping to organize 500 pounds of donated food at our volunteer event on October 20th” instead of just “Thanks for joining our volunteer event.” 

Your donor management system will be your most helpful tool in developing personalized outreach. According to Bloomerang’s donor management software guide, these solutions help track donors’ personal and demographic information, giving histories, and every previous interaction they’ve had with your organization. You can use these details to personalize donor messages, providing a unique touch point for every supporter. 

3. Just a thank you

When sending an appreciation letter, “thank you” is just the beginning. 

Your stewardship messages are an opportunity to not only thank donors for their gifts but also start building long-term relationships with them. To lay the foundation for these long-lasting connections, go beyond a thank-you by: 

  • Being a little over the top with your gratitude. Show donors that no gift is too small or insignificant by thanking all donors with a similar level of appreciation. 
  • Showing the impact of donors’ generosity. For example, perhaps a donor made a major purchase at your recent auction event. Show them how this major gift positively impacted your cause. You could say, “Because of your generous $5,000 bid, more students in need will be able to access free tutoring!” 
  • Inviting donors to additional opportunities. Show donors that your nonprofit has more to offer than just giving opportunities. Invite them to volunteer outings, educational events, and advocacy meetings. 

By investing in real relationships with supporters, you can maintain their involvement and help your nonprofit earn even more the next time you host a fundraising campaign. 

4. Close-ended questions

Donor surveys are a staple of the stewardship process. Surveys allow supporters to voice their opinions and help shape the direction of your nonprofit’s strategy. They show donors that you value their input and want to hear from them. 

To allow donors to expand on their feedback, be sure to ask open-ended questions rather than close-ended ones. Close-ended questions require pre-determined answers, like a simple “yes” or “no.” They can be helpful for quick surveys or polls but don’t allow respondents to provide context for their answers.

On the other hand, open-ended questions give donors the space to elaborate on their insights and truly make their voices heard. For example, let’s say you want to send out a survey asking for feedback on your nonprofit’s recent online fundraising campaign that took place over social media. Instead of just asking:

Would you participate in a social media campaign again? Yes / No

Open up the question by making it a short answer:

Would you participate in a social media campaign again? Why or why not?

The second question lets donors provide more information about their experience with the campaign, giving your nonprofit valuable insights into how you can improve your efforts next time around. 

5. Pessimistic phrases

If you’re sending marketing messages that depress or stress out your donors, they probably won’t continue opening your communications for very long. Make sure your outreach promotes a message of hope and optimism. Although the cause your nonprofit is involved in may be dire, your messaging should avoid verging into despair. 

Consider the following phrases and the tone they convey: 

If you don’t donate right now, it could be too late to save local species from extinction.


Act now to save local species and help your local flora and fauna thrive.

The first message is certainly urgent, but it comes off as somewhat threatening. The second message maintains the urgency of the donation appeal without leaning into fear-mongering. 


Donors want to know that your nonprofit recognizes them as unique individuals who have a lot to offer your organization. Use your nonprofit’s software solutions to gather the data you need to personalize your donor stewardship messages as much as possible. With upbeat, personalized, donor-centric messaging, you can encourage more supporters to stay involved with your cause long-term. 


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