Making Donor Promises at the YMCA of Greater Toronto

by Juniper Locilento, CFRE on August 28, 2017

As fundraisers, we know instinctively that good stewardship is important – after all, we’re in the relationship business. So why is it that stewardship often falls to the bottom of our very long to do lists? And what should we do about it?

Our team identified stewardship as a strategic priority in 2016. We undertook an analysis of our current practices, acknowledged the gaps and agreed that we could all do better.

We declared that we wanted to offer our donors a ‘Remarkable Donor Experience’ and identified the following goals:

  • High pledge fulfillment for gifts to our Capital campaign (95%+)
  • Above industry standard retention rates for our broadbased fundraising programs (<50%)
  • Donors making additional gifts, particularly in relation to our Capital and Major Giving programs

One of our first orders of business was to draft a series of ‘donor promises’, inspired by the customer promises of Fedex, an industry leader in customer experience. Our promises to our donors are to:

Take a 360 degree view of your relationship with the YMCA

Engage you with our mission and impact

Respect your giving, privacy, information, communications preferences and interests


And here’s how we’re delivering on them:

a) At our Y, donor information is stored in a separate database from member information, which means that we had to make a commitment to manually track program affiliations and to connect with our YMCA colleagues across our many locations to fully understand a donor’s history with the Y. This allows us to properly segment our file and develop appeals that will “appeal” to specific segments.


b) This has been about investing time and resources into improving our stewardship communications. For example, we introduced an annual ‘Gratitude Report’ to complement our Annual Community Impact Report, in which we share first-person stories from our donors about what inspires them to give to the YMCA. We also work to ensure that we strike a balance between sharing stories that demonstrate donor impact, and in illustrating the reach and effectiveness of our programs – and thus, our donors’ investments.

c) Although it would be easier to just lump all of our donors into one group and treat them the same, we all know our donors deserve better. We’ve undertaken research to understand their motivations and barriers to giving, for example, and we work diligently to identify giving opportunities that speak directly to their varied interests.

About a year into this project, our team regrouped to assess our progress. Some of the improvements we identified were:

  • We have more and better stories to share about donors and their impact
  • Frequency of donor contact has increased
  • Donors have been “surprised and delighted” by unexpected thank you calls, especially during our Valentine’s Day “Donor Love Thank-a-thon”
  • Our senior volunteers and YMCA colleagues are increasingly engaged in fundraising activities, opening doors to more prospects and more opportunities.

In addition to qualitative markers, we saw a 10% increase in donor retention year over year. This just goes to show that the little things do make a difference and that by setting out our promises to our donors, we’re motivated to find little ways to improve their experience and inspire greater giving!

It’s important to note that we also identified many areas where we still need to improve. We know we have to balance the efforts we put into stewardship with the activities that will allow us to meet our fundraising goals in the short term.  In the long term, we expect that these efforts will dovetail into a stronger and more committed donor base who are inspired to give even more to support the YMCA!

Juniper Locilento, CFRE is driven to advance philanthropy as a means to create change. She has worked alongside social profit change makers for over a decade, both as a fundraising practitioner in arts & culture and as philanthropic consultant with KCI (Ketchum Canada Inc.). She is currently Director of Annual Giving, Operations & Strategy at the YMCA of Greater Toronto.


YMCA Stewardship Week is August 28-September 1. Read the blog to be inspired by some of the best-in-class samples submitted by fellow Y development professionals. Follow us on Twitter where we’ll be sharing even more resources and ideas on donor relations best practices, gratitude, and engagement with our donors – search #YGratitude to find us. And finally, visit the Stewardship Gallery on Exchange and check out the new sample additions.