By Steffani Lautenschlager, MEd, CFRE, Senior Consultant

In this season of gratitude, it’s good to remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to stewardship. Gary Chapman wrote, “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts,” which describes how each of us have a preferred way that we give and receive love. When your partner or friend speaks your love language you automatically deepen the connection to that person. You pay attention more. You engage more. You give more of yourself. So much of this is also true for our relationship with our donors.

We often talk about how we need to love on our donors, but we don’t always take the time to think about or even ask what their preference is in our approach to stewarding them. It’s important for us to pause and think about how we share our gratitude with donors, especially during this time of thanksgiving. If we approach our stewardship as a one size fits all, we will miss the chance to truly let people understand their full impact on our nonprofits and community.

Chapman identified these 5 love languages:

  • Acts of Service: for these people, actions speak louder than words.
  • Receiving Gifts: for some people, receiving a heartfelt gift is what makes them feel most loved.
  • Quality Time: this language is all about giving the other person your undivided attention.
  • Words of Affirmation: this language used words to affirm other people.
  • Physical Touch: for this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate physical touch. (Full details and videos can be found

When thinking about how we steward our donors, we could correlate these 5 love languages to mean:

  • Acts of Service: These donors will take notice when you go out of your way to make their experience easy and meaningful. They take note when you send them a mailed reminder after the donor has shared that they receive too many emails and like to give with a check. They appreciate when you provide what they need, before they know they need it. They appreciate that you hear their interests and preferences and then you take action on them without them needing to remind you.
  • Receiving Gifts: giving a gift that reminds me of your mission and impact. Donors still don’t want us to spend a lot on them, but they also will throw away a trinket. Be intentional with the gift that you give and make sure it connects back to your mission.
  • Quality Time: engaging the donor multiple times throughout the year; not just when it’s time to solicit them. This can look like board service, regular calls or visits, or giving opportunities for them to engage with the mission on a more frequent basis.
  • Words of Affirmation: these donors will appreciate seeing their names in the annual report and hearing about naming opportunities that tie appropriately to their gift. These donors will also want to promptly hear from you after they have made a gift and they want to know that it matters. Calling to say thank you matters. Letting them know about their impact throughout the year and sharing your gratitude voice to voice or person to person is crucial. Electronic affirmation is good, but person to person affirmation goes a long way for these individuals.
  • Physical Touch: it goes without saying that physical touch is not appropriate in our donor relationships. But take it a step further to think about how you can connect donors through hands on volunteering with your mission. These donors want to experience the emotion and connection of your impact in person for themselves. Give them opportunities that will deepen their relationship to your agency.

Relationships that last are complimentary to one another. It’s not one sided. It’s not “all about me.” The ones that consider how the other person receives love have long-lasting and happier relationships. Identify ways that your nonprofit can stand out by sharing your gratitude in the way your donors each separately receive it. Yes, I recognize this takes a lot of time, but it also is important intentional time that will benefit your organization year after year with retention and increased giving.

Practice on your colleagues, by finding out their love language and using it to show appreciation for their commitment to your organization. Then move on to your top give donors and beyond. Let us know what you experience and how it makes you feel. Sharing gratitude in your donor’s love language will grow them closer to your mission and will fill you with joy as well!

Questions on donor stewardship? Contact Let’s Build Hope today: (314) 716-2496 or

#LBH #LetsBuildHope #GlimmersOfHope #LoveLanguages #DeeperRelationships #ShowAppreciation #Thanksgiving #Gratitude

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