An Abundance of Gratitude


Each year, as we prepare to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, reflecting upon the gifts present in our lives becomes customary. This time of year provides a special moment of reflection for me, personally, as it coincides with the founding of Dunleavy & Associates.

Throughout the past 15 years, it has been a sincere pleasure to lead and steward the growth and evolution of our firm. I have had the opportunity to hone my superpower for finding great talent; we’ve recruited some of the most talented professionals in the field – women and men with whom I have had the fortune to work and from whom I have learned so much. For each of you, past and present, I am grateful.

I am a big believer in the power of gratitude. I practice it each day, personally and professionally. It has become a daily mantra, waking me up to notice all of the gifts in my life, ever thankful for another day of leading a team that excels at creating sustainable ways to improve the organizations with which we are privileged to collaborate.

We are each stronger due, in large part, to those who are a significant and integral presence in our lives-motivators, teachers, mentors and, most importantly, friends and family. These are the people who provide scaffolding around us in times of triumph, challenge, vulnerability, risk-taking and reward. I am grateful for their honesty, transparency, counsel and the encouragement they provide without hesitation.

As you gather around the table to enjoy a meal this Thursday, take a moment or two (really, as many moments as it takes) to look around at all that is good and brings you joy. THIS, my friends, is what matters most.

On behalf of Dunleavy & Associates, we wish you and all whom you hold dear a very happy Thanksgiving holiday.


In gratitude, 

How can nonprofits maintain authentic donor relationships throughout the year?


by Debi Hoxter

Congratulations! You’ve identified, cultivated and solicited your donor and he/she has just made a major gift (the amount of a major gift will vary depending on the size of your organization).

At this point, many nonprofits believe their work is complete, but nothing could be further from the truth, for this is when authentic donor stewardship begins.

What is authentic donor stewardship? It is the stewarding of the individual, not just the gift, and is grounded in the desire to treat donors as partners by honoring their generosity and demonstrating how their gifts make a difference.

Remember, donors have contributed to your nonprofit because they feel a connection to your organization, its mission and the individuals involved. Nurturing donor relationships enables those who give to connect more deeply to your organization and those you serve and, as a result, make future contributions. Follow these steps to keep them connected to your nonprofit and aware their gift is appreciated.

Step One: Learn a prospective donor’s stewardship expectations before the gift is secured – or soon after

Ask the donor prospect what would be the most meaningful way to steward his/her gift, and what that would look like. Importantly, determine his/her preferred means of communication early on and for all outreach going forward, whether it be by phone or email (donors always appreciate being asked). This conversation enables you to learn more about who the donor is and what motivates him/her to give.

Step Two: Place a phone call within 24 hours of receiving the gift

Within 24 hours a phone call should be placed by your organization’s Executive Director/CEO and the person with whom the donor has the closest relationship. There is nothing that can substitute for a gracious and heartfelt “thank you,” and a donor will always remember the personal outreach.

Step Three: Send a personalized acknowledgment letter within two business days of receiving the gift

Ideally, a letter should be sent to acknowledge the donor’s gift within two days of receipt. If a template is used to create the letter, it should be personalized so that it appears to be written specifically for that donor and the donor’s partner should also be acknowledged in the letter. The dollar value of the gift should be listed in the letter and a brief explanation of the gift’s benefit to the organization.

The acknowledgment letter should always include a short, handwritten post-script.

Step Four: Communicate with your donor throughout the year to demonstrate the impact of his or her gift

Oftentimes donors feel that the nonprofit they support communicates with them only when it’s time to solicit another gift. To set your organization apart, it is critical to build your donor relationships throughout the year through authentic, customized stewardship tactics, identifying a plan that is meaningful to each donor.

For example, invite the donor to visit your organization and make introductions to staff and clients who have benefited from their generosity. Similarly, a letter from a staff member or client expressing his thanks to your donor for his gift and its impact is especially meaningful.

Smaller, donor-only events are also an ideal way to express thanks to your donors and build a sense of camaraderie among your donor base. If your nonprofit has just completed a renovation, plan an event to thank donors for their contributions and conduct first-look tours of the new offices. For those who prefer one-on-one interactions, a lunch invitation to update a donor on how his or her gift is impacting your organization would be especially meaningful.

Step Five: Make personal connections/touches throughout the year

Staying in touch on a personal basis throughout the year is certain to build your relationships with donors. Invite your donor to participate in a Career Day if applicable to your organization. Send your donor a note when a child is getting married or if a grandchild is born. These milestones should be in your database of details gathered during the cultivation step. Or, in lieu of the standard holiday card, consider sending a Thanksgiving card that expresses your gratitude.

Most important is creating a stewardship plan for each donor and developing a calendar of “touches” throughout the year. Dunleavy & Associates’ development professionals have the expertise to guide you throughout the donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship process. To learn more, visit our website at


About the author: Debi Hoxter is Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations at Dunleavy & Associates. Pulling from her prior experience as Executive Director, Corporate Underwriting at WHYY, Debi works with clients to build donor and corporate relationships and create strategies for meeting revenue goals. She began her career in advertising, working first at Ted Bates and Grey advertising agencies in New York before serving as Advertising Sales Manager at Philadelphia Magazine.





Stewardship strategies for turning volunteers into donors

Debi Hoxter

By Debi Hoxter

Stewarding your nonprofit’s volunteers with the intention of eventually converting them into donors can be an intimidating responsibility. You may have a collection of people who are giving hours, even days out of their busy lives for your organization’s cause, and then you’re tasked with also asking them to make a monetary donation. As a result, some nonprofits tend to shy away from approaching this important group of stakeholders altogether.

Fortunately, the process isn’t nearly as ominous as it may seem. And that’s because when done properly, stewardship is an organic and even inviting process that turns a somewhat uncomfortable situation into a winning one for both the nonprofit and the individual.

Facilitating such a relationship starts at the very beginning, when the individual first becomes a volunteer. At that point, it’s important to roll out the red carpet and make sure the volunteer immediately feels valued within your organization.

One way to make your volunteer feel welcome is to plan a tour of your nonprofit’s headquarters. But make sure it's well-planned and intentional: Introduce the volunteer to your organization’s executive director, staff, or constituents, and have personalized materials prepared, such as a press kit or annual report. Having these items ready will show the volunteer you went out of your way to plan for their visit.

Be sure to also conduct research into the individual ahead of time to determine his or her capacity. Having knowledge upfront about your volunteer's ability to give or solicit others allows you to steer the relationship in that direction from the beginning.

Once the volunteer feels like a valued part of your organization, make sure he or she stays that way. The key here remains personalization. The more you make an individual feel personally valued by the organization, the more he or she will be compelled to give.

For volunteers who came for a single day of service or who worked on a particular project, write a personalized thank you note and ask to put him or her on the mailing list. For individuals who volunteer on a regular basis, check in from time to time, reminding them how much you appreciate their time and asking how they feel about their experience.

Personalization is a critical component for a successful appeal. Just as you would with a non-volunteer donor, take the time to include a letter to individual volunteers, thanking them for their efforts and asking if they would consider financially supporting the organization.

Finally, never give up on a volunteer. Even if an individual is not yet ready or capable of making a donation, don’t be afraid to ask if there is anyone in his or her personal network who is. Perhaps a friend works for a company looking to expand its philanthropy, or a family member might also be interested in volunteering (studies show that households in which more than one individual volunteers for the same cause are also more likely to donate).

If your organization wants to improve its volunteer stewardship strategies, a firm such as Dunleavy & Associates can provide powerful insights and expertise. Our firm works closely with nonprofits to craft customized stewardship plans that help build lasting relationships with volunteers, existing donors, and new prospects alike, resulting in increased revenue for your organization.

About the author: Debi Hoxter is Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations at Dunleavy & Associates. Pulling from her prior experience as Executive Director, Corporate Underwriting at WHYY, Debi works with clients to build donor and corporate relationships and create strategies for meeting revenue goals. She began her career in advertising, working first at Ted Bates and Grey advertising agencies in New York before serving as Advertising Sales Manager at Philadelphia Magazine.