The Monthly Donor: The donor pledged publicly a monthly gift of $1000 at the annual gala.  For the first 3 months, the checks came in on time. The 4th month, the check was 2 weeks later. The 5th month, no money arrived at all. When the development director called to find out what was going on, the donor said, “While everyone cheered and clapped when I made my announcement, so far that is only response I received, other than an automated record of the transaction. I will be discontinuing my pledge.”  No staff member, board member or volunteer reached out in any way to maintain communications with that donor, who potentially could have provided at minimum $12,000 a year. With that, $12,000 became $4000.00; and what would have to be done to replace it?

The Long Time Donor: The little old lady gave gifts of between $100 and $200, reliably,  every year for over 15 years.  She got a thank you note in addition to her receipt but other than being listed in the newsletter and the direct mail list, she was never directly contacted.  Upon her death, her obituary indicated she had left a very sizable bequest to another organization that did similar work, and nothing to the first group.  It turned out that she had given the same series of small annual gifts to other second organization; they had noticed her regular, if not huge, history of giving and had reached out to thank her, ask her about her choice of support and how they could acknowledge her.

The New Corporate Sponsor: The new corporate sponsor had just signed on to underwrite the event, and had filled several tables of their guests. Although the M. C.thanked the new sponsor from the podium, they had not been asked how they would like to be introduced, or if they would like to have a moment to speak to the audience. When the host acknowledged the new sponsor he added, “I sure hope you were able to bring some of your friends along.” The silence at the table was reflective of the future support from that firm.

Notice and Appreciate Your Donors

In this day and age, fundraising can be a blood sport- the competition is fierce and the standards for achievement are higher every day. Every day, every cause, every urgency is calling out for support and funds; finding those donors to support your cause is critical. Even more critical is keeping them. This is where stewardship comes in…..

Stewardship is defined by Merriam-Webster as the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially :  the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care, for instance the stewardship of natural resources.

For our purposes Stewardship is personalized attention to those donations, how they were solicited, acquired, recognized and applied.

  • It is thanking immediately -within days and not weeks or months- with details of the donation.
  • It is asking your donor how they want to be recognized and contacted about donations.
  • It is paying attention to the little things ( which really are the big things): spell their name correctly, get the title right.
  • Personalize your relationship, note things such as birthdays, anniversaries, spouse’s or kids names as they come up in conversation. Ask about your donor and see what they tell you, write it down in their file.
  • Thank them again at the beginning or the end of of the year.

Stewardship shows you are aware of their support, not only at the time they provide it, but throughout the year. Stewardship is that extra effort that cements and nourishes your relationship with your supporters; it doesn’t require big  grand gestures, but sincerity and timeliness.

Like The Greeter At Wal-Mart

Stewardship does the same thing as the greeter at the door at Walmart: we’re so glad you are here  ( and not someplace else). Treat your donors as you would like to be treated: noticed, thanked and appreciated as a partner in the ongoing work and success of your organization. That requires ongoing conversation and inclusion with the work of your organization, not only at fundraising time.

Stewardship is putting words into action, showing how you care in how you treat your donors, so much more than what you say. Treat your donors as you would like to be treated: noticed, thanked and appreciated.  Stewardship is key to respecting and retaining your donors, and whom, in turn support and sustain your work.

It matters because this something you can do now, start now and continue over time to strength your connections to and with your donors and supporters. Good stewardship will distinguish your development efforts and increase donor retention. 

What would good Stewardship looked like for the examples above?

The monthly donor: The new monthly donor would have been asked how they would like to have been acknowledged. They would have received a call from a Board member, thanking them, and or a personal note from the executive director. This would have occurred within a week of the event. They might have received something from one of the beneficiaries of the work of the organization, a note from an after school program kid, a photo of animals being housed and fed, or of volunteers out in the community.

The Long, long term donor: The reliable small gift donor would have been recognized for 5 years or regular giving, for 10 years, for 15 years. She might have received a call from a senior volunteer or board member thanking her for her loyalty, and asking her how she felt about the organization, what could they do better?  She might have been given a small gift in recognition for her years of giving, she might have a short article thanking her in the newsletter or donor section of the website. 

The new Corporate Sponsor: Several Board members would have been introduced to the sponsor in person at the event;   board members would have stopped by  the guest tables and thanked the guests for attending. The sponsor would have been asked if they would like to say a few words, or not, the group would have been thanked from the podium. The M.C would have been made aware of the guest tables and made welcome. The sponsor would have received a follow up call in the following days and offered images of the event to share. Ongoing contact would be maintained and a strong relationship nurtured and grown.



Let’s develop some strong good stewardship programs together for your donors, call, email, smoke signal     310 828 6979

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