Stewardship: The Often Forgotten Art of Saying "Thank You"

We all know it costs more time, energy, and money to acquire new donors than to maintain existing relationships.  But, how many times do we forget to pay special attention to our current donors?  Maintaining thoughtful contact with major donors, and even our annual fund supporters, is important in the life-blood of any development program.  A few easy steps incorporated into your day will keep your donors close to you and to your organization.

Good stewardship, simply put, means saying thank you creatively and sincerely.   Stewardship educates donors and allows you to stay in touch with those who are vital to the interests of your institution.  Donors need to know that their gifts are meaningful; that they are an essential part of your plans; they need to feel that they have special knowledge and that their participation is necessary to the success and impact of your institution. 

We think this part of your day may easily become the most enjoyable task on your “To Do” list and, at the same time, will grow key relationships with your donors.

1.     Get Organized:  Set a goal that is achievable and something you can easily fit into your daily or weekly routine. For example, try starting with five donors a week; when broken down, that is only one each day.  Maintain a list of donors in the stewardship phase and make sure that you touch base with each of them at least once a quarter.  Review that list at the beginning of every morning and decide to whom you will reach out by the end of your workday.  Be sure to track your touches.

2.     Get Donors Involved:  Donors must feel valued and know that the institution is moving forward because of their involvement.  They must recognize and understand the critical role they play in the wellbeing of your organization.   Sophisticated donors want to understand the internal workings and know they are part of the inner circle.  Contributors want to know that their gifts and their time make a difference.  And, they need to be assured that their contributions are invested and managed wisely.

3.     Get Started Now:  As an institution, make sure all contributors at every level are included in all mailings such as newsletters, magazines, annual reports and year-end summaries.

Major gift and planned giving prospects need more personal touches from development officers. 

§  Thank You:  Pick up the phone to say thank you for their recent gift, but do it in a timely manner.  Determine who should make the call; maybe a quick call from your President and CEO is the right touch.  Make sure the call is on your President’s development call list for the week and that he or she has a briefing on the purpose of the call.  Phone calls give you the opportunity to catch up while thanking donors for their continued support.  Listen and learn what is new in their lives and give them an update of your institution.

§  Hear from Those Who Benefit:  It’s one thing for the donor to hear from the development officer or even the President and CEO.  It’s even more important that your donors are hearing from those who stand to benefit from the donor’s support.  If it is a student, scientist or physician, make sure that you are helping to make those all important donor connections by helping to craft personal notes or calls.  The beneficiary is likely to be the best one to communicate impact.  It’s your job to keep the donor on their radar screen!

§  New Programs and Personnel:  Quick touches will let donors know they are on your mind.  Tell them about new happenings in the life of your institution, new programs coming on line, new personnel or exciting discoveries.

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§  Events:  Remember to invite donors to non-fundraising events that may be of interest to them.  This is especially critical.  Keep a running list of donors to be invited to important occasions in the life of your institution, and make sure you issue a personal invitation. Let them know well in advance of the public to keep them in that inner circle.

§  Special Days:  Remember donors on special days with notes, cards, emails or a quick phone call.  These outreaches can mean a lot, especially if they are truly genuine and heart-felt.

Stewardship is good public and institutional relations.  It continues the fundraising cycle by cultivating donors for their next gift.  Donor Societies can assist in keeping donors connected, but the personal touch by those who know them best will establish that meaningful relationship that will reap rewards in the future.  As one of our philanthropist friends recently noted to us, “Most non-profits do a terrible job of stewardship.  It is a huge oversight when they don’t keep the donor in the loop!”  Ouch!  Make sure that’s not your organization!