Never Underestimate the Power of Stewardship

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By F. Duke Haddad

For development professionals, stewardship should be as natural as breathing. In the last two weeks alone, I participated in several stewardship activities.

Story one. A president of a company with his employees agreed to shop and pay for Christmas gifts for children called angels through a program I directed. One day, over 30 of his employees shopped for at least 250 children. The company paid more than $100 in presents for each child. Not only did I say thanks in numerous ways, but I also spent several hours with these employees shopping for angels. At the end of the session, the president hugged me in appreciation for my gesture.

Story two. I visited a couple in their home as a way of getting to know them better. They had not made a recent gift. That did not matter as I cared about them and wanted them to know they were part of my organizational family. I gave them a cross as the end of the visit that they truly cherished.

Story three. Several corporate donors to my organization were at an event hosted by a company where the proceeds benefitted my organization. I visited them at the site of the event. On a whim, I created a Facebook Live event where I interviewed these donors. They loved the informal nature of their interaction. I thanked them for their gifts of time, talent and treasure to our organization. I did not want anything in return. I just wanted these donors to know they were appreciated and are always top of mind by me and our organization.

According to Andrea Kihlstedt, trust is the cornerstone of donor stewardship. These relationships require that organizations express gratitude for contributions, communicate with donors as to how their gifts will be used, share with them the organizational work, seek engagement by donors, and from time to time, solicit them for additional gifts. Always thank donors and communicate with them. Use research to learn more about them and what motivates them to support your nonprofit. Seek usual and unusual ways to have them remember you. Understand your donors and seek to meet their needs and wants. If you steward them well, you will have a wonderfully interesting and meaningful long-term relationship.

Network for Good notes that if you do not steward donors well, you will lose them. They provide five basic stages of donor stewardship that is the basis for a successful fundraising program: gift acceptance, which is a part of a program of how to treat each gift; gift acknowledgment, in which you thank the donor immediately with some type of communication and determine long-term steps of engagement; donor recognition; determine ways to communicate the results of gifts with donors; and launch a cultivation strategy with an emphasis on relationship building that involves how they want to be communicated with on a long-term basis. One activity in the cultivation realm is having donors visit your organization to see the results of their donations.

A blog by Qgiv regarding stewardship notes that having a strong stewardship program can take your fundraising program to the next level. Stewardship is the relationship building and communication process with donors after the gift has been received.

The stewardship process involves giving, thanking donors, confirming donor gift intentions, recognizing the donor, letting the donor know of gift impact, and launching the cultivation process. The stewardship process recognizes the donor pyramid, which is the process of first-time donors, recurring donors, major donors and planned giving donors. The process of donor movement takes time and is part of a well-thought-out strategy. A quality stewardship program consists of the donors, administration, development professionals, board members, volunteers and other donors. The players in this process help adhere to a schedule of donor engagement.

An article by the Customer Insight Group asks how you define donor stewardship? Its definition is donor stewardship refers to systems and methods aimed at fiscal accountability, expressing appreciation and reporting impact to donors. If the stewardship process hits the mark, donors will give again and possibly more over time to your organization. Stewardship is one terrific way to keep and not lose donors year after year. Most nonprofits lose 54% of their donors each year. The average recurring donor gives 42% more than a one-time giver. Stewardship is not just one activity aimed at a donor. It is a series of processes planned with specific results in mind. Define stewardship for your organization and set up your data base accordingly. Have goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely).

To elevate your stewardship strategy, a Virtuous blog shares four tips that will help your fundraising in both good and bad times: understanding and responding to your supporters; providing a variety of engagement opportunities; using supporter data to craft more effective communications; and continually revisiting your donor recognition policy. A donor-centric strategy has long-term benefits, the most important of which is the commitment between donor and organizational mission.

Stewardship is at the central core of key fundraising strategies. The Storytelling Non-Profit shared ideas for freshen up your donor stewardship program.

These ideas include:

  • Schedule monthly times to make thank you calls.
  • Host appreciation events.
  • Profile donors in your communications.
  • Thank donors via social media.
  • Revise thank-you letters annually.
  • Strive to get to know your donors personally.
  • Handwrite thank-you notes.

Never underestimate the power of stewardship! If you want to raise more money, generate larger gifts, have positive donors tell others about the power of your organization, and a host of other benefits, enhance your stewardship program today. You will need a plan, strategy, energy, focus and attention to detail. Make stewardship a mandatory element of your job. A quality stewardship program takes time. Build your base of supporters well and your organization will reap the rewards.

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