Spring is for Stewardship - 4 Basic Practices For Stewarding Your Donors

Ernest Hemingway once said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” We fundraisers could take this wisdom to heart and start measuring fundraising success not only by dollars in the door, but by the number of coffee meetings held, flowers sent, tours led, thank-you notes mailed, articles forwarded, introductions made, advice sought, messages left, volunteer opportunities arranged – and all of the other stewardship touch points we create for our donors between solicitations.

Stewardship is where much of the work happens, and where gifts are won or lost.

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Stewardship is about relationships and about communicating to donors the impact of their gift and managing that gift in accordance with the donor’s intent. Here’s a good article on the direct link between stewardship and major gifts.

Many busy development offices struggle to prioritize stewardship. If donor stewardship has fallen by the wayside in your shop, try these 4 easy ways for getting it back on track:

  • Don't wait until they give to start stewarding. If you have a meeting with a donor, send an email afterward thanking them for their time; then send a handwritten note 1-2 days later (use a stamp instead of the postage meter). I know one organization that even sends a small flower arrangement to some donors as a thank-you-for-considering gesture. This all happens before a single dollar is donated.
  • Pick up the phone. When you receive a check in the mail, call that day to thank the donor. Voicemails are appreciated, so leave one.
  • Listen. Donors often share clues about their preferred methods of stewardship. Pay attention in your conversations to behaviors and activities that are highlights (or lowlights) for your donor – or just ask – then use that knowledge to customize stewardship for that person.
  • Produce a report for donors. The report can be annual, bi-annual, or quarterly – whatever makes sense for your organization. Your “report” might be a snail-mailed 8.5 x 11” sheet of paper, printed on both sides with color photos and a few short articles describing your organization’s impact over the past year. Regardless of the frequency and format, this basic method of sharing your story is effective.

I hope that getting back to basics with these tips will jumpstart your stewardship efforts. You may find it helpful to read my related posts on showing vs. telling when communicating with donors, and how to avoid the dreaded slip-up of misspelling your donor’s name. A longer list of creative stewardship ideas will appear on the blog later this spring, so stay tuned!

Want to contribute to the list? What creative methods do you use in stewarding donors? 

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