Motherhood and apple pie – making time for donor stewardship

publication date: Oct 2, 2014
author/source: Doug Flanders

Like motherhood and apple pie, who can disagree with donor stewardship? Stewardship is the process of encouraging a donor into a closer relationship with your organization’s mission. Everyone agrees stewardship is important, but do organizations really make the time and effort to ensure that it’s done effectively and well?Doug Flanders photo

Strongly engaging the donors you have is one key to nonprofit survival today. Competition for the donor dollar remains fierce. Individual donors get weary; they can and do fade away. Baby boom generation loyalties can be inconsistent. Although figures vary, sources suggest that it can costs seven times as much to obtain a new donor as it does to retain a current one. Stewarding donors makes fiscal sense. More important, caring for and showing appreciation to donors is simply the right thing to do. Generosity and commitment deserve our thanks.

Cost-effective stewardship tools

As budgets tighten, fewer organizations have the money to devote full time staff to what many consider to be the “soft side” of fundraising. But even with limited resources, strategic, concerted efforts to nurture donors can have a major impact on revenue generation programs.

It may seem like an obvious thing do to, but do you thank your donors? On their gift receipt, with a formal letter, or with a telephone call? A prompt thank-you call by telephone, whether from staff or a volunteer, ensures and even increases future gifts. By telephone, you may discover much about the donors, but also how your organization looks in their eyes. Some donors will converse. Others won’t. However, any information gleaned can help you pinpoint issues and frame future directions.

What donors want to hear

How do you keep your donors informed in a clear, meaningful way about what is happening with their donor dollar? Do you have an annual report? A newsletter? Do your communications show how donor gifts are making a transformational difference? Receiving a thank-you and being shown how their gift has clearly furthered your organization’s mission are the two things donors want most.

Turn complainers into fans

Yet too many organizations unwittingly take their donors for granted. Organizations get caught up in their day-to-day operations and forget that donors always must come first. Those who forget this basic premise do so at their own peril. Are you easily accessed, either by telephone or email, or do callers routinely end up in your voice mail? How long does it take to respond to any donor inquiries? Are all inquiries dealt with, even the most problematic?

One organization of note routinely had its board chair telephone all those who had written letters of complaint. The recipients responded with surprise at first, then heartfelt gratitude for a serious, prompt response by someone of note. The outcome? Greater donor loyalty and giving.

It’s everyone’s job

From the CEO and board chair on down, every person in your organization should view donor stewardship as part of their work. Making stewardship part of your organization’s culture and personalizing your connection with donors will generate more revenue to further your mission.

Whatever your organizational capacity may allow, donor stewardship is worth the effort.

Doug Flanders is Principal, Doug Flanders & Associates. Most recently, he was Director, Major & Planned Gifts for The United Church of Canada. He has served on the fundraising leadership teams of The Arthritis Society, Foster Parents Plan and the Stratford Festival. Contact Doug by email.

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