In 2008 when the economy tanked, I called every fundraiser I could think of who had been working during the 1989 economic downturn. I was able to find four people who had worked during the previous recession who were still working in fundraising. Over coffee and cake, I asked their advice. Each of them had the same main message - stewardship.
But, but, but, we need money now! And fast! This is the time to ask, not steward. You are saying right now.
Let me agree that is definitely a time to ask. Many charities are closed, others have drawn back or reduced asking. This is, indeed, a great time to ask for donations.
Stewardship matters because it is the fastest, easiest way to get more gifts today and tomorrow. Even those donors who aren't able to give now, will appreciate that you cvontinue to think about them even if they can't give this very moment. The other thing I heard from these seasoned philanthropy experts was that when the economy rebounded, their giving more than rebounded. So even if donations are slow now, by stewarding, you are setting the stage for a substantial uptick once the economy is moving again.
In addition, good stewardship always pays off - an appropriate phone call today, a thank you card, an update report - all of these things show donors that you take their investment seriously and that you are interested in making sure they know the impact of their gift.
One of the other reasons to focus on stewardship is that so few charities do it. Even a token effort will pay outsized dividends just because donors will be pleased and surprised to be treated well by your charity.
When you are busy and under strain, it is hard to stay focused on stewardship. However, ensuring that your donors are well thanked will provide you with loyal donors who will help you out even more.
Ann Rosenfield is a working fundraiser who has now worked through three economic downturns and an epidemic. She is also Editor of Hilborn Charity eNews.