Stewardship is Everything!

The Art of Fundraising:
Stewardship is Everything!
Acknowledging our Donors for Successful Fundraising
By Dan Billingsley, Vice President External Affairs, Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits

Last year, I was talking to someone about Jerry Panas, a man with a 60+ year career as a professional fundraiser. Admittedly, I’m a disciple. Jerry has written a number of definitive books on fundraising, stewardship, major gifts and donor relationships, including the industry standard Asking. I probably evangelize about his work too much, but other friends in the fundraising world who have heard him speak can safely back me up. He is one of our best experts out there.

One of my key takeaways from Jerry is that stewardship is everything. Thanking and acknowledging donors should be at the top of our priority lists as professional fundraisers. This morning, I had an email from him at the Institute for Charitable Giving titled “Shame!” A great Game of Thrones reference (no spoilers here).

He explained that lapsed donors stopped their giving because of a few key reasons: Nearly a third couldn’t remember they made a gift; more than a quarter didn’t feel the organization actually needed the money; and one in ten didn’t feel their gifts made a difference because the organization didn’t inform them how their money was used.

Yikes! Shame is right. Shame on the nonprofit for failing to steward their donors. I learned from Jerry that stewardship must be “formalized in writing,” because it indicates “we mean business.” (Jerry’s words! Strong words! Pay attention!)

Mechanized Stewardship

All organizations should have a donor acknowledgement procedure for mechanized stewardship. These are the MUST-HAVE stewardship touch points for any nonprofit. We say “Thank them seven times” in the business. It’s a bit of a biblical number, but it works. Start with a process for getting donors a receipt within 48 hours. Call the donor by phone to thank them for their gifts immediately. I will even email and text. This says to a donor “We are paying attention and we care!” It also gives you an opportunity to say “Thank you” by phone and even talk to a donor about the meaning and impact of their gifts. But stewardship doesn’t stop there. Have the CEO write a personal thank-you note to the donor within a week. And get board members involved. Have a board member reach out with a phone call and/or a personal thank-you note to the donor, especially if they have a relationship. This should all be outlined in your stewardship procedures.

Personalized Stewardship

Send the donor a letter several months after their gift and include a few pictures. Let them know how their gifts were used. Remember that donors might not give again because they thought you didn’t need the money. Impact and results show donors that your organization has a lot of work to do in the community. They’re the reason you can do that work! Jerry has a “BOY” rule to follow, and I think it’s fantastic. “Because of you …” Because of your investment, we achieved this TOGETHER. And don’t forget that you’re probably going to see your donor out and about. Thank them for their continued support. Keep them apprised on how things are going with your organization. Some of the most substantive conversations I’ve had about nonprofits were not in an office. I’ve joked that I’ve run into more former governors and legislators at Target than in my office. Keep those conversations alive.

Honor the Donor

Be sure to have a recognition program. Perhaps it’s a society. And are you honoring your long-term donors separately? Anyone who has given 10 or 20 years consecutively should receive a listing in a separate group to denote their deep ties with your mission. Donors don’t need fancy plaques or trophies, but they do need recognition when and where appropriate.

So how is your stewardship program working or stacking up? Are you retaining donors? Are you building passion in your supporters, year after year? If you want to improve your stewardship work (and let’s face it, we all can improve), take this Stewardship Inventory from the Institute for Charitable Giving. I believe it will be not just insightful, but it will stir up a few ideas to take your stewardship program to the next level.

And to know more about donor psychology and how to better understand your donors, don’t miss Dr. Adrian Sargeant who will be with us August 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Remember: Stewardship is EVERYTHING!

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