Stewardship Made Simple: Ideas from the Field

Isn’t it great when something you enjoy is also good for you?  This may not be true of the macaroni and cheese I made last night, but it is true of donor stewardship.  We know the impact great stewardship can have – if you need a refresher check out these other great posts:  

However, most organizations still don’t dedicate adequate time or resources to stewardship.  Maybe we think it’s too good to be true, that something that feels great and is so much fun can also be one of the most effective ways to drive sustainability.

Consider this quote from a donor, “We need three things.  A timely, authentic, personal thank you. Assurance that the money is being managed well.  Connection to the impact of our investments.  Give us that and we will give again.”thank you

So go ahead and treat yourself to a little stewardship, you’ve earned it.  And, to get you started, here are a few ideas we’ve pulled together:

  • Be creative & diverse with your thank you calls.  Utilize clients in your thank-a-thons so donors can hear directly from those impacted by their contributions.  Have your CEO call to thank supporters for ALL they do. Use specifics to speak to their contributions of intellect and wisdom, as well as time, talent, contacts and treasure. 
  • Provide donors with a personalized welcome kit.  NSPCC, an organization in the UK, had a staff member write all new donors a personal message: “Dear… My name is Martha.  I’ve been working here for the past 15 years.  I’m a mother and grandmother.  From time to time, I’ll write you and let you know how we are spending your money, how things are going.  Welcome to our NSPCC family and thank you for joining us.”
  • Hold accountability visits with top donors.  We know how powerful these visits can be, but rarely engage our donors in them.  The focus should be on your financial position and how their investment is being used to create impact.
  • Recognize loved ones. Do you have a volunteer that gives a lot of their time?  Send a token of appreciation to their significant other thanking them for sharing their loved one with you.
  • Hold a family-style recognition dinner and mix the seating so donors, volunteers, program participants and board members all get to interact and hear from one another.  
  • Create a brief video with thanks from clients, staff, and volunteers, along with shots of your mission in action. It doesn’t need to be fancy, thanks to You Tube we have a high tolerance for amateur video.  Just be sure to include different voices and keep it short.  A two-minute video is a great tool for donor visits, bring your tablet and start your visit with a great demonstration of impact or, for those donors you can’t meet in person, email the video with a personal message of thanks.
  • We often remember to celebrate birthdays or major holidays, but find unexpected times to reach out that will set you apart.  How about something for St. Patrick’s Day sharing how lucky your organization is to have such incredible supporters?
  • If you do celebrate birthdays, make it memorable.  At the Alzheimer’s Association, for a donor’s 90th birthday, they put together 90 cards from board members, volunteers, staff and clients. One card stood out that said “because you were born, there is hope for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.” It was personal, meaningful and unexpected. The donor is now 98 and the family still talks about this.
  • When you get a donation from a nice restaurant, use it as a donor thank you.  Arrange for a special album with photos and notes from clients to be waiting at their table to show their gifts in action.
  • Make your stewardship moves relevant and specific.  After a family funded four research projects over ten years, the gift officer reached out to the researchers to gather updates, pictures from the lab and results of their work and packaged this together.  The donor was surprised by this unexpected and personal piece and was touched to see the impact their gifts continued to have. 
  • Recognize loyalty, not just the amount of giving.  Provide special recognition for consecutive giving milestones (i.e. 5, 10, 25 years).  Regardless of the size of their gifts, make sure donors know their loyalty is valued and appreciated.
  • Utilize social media.  Post recognition on Facebook, Linked In or other sites so your donors’ networks can see their contributions and accomplishments.
  • Put systems in place for great stewardship.  Require gift officers to uncover motivation and preferences for donors and use to tailor stewardship. Ensure that stewardship comes from the right people, via the most effective mediums.  Stewardship is a powerful move and should be proactive and strategic.  Track metrics to manage performance and monitor success. 

Can You Teach Generosity? Yes.

For so much of the country these past few weeks have offered plenty of time – way too kids-give-back_square_300x300much time! – to be inventing things to do with school-aged kids, who seem to be in a perpetual cycle of snow days…  We’ve cleaned closets.  We’ve gone through artwork, long stashed under the bed.  We’d played endless charades.  We’ve read.  And read.  And read.  We’re coming to the end of our rope!  Then The New York Times offered this great piece on engaging kids in a conversation about giving.  Can you teach generosity?  This article gave some great suggestions on how to answer, “yes!”  It spurred an interesting conversation for us and a great afternoon of research and weighing of options.

Kids at home or not, we’ve all got a stake in getting this right.

  • We wrote earlier this year about how much our organizations benefit when we engage the whole family in service.
  • So many organizations are looking for those “next generation” board members who embrace serving others and the community.
  • Universities are increasingly recognizing the difference they can make, in their own futures and in the citizens they produce, when they teach philanthropy throughout the curriculum.

I like to imagine a future where this generation knows how to give as well as they know how to manage a checking account and their Twitter feed!