Key Steps to building a robust individual giving program, Part IV – Stewardship: come back and visit us often By Carl Sylvestre

Development is an ongoing process.   Securing a gift is not the end of the process but the beginning of the next phase.  Philanthropy is not a lifeless transaction that transfers money from one set of hands to another.  The focus of philanthropy is to help people recognize that they are in the business of spreading ideas.  To achieve this goal you have to remind your prospects turned donors that they are appreciated.

Defining Stewardship

Stewardship is the act of managing a relationship.  It is coming up with ways to make sure that the donor feels like a member of an extended family.  Stewarding the donor is critical to building good will as well as planting the seeds for future gifts.  When prospects become donors make sure that gifts are acknowledged.  Furthermore, the donor should be regularly informed of the progress of your work and the results that were facilitated from their individual gifts.  

If the donor is treated personally, professionally and kindly their confidence in the organization will continue to be affirmed.  This is where the hard work that has come before reaps its benefits.  It costs the organization money if you do not work hard to retain your donors.  Adding new donors is a time consuming and expensive undertaking and the return on investment increases over a period of time.  There are numerous challenges in the retention of donors, the number of nonprofit organizations increases annually and thus competition for contributions is far greater.

To counter act this reality, it is best to develop a concrete plan on how to keep in touch with your donors.  Be creative in figuring out the tools to make the right connections.  For new donors it starts by welcoming and thanking them quickly.  In acknowledging the gift, restate your mission and tell them what you are doing.  Whenever possible, send a hand written note as this is certain to make them feel special and to be reminded that their action is appreciated.

A key point in the stewardship process is to help your donors think about outcomes, not dollar amounts.  Whether you are asking for a small or large contribution, you need to keep making the case why your organization is the best place for a gift.  Help your supporters think about how far their dollars go and what their gifts accomplishes.  When you share your story and your successes with your audience, you turn unmotivated, occasional givers into engaged, regular donors.

Record Keeping

A key to achieving successful donor management is good record keeping. There are countless donor management systems on the market, ranging in price from free to tens of thousands of dollars.  Whether or not a dedicated computerized donor database is a worthwhile investment depends on the size of your donor pool, long-term goals, and the number of the organization’s staff that is dedicated to fundraising.

As part of the database you aim to capture the following:  

  • Donor names and contact info.
  • Date, amount and designation – how the money is to be used – of any gift received.
  • For pledges – amount of gift, number of payments, and payment dates.
  • Do not contact, do not solicit, do not email/mail/call requests that you must honor.

It helps to keep a brief record of any meetings or conversations with the donor or prospect where they indicate any likes or dislikes about your organization.  This information is the building block for future requests.

Challenges In Good Stewardship

Staff and even leadership turn over are some of the challenges in stewardship.  Regardless of what happens, the organization needs to be able to continue the relationship with the donor even if the primary contact person in the organization is no longer around.  In addition, keeping good records has financial and legal implications, especially if you are accepting donations for a certain program, you need to be able to demonstrate that the funds were spent as intended by the donor.

Keep Growing

Developing and growing an individual giving base is an on going process with the ability to learn at each step of the process.  As you build your program, you will be working continually with different prospects/donors who are at various phases in this process.  Do not lose sight of the final goal, which is helping you do the work that must be done.  That is how the program continues to evolve and grow.