Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stewardship: It Really Matters

Excellent stewardship is rooted in good manners and basic relationship building skills. Remember when you received that 8th birthday gift from your Aunt Blanche and your mother had you call her in Maryland and mail her a thank you note? Your mother taught you a few fundamental action steps of gift acknowledgment and proper etiquette. One should always thank someone repeatedly for their generosity and consideration to help strengthen the relationship between the two parties.

Great stewardship relies on great communication; after all, successful communication is necessary in all great relationships. How long does a relationship last with a friend that you do not communicate with regularly? How strong is that relationship? How frequently do you email, tweet, and send LinkedIn and Facebook messages to your friends and colleagues? If your friend, mother, spouse, or business associate gave you a gift and you did not thank them or show appreciation for the gift, how long would you be friends? Positive communication and rapport are the bedrock of philanthropic stewardship. Effective fundraising stewardship of a gift starts with the initial first expression of gratitude from the leadership of the organization.

An ongoing process of educating and reporting information to donors about their gifts and the impact they continue to make on the individuals and environments that the contributions touch should be consistent in all stewardship efforts. Since a gift is a significant expression about how a person feels about the organization, the way one acknowledges the gift should be honored as such. Contributions are meaningful and every organization ought to take the time to acknowledge gifts so that it is known how greatly one appreciates the contributions.

Successful development program always have an effective stewardship plan and program. One-time donations may be the way that most people are first introduced to the world of philanthropy but the most important lasting contributions are usually the ones where the donor has developed a relationship with the organization. These relationships are built through effective oral and written communication. It is through effectively integrated media and the delicate persistence of ongoing cultivation that the donor is aware of the major events, challenges, and successes of an organization.

The type of stewardship actions deployed by fundraisers depends on the level of the gift and is the personal interaction and informational exchange that the organization has with donors. Stewardship actions are vital and critical to any successful development program. These carefully crafted action steps help to strengthen the relationship between the organization and the donor, which begin to pave the way for new and increased contributions.

Noteworthy Steps to Effectively Steward Gifts

1.) Acknowledge, Acknowledge, Acknowledge! Get that thank you letter out within 48 hours. Make sure that you use the appropriate spelling, title, and name of the donor and make sure you acknowledge all parties throughout the relationship

2.) Keep your donors informed, educated, and happy. Knowledge is power and you want your donors to have the power to make an educated decision why your organization should be the recipient of their next major gift or bequest.

3.) Only use the gift for the purposes allowed! Make sure you follow the donor’s wishes.

4.) Report and Rapport! Provide informative data and reports to update donors regarding contribution uses and benefits and to provide a status briefing of the organization. Effective communication is critical for successful development programs. Remember to treat your donors honestly, sincerely, and respectfully.

5.) Develop a strategy for each level of gift, or with larger gifts or donors on the cultivation list, and develop individual strategies for the next contribution.

6.) Remember that in most cases the next big gift will be from a previous donor. The same energy and effort should be employed to secure subsequent gifts as the effort to obtain the first gift.

7.) Donors are unique and have unique needs. Tailor and personalize your efforts to meet the needs of your donors.

8.) If donors do not respond to your telephone calls, emails, or correspondence, do not lose faith! They may still be reading what you send them. Consistency in communication is key to yielding results.

9.) Meet and befriend the family! Intergenerational stewardship is important. Just because you have a relationship with one family member does not mean that you have the same relationship with the family. Remember every donor is unique and has unique interests. New sources of wealth and leadership may be a generation or a 
family member away, which could wield amazing results for your organization.

A fundamental thought in fund development is that if donors feel appreciated and respected, and the organization has been an effective steward of their gifts, the donors will continue to repeat and possibly expand their contributions. Personal attention and expressions of gratitude are paramount to stewarding relationships. Well treated donors are more likely to be happy and satisfied with the organization; therefore, these donors are more likely to make repeat or increased contributions in the future.

Remember loyal donors have loyal fundraisers cultivating and stewarding their relationships. This process starts when you first receive the gift and continues with effective communication throughout the relationship. Effective stewardship is the best way to nurture burgeoning relationships and resources to promote favorable behavior. Effective stewardship is necessary to encourage increased donor loyalty and helps to promote an expanding base of support for ongoing philanthropic relationships. Lastly, effective stewardship involves how faithful and responsible fundraisers and organizations are towards the contributions entrusted to them.

- Tiffany Edwards, CRFE  
   for  The Grant Guru

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