Understanding Stewardship by Karin Maier
The donor-organization relationship does not end with a charitable gift – it begins at that point. Responsible and effective stewarding of donors is what a non-profit practices (or should be practicing) from the moment a gift is received until the relationship with the donor has ended. Excellent stewardship is about cultivating and supporting relationships with individuals, groups and organizations, and is expressed through the cooperative planning and management of charitable resources.
Understanding stewardship and how to build and sustain bonds with donors is integral to fundraising. The relationships that you cultivate can be enhanced and sustained over time to the benefit of your cause and the well-being of all concerned – including your donors.
Dodging Tough Times: How Stewardship Programs Can Make All the Difference (the results and conclusions of a 2010 survey of major donor cultivation and recognition practices of charities in Canada) discovered that if your organization has a stewardship program in place, this practice may play a role in cushioning the impact non-profits face during challenging economic times. Beyond the fact that formal stewardship programs are relatively new compared to standard donor recognition (i.e. donor walls and annual reports) it is also a far more complex process as well.
Stewardship is more than sending out a thank-you note. A thank-you is the primary response to receiving a gift; however, the primary objective of stewardship is to secure the next gift. The organization must deliver what they promise and demonstrate that they truly appreciate the support of donors. Thus, it is essential to build a real bond between the organization and the donor.
According to Julia Emlen’s Intentional Stewardship: Bringing Your Donors to Their Highest Level of Philanthropy, a good stewardship program seeks to promote eight key behaviours among donors:
- Giving regularly
- Giving to priorities
- Giving in usable ways
- Giving to capacity
- Feeling recognized
- Willingness to participate
- Spreading the message
- Bringing others along
Because donors are often your biggest public ambassadors – keep them engaged by making sure they know what’s going on and have relevant information at their fingertips. Send them your newsletter, via email or print. Send them holiday and/or birthday cards. Invite them to upcoming organization events. Send newspaper clippings on topics that will pique their interest. Be proactive and ask questions.
When it comes to stewardship, remember these three things:
- Thank donors promptly and warmly.
- Give donors information about how gifts are or will be used.
- Honour the intentions of donors. Use a donor’s gift how you told the donor it would be used. Recognize the donor in the way you agreed to.
If you do these three things, your organization will distinguish itself from many other non-profits and will be better at maintaining and increasing the support of its existing donors while attracting new support as well.