Step 4: Donor Recognition and Stewardship: Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Gina Eisler, an avid sailboat racer, lives for speed, intensity and the desire to win. On land, she takes these qualities and successfully applies it to fundraising. Similar to life on the water, Gina realizes that capital campaigns, major gifts, annual appeals, special events and planned giving, are competitive and require hard work from a team of dedicated individuals, yet the thrills of victory are worth the effort.
Gina’s life on land has led to tremendous opportunities and achievements. She has incredible experience working with health charities including two children’s hospitals, long-term care, teaching and research facilities and community hospitals. She has managed and directed major gift campaigns from $1.2 million to $100 million.
Gina shares her experience with giving and stewardship, serving as a reminder that fundraising and philanthropy are about one thing: the people.
How does one with a degree in English Literature and Sociology stumble upon the not-for-profit sector?
It’s interesting because it was 1988 and there weren’t a lot of jobs available. I managed to fall into it through a friend of a friend telling me about a grant available by the Manitoba Arts Council and Literary Arts Resource Centre. They hired me for a small fee to create an arts calendar to promote the gallery, theatre and other subscriber’s events in Winnipeg. Unfortunately when the money ran out, so did the calendar. Then I worked at the Manitoba Writers’ Guild writing proposals and grants and from there I went to a hospital foundation to work on a capital campaign.
What is the greatest concern regarding stewardship programs in Canada?
Board members don’t understand the need to invest. If you invest today, the rewards come later. I see donors not seeing their recognition or impact of their gift, or where organizations take the money and never properly thank the donor. It is much easier to build long term relationships than it is to constantly seek new donors.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned regarding recognition and stewardship?
The biggest lesson is that you can’t expect people to keep giving if they have never been stewarded or thanked. You have to do it. You also have to really know your donors. I recently had an experience where a donor got upset about his recognition being across from a washroom. Given Canada’s multicultural donor environment, we have to remember cultural sensitivity—including feng shui.
What is the main factor that you need to consider when creating a donor stewardship program?
The number one factor is talk to the donor. You need to have a good enough relationship to have a sense of what they would like, ensuring time and money are not wasted. You also have to know your community and work within the confines of your own organization, its mission, budget, and long term goals.
What are the best ways to show appreciation for a donor?
They are all different, so you have to listen to them. Honesty is above all things and you have to say thank you. It is like a form of show and tell, you have to show them their impact and tell them about it. Everyone wants to believe they have changed a life, or lives, through their gift, so we need to have stories to share about the organization’s mission.
Do you have any tips or advice for being an effective steward?
You have to be sincere and make them realize that there are many stakeholders. Meaning, a person who accepts the gift may be different than the person who implements it. You have to be honest with the donor about what’s going on and tell them if their gift will be utilized in a different way. And you have to learn to write very short thank you cards; in a few words let them know their impact and how important it is to give.
What does a ‘vigilant fundraiser’ look like to you?
A ‘vigilant fundraiser’ never gives up and doesn’t get discouraged. For instance, you can ask a lot of people but secure a small number of gifts. You need to have your eyes and ears open at all times. You’re like a Nancy Drew looking for clues. So you need to be a cross between a private detective and a matchmaker.
Julie Dorsey is a Writer for The Goldie Company. She interviewed Gina Eisler for her thoughts on stewardship and donor recognition.