When I can’t sleep at night, I blame Imagine Canada’s sector monitor reports. They do a fantastic job of freaking me out about donor churn and the competition over charitable dollars.
Fundraising 101 tells us that the secret to controlling the horror is to reduce donor turnover. But despite the well-researched financial costs of letting current donors lapse, the push for many fundraisers today is to spend our time closing gifts, instead of stewarding those already in the door.
As a result, stewardship receives less attention and investment than it should. The standard approach is to ask for the gift, send out a thank you letter, wait a year, deliver the final report and immediately re-ask. Even worse, I often see stewardship taking second place to its flashier cousin “recognition.” Now there’s nothing wrong with recognition, but do you work in an organization that spends countless hours agonizing over giving levels, where to list donors’ names, how many trinkets they get and who should sign the thank you letter? Half the time this recognition isn’t worth the glue it took to stick it on the donor wall. Recognition may sweeten the proposal, but stewardship is what strengthens the relationship and keeps the gifts coming (and growing).
Don’t give in to the mindset that stewarding your donors will take too much time or effort. Set aside an hour each week to look after your peeps. Send out thoughtful, informal touch points before asking for the next gift. Try sending something out once every six weeks or so, and keep it up unless the donor tells you to cork it.
Towards the end of the year, gather those touch points as the outline/content for a more formal stewardship report. You’ll save time in the long run and stay top-of-mind with your donors, using palatable updates that they may actually have time to look at. I’ll spell out some easy ideas for content and delivery in a future blog, but here are a few basic tips to keep in mind:
- Wherever you can, reference the donors’ support by talking about the results of their investment.
- Avoid talking about your organization. For example, replace “We were proud to open the new homeless shelter this month” with “You helped shelter an additional 50 people this month.” See the awesome difference?
- Personalize. Use first names, visuals, anything handwritten. No time? Take a blue ballpoint pen and write a smiley face on the envelope. It’s better than nothing and shows that a happy human handled the correspondence.
- Don’t be afraid to use email – it’s quick and accessible, and less likely to be seen as an interruption. Don’t use mailchimp or constant contact – the mark of a contrived mass mailing – just send a very brief email with a link or image of something relevant.
Try it and see for yourself. You’ll sleep better at night! Enter your email above to follow my blog and you won’t miss my follow-up checklist of yummy stewardship ideas – coming soon!
– Siobhan : )
Great minds think a like! Fundraising is all about relationship management! Thanks again for such a fantastic blog you rockstar!
Thanks Diana – I owe you a glass of wine at the next AFP mingler! : )
Thanks Siobhan! Great to see someone noticing that Stewardship is critical. And it works! If I can’t reach a donor by phone, I write them a letter, mailed in a handwritten envelope. I refrain from using electronic communications for stewardship simply because it is perceived as far too casual for a sincere thanks. Of course, it is great for other forms of communication with donors!
Thanks Steph! We’re singing the same song as usual! : )