We often talk in fundraising about donor prospecting, cultivation and the all important “ask” – but equally significant for successful relationship building with our supporters is donor stewardship.
Stewardship is defined as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”
Every gift that we receive from a donor, large or small is an act of trust.
Donors are trusting that we will use their money in the ways we’ve said that we will. And in a world where financial scandals are reported daily and faith in systems and the people who run them is weaker than ever, this part of our job is even more crucial.
What are the key aspects of good donor stewardship?
1. Honor the intent – Did you receive the gift in response to a targeted appeal? Did the donor send in a note with their gift expressing interest in a specific program? Then that’s where their money needs to go. Talk with the donor about why they are choosing to give to you. Record and respond to their interest.
2. Be Transparent and Honest – Every donor wants to know, “How will my money be spent?” Don’t use fancy marketing or vague lawyer speak to answer this question. We all feel suspicious of that sort of thing. Instead be explicit about organizational costs and expenses using simple language and terms that are easy to understand.
3. Report on successes and challenges – Donors want to hear from us about how their money was used. Did their contribution make a difference? The stories we share about what is made possible because of donor generosity is the pulsing heart that keeps our organizations alive and thriving.
4. Remember where the money comes from – We are simply intermediaries between the donor and their passion. We are helping them do what they want to do in the world. So the money might change bank accounts but it’s never ours.
5. Be your donor’s best friend - Don’t take your donors for granted. No relationship is static. Donors literally have thousands of choices of where to give their money. What will keep them giving to you is the relationship you nurture and build with them.
As passionate crusaders for our cause we can easily slip into the belief that we “deserve this money” and forget how important donor stewardship is.
But as the charities who’ve had to close their doors in the past two years know, without our donors our organizations will not survive. So follow these five basics of donor stewardship and honor the trust your donors place in you each time they make a gift.