Stewarding Your Donors
By Jill Paul and Julia Riseman
Stewardship is more than "Thank You", although that is important. More than anything it is about relationships.
Stewardship includes all the touches you have with a donor, when you have just them in focus ... and it usually is after a gift. Stewardship is not an "ask." It takes place after you have asked them to be part of creating something beautiful together. It is all the things you do to keep them connected and involved at camp, or with other fans of camp.
Stewardship is when you continue to communicate clearly and concisely that their gift has traction. Stewardship is all the continued communication where the content is so compelling they'd stay awake to read it. It must be done so consistently and convincingly with confidence that they are not in doubt as to its longevity and impact.
Most importantly it is not the time to lose them as champions for camp. It is after the gift when many people are forgotten; we work so hard to get the gift and then don't pay enough attention after the gift. Yet, it is at this time that a person is faced with the decision to continue to be involved or not.
Now - during the stewardship phase - is the time to increase their impact on your camp. Just as when you started this process of raising money, you had to think of your donors as individuals and what made them unique. You had to get to know their "group" - parent of campers, or alumni who camped in the 40's or past presidents. Now is the time to continue to pay attention to them as a person and individual: What is important to them? Do they play guitar? Interested in cooking? Have them see how it's done at camp. How you communicate should be different for each group. What you send to or do with past presidents is different than what you do for recent parents of a camper.
In her landmark book Donor Centered Fundraising, researcher Penelope Burk elevates the importance of Stewardship. She says there are three things donors want from the nonprofit organizations they support. If they can get these three things, Burk says, they will continue their support and increase their levels of giving.
- Prompt, personalized acknowledgment of their gifts.
- Confirmation that their gifts have been put to work as intended. "Your gift to kitchen equipment meant we were able to buy the biggest pot you ever saw that cooks the best ever soups for campers."
- Measurable results from their donation at work prior to being asked for another contribution.
So your job during the Stewardship phase is all about keeping them as champions - informing them of what is happening at camp and giving them more and more opportunities to know you better, bring them closer to you and your cause. And reconnecting to the vision... How are you going to do this?
- Have a plan. This sample plan shows what stewardship will take place for gifts at different amounts. This should be approved by the board so they know what you are doing. Here is another plan format - done monthly.
- Think of thanking and connecting with them seven times in seven ways. Here is a list on our website divided by how you connect. Be clear about WHAT you want to do; WHO will do it; by WHEN. Be creative. Consider actions that would be meaningful to the donor and their relationship with your camp.
- Publicly share your list of donors. Here are some ideas: a list of donors on the web-site, produce an annual report, create a donor recognition wall at camp, hang a printed banner with donor names up in the Dining Hall.
- How about having campers write thank you notes that are sent to every scholarship donor? Here is an example from Camp Tamarack.
- Involve your board and important volunteers with help stewarding your top donors. Here is an idea from Jef Nobbe from Camp Solomon Schechter in Seattle. He asks each Board member to choose 3-4 top donors as their responsibility. Each month he sends a suggested message with a photo to the Board member and they in turn make it personal and send it out to the donor. Each touch should be meaningful, feel genuine and be sincere. He has mapped out 12 timely communication ideas in advance. See sample document here.
- Each spring, have the Executive Director or Camp Director call Camp's top donors with an update, and just thank them for their gift.
- Have Board members write hand written "thank you cards" at every Board meeting.
- Personally invite the donor to the Camp Open House in the summer. Encourage them to come by offering to buy their BBQ lunch; if they do come, make sure you find them, thank them for coming and give them the grand tour.
- Another camp stays connected to donors by sending out targeted Constant Contact emails with updates from camp, or research on a topic of interest, such as more information about the importance of camping.
If you create a donor newsletter or produce an annual report (and in ALL of your communications), remember that the goal is to always connect back to the vision and to remind them that they are part of a community. Focus on what has been accomplished with their contribution. Donors generally give because they want to support the work of the organization, not because they want to support the organization in and of itself. It's not just camp but what happens at camp. For example, mention the "life-long conversations have begun for 32 girls in the new bunk house you helped fund."
Learn the most important word of donor communications: "you." For example, stay away from reporting "Construction of our new Israeli village at camp was finished last spring and cost $23,000 to build." Instead use active words that connect with the donor: "You can't believe how much our campers are learning and enjoying the new Israeli village that you helped fund. With dress up clothes and skits, the children are experiencing the old stories for themselves. Here are some photos, but please come see it for yourself this summer." "You" is a word that leaps off the paper for donors and draws them in. Use it in the letter's opening sentence, and use it often. This helps to make donors feel they are involved in the process of the organization's work.
Avoid the overused thank you letter opener: "Thank you for your generous gift of ..." Be original and make it count. How about "You are a hero, not only to your daughter but for the thousands of young adults who will sing camp songs with us this year?" In fact invite them to teach a few songs. Engage them in the work you are doing thanks to their support. Assume that your thank you letter is only skimmed for a few seconds, but that everyone reads the P.S. at the bottom - so focus on your message here: For example: "P.S., I'd love to hear from you about your experience or if you are interested in participating as a regular volunteer. You can reach me directly at ..."
And for goodness sake, if they are paying a pledge, don't send an invoice. Thank them for their pledge and invite them to continue to support the camp, and provide a stamped return envelope.
In Summary, effective STEWARDSHIP is:
PS I LOVE YOU:
Like the life of a butterfly, fundraising is a cycle; Stewardship is the finial and most beautiful stage. Moving donors from their first-time gift, to their second gift, to the habit of giving, to becoming a loyal and life-long donor requires steps and strategies for stewardship. Finally Stewardship deepens the connection between the donor's values and the camp's values. Stewardship demonstrates respect for the partnership between the camp and its donors.
Plan ahead for Stewardship, and keep the conversation going with your donors. Now is when you are in the process of engaging their talents and abilities, and demonstrating the impact of those gifts. You really don't want to drop the ball during this stage, so be sure you follow up with questions and requests from your donors. Good things will follow. They will feel the beauty of what you are doing and feel the impact of the camp in the lives of their community. What you are doing is making them champions - because through giving they have experienced something wonderful, know you better, and understand the camp's priorities as it relates to them - and in return they will love you and talk about their relationship to your camp with others.