Murray Landa: Why great stewardship is Job One

By Murray Landa

Leave A Legacy month should remind us of why we do what we do, and also the key activities we must do especially well to succeed. When it comes to key activities, in my view great stewardship is Job One.  Why is this so? Here are six  reasons:

  1. it’s the right thing to do. Charities should be accountable to donors for the use of their contributions whether they give again or not;
  2. great stewardship enhances trust. Enhanced trust leads to stronger, deeper ongoing relationships;
  3.  strong, ongoing relationships lead to more gifts from donors who have seen and are happy with what their prior giving has accomplished (because you let them know what they accomplished);
  4. repeat giving opportunities which arise naturally (thanks to your conscientious reporting) provide a much easier way to raise money than finding new donors;
  5. a number of major and planned gifts come from donors who are satisfied with the outcomes of their prior gifts. Show them the impact they’ve made with their gifts;
  6. you set your organization apart from those who don’t steward well. Yes, we live in a competitive environment.

Ask yourself how regularly and in what ways your organization reports to donors on the outcomes of their gifts. Do you send written endowment fund reports? Do you meet face to face? How much detail do you provide?

Many donors will give more if you stay in touch and let them know what’s going on. Information blackouts deprive your donors of the joy of giving more; they also deprive your constituents.

What are the keys to stewardship success? You must create a consistent, systematic approach which is responsive to each donor’s requirements and your organization’s capacity to follow through.

For example, if your institution carries out research and the donor has made a significant current gift in support of it, you should arrange for the donor to meet annually with the lead researcher for an update regarding progress made as a result of the gift, and any remaining research hurdles. These meetings are not difficult to arrange, are greatly appreciated by donors, and will lead to more support from many.  Such stewardship meetings provide you with natural opportunities to meet your donors on a regular basis.  This is much easier and more productive than trying to arrange meetings with cold prospects.

Here’s another simple, effective stewardship activity: report to your insurance donors on the status of their insurance policies which are owned your organization. When you receive the annual account statement from the insurer, pass a copy on to the donor with your thanks. Do this each year, consistently. You may find that some donors will make new current gifts without being asked. This activity is part of reporting to the donor on an outcome achieved through his or her giving, namely, the status of the insurance policy.

If you’re struggling with stewardship, consider an internal “stewardship  audit”. Ask yourself questions like: how are we stewarding our donors now? Are there any gaps? What can we do to improve our reporting/stewardship capabilities and activities? What best practices have been adopted by organizations similar to ours?  Are there any individual donors where there might be more, or more natural, stewardship opportunities? Have we dropped the ball with anyone, especially our top donors? If so, how might we best salvage the relationship(s)?

If you do an exercise like this, you’ll likely find room for improvement. Make the necessary improvements and you’ll find positive responses from your donors.

Often, it’s the simple things that work best. Caring, courtesy and common sense go a long way.

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