Donor Stewardship: More than a ‘Thank You’

By | March 21, 2014

“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” – Henri Frederic Amiel, 19th century philosopher and poet

“Those of us who make planned gifts do not expect, nor do we want, lavish thank-you presents or excessive recognition. However, we do want to know that the organizations we support appreciate our philanthropy and will use our gift in the way we intend.” – H. Gerry Lenfest, 21st century philanthropist and Giving Pledge member

Stewardship is undeniably an essential part of any development effort, whether for annual fund, capital, or planned giving support.

Much of what is required for good, solid stewardship is simple common sense. Unfortunately, it’s far too often not common practice. That’s why mega-donor H. Gerry Lenfest reminded nonprofit professionals of the importance of stewardship when he wrote the Foreword for my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Good stewardship means sending out an appropriate thank-you letter immediately after receiving a gift. But, as Henri Frederic Amiel pointed out, gratitude is about much more than simply sending a thank-you letter. Organizations need to demonstrate that they truly appreciate the support of donors.

As Lenfest suggests, stewardship need not involve a huge expense and lots of trinkets. Let’s face it, planned giving donors, for example, don’t exactly want a t-shirt that says, “I’m dying to give!” Instead, stewardship should involve a show of appreciation and an explanation of how gifts have been or will be used.

Janet L. Hedrick, author of Effective Donor Relations, asserts that donors should be thanked seven times for each gift. This does not mean one has to send seven thank-you letters. One should be much more creative than that. However, it does mean that one should look for multiple ways to express appreciation once a donor makes a gift. For example, here is a list of seven ways an organization can show its appreciation:

  1. The donor gets a written thank-you letter from the development professional within two business days of a gift or gift commitment being received.
  2. The organization’s CEO or Board Chair sends a thank-you letter.
  3. A board member calls the donor within a week of receipt of the gift to express appreciation.
  4. The organization thanks donors by name, unless the gift was anonymous, in its newsletter.
  5. The organization thanks donors by name, unless the gift was anonymous, in its annual report.
  6. The donor gets thanked with an invitation to a donor recognition event.
  7. The donor gets thanked at other types of events throughout the year.

Legendary fundraiser James M. Greenfield, author of several books including Fund Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process, reveals the benefits associated with a luncheon event to recognize planned gift donors:

“Hosting an annual luncheon for planned gift contributors has multiple benefits for each participant. First, they are reengaged after the gift has been made. Second, they can share this special time with one or two family members and/or their financial advisor who they are encouraged to bring as their guests. Third, they can enhance their legacy by serving as a testimonial for gift planning by sharing their story, which can also be used for a newsletter, magazine, or annual report. Fourth, led by a volunteer member of the planned gifts committee, the luncheon program should feature the CEO and professional staff members’ reports on current activities and future plans.”

As Greenfield suggests, thanking donors has many benefits. And, when the show of appreciation includes information about how gifts have been or will be used, donors will appreciate the effort and powerful things will happen as a result.

For example, I once implemented a phone fundraising campaign for a hospital. For our control group, we simply explained the purpose of the current campaign and asked for support. For the test group, we told prospects how annual fund support was used in the previous year. Then, we told them the purpose of the current campaign and asked for their support. The test group, generated 68 percent more support than the control group!

In the context of planned giving, Lenfest, from the donor’s perspective, puts it this way:

“Do not make the mistake of forgetting about us once you receive our gift commitment. We may truly appreciate how efficiently and effectively you handle contributed funds so much that we entrust you with another planned gift. We are also in a position to influence others to do the same, so bringing together current and prospective planned gift donors for an informational event may have a very good outcome. Publishing stories — with or without the use of the donor’s name — can show prospects the many backgrounds of planned gift donors. Even a reluctant philanthropist may be urged to serve as an example for others to follow.”

When it comes to stewardship, remember these three simple things:

  1. Thank donors promptly and warmly.
  2. Give donors information about how gifts are or will be used.
  3. Honor the intentions of donors. Use a donor’s gift how you told the donor it would be used. Recognize the donor in the way you agreed to.

If you do these three things, you’re organization will distinguish itself from many other nonprofits and will be better able to maintain and increase the support of its existing donors while attracting new support as well.

This article originally appeared on the blog, Michael Rosen Says.

Category: Articles Planned Giving Stewardship Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

About Michael Rosen

Michael J. Rosen, CFRE is President of ML Innovations, a fundraising and marketing consulting firm. Michael has received the AFP-Skystone Partners Prize for Research in Fundraising and Philanthropy for his best-selling book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing [http://amzn.to/ffsvHM], which has been included on the official CFRE International Resource Reading List. He has served as President of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning of Greater Philadelphia, Vice President of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Philadelphia Chapter, Board Chairman of the AFP Political Action Committee, and Board Member of the national AFP Foundation. Active in the community, Michael has served on a variety of nonprofit boards for organizations such as the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, the Pennsbury Scholarship Foundation, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. He currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Ark Theatre in Los Angeles. He is the host of the popular blog Michael Rosen Says… and can be followed on Twitter @mlinnovations.

2 thoughts on “Donor Stewardship: More than a ‘Thank You’

  1. Pingback: [Headlines] Can Taking a Break Lead to a Breakthrough? |

  2. Pingback: The Art of Donor Stewardship - #fundchat

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *