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Top 10 Donor Stewardship “Rules” to Ensure That Your Fundraising Thrives, Part 2

Resource Center - Foundation

by Mena Gainpaulsingh

Read Part I

menaGood donor stewardship is king in successful fundraising.  When you treat your donors with respect and help them to feel appreciated, not only will they stay on board, they will feel encouraged, and maybe even compelled, to give more.  More the point, they will feel good about it.

You can find Part 1 and my first five ways to building a strong donor stewardship program here. And now, here are the next five!

Respect Donor Wishes

This is a seemingly obvious part of donor stewardship, but ensuring that you treat donors how they expect to be treated is essential.  That means that if they say do not call, don’t call.  If they want only one appeal a year, then ensure one appeal is all they get.  If they ask for their details to be changed, ensure that it is done promptly. 

This isn’t just about not annoying donors. To you, receiving unwanted contact might be an irritant, but to others it can mean much more. I still remember an incident as a junior fundraiser when I received a call from a man who was clearly distressed.  He came onto the phone ranting, saying that he had told the organization several times to stop sending appeals to his wife, but he was still getting them.  Once he’d calmed down, he explained that his wife had died and receiving the appeals was causing him a great deal of distress. Of course, I ensured that the details were changed right away.

Treat Donors Like Real People, Not a Bank Account 

This is probably one of the main reasons I hear from donors why they get upset. Often, the approach taken by charities is borne of good intentions, where charities are concerned about “hounding” their donors and contacting them too much.  But what often happens instead is that donors are ONLY contacted when there is an ask for money.

This comes down to building an authentic relationship where trust is built because people are getting the experience that they should. Donors give because it feels good to do so, but donors will only feel good if they are communicated with, thanked, involved and are kept up to date with how their support is making a difference. They want to know that they are part of your success. By only talking to your donors about money, and not seeing them as real people, you are not stewarding your donors properly.  

Get to Know Them

What a lot of this comes down to is how well you know your donors. The best fundraising takes place when you know your donors well.  Whether you get to know them better by analysing your donor data and determining how people are responding to you, or whether you are consulting them more directly, it’s so helpful when you know what makes your donors tick.

By truly understanding motivations and how people want to be communicated with—and by presenting them with opportunities that fit with their interests and circumstances—you can develop meaningful relationships, that not only build donor loyalty, but encourage them to increase their support over time.

Have a Strategy 

In simple terms, this means being systematic and strategic about what you do when it comes to donor stewardship. The intention with your strategy is to have clear goals related to each activity and ensure that each interaction is moving towards these goals. 

While raising money may be the ultimate objective of your fundraising operation, it might not be the goal of specific activities within your stewardship plan.  You may be more focused upon building an emotional connection, increasing understanding of an issue, or getting to know your donors better. Whatever your goal, make sure that everything in your strategy is aimed at achieving it.   

Be Prepared to Invest

A common concern I hear from fundraisers is that that they don’t have the time to steward donors properly. My view is, if you have the time to ask, you need to make the time to steward—and to steward well.  Your donors won’t stay if you don’t.  

The fact is, donor stewardship is not free.  It costs time and money to steward your donor base so you need to plan and budget for it.  As your donor base grows, so will your need for stewardship. As your funding base gets more diverse, you will need to work harder to keep everything on track. You may also need to become more creative with your plan, with good systems and with segmentation that can help you manage that. You may even need to grow your team so that people are treated in a way that they should expect. 

Are there any key stewardship rules that I’ve missed? What do you do in your organization that donors really love?  I’d love to hear from you!

Mena Gainpaulsingh is the founder and CEO of Purposeful Fundraising, a consultancy firm that supports organizations to strengthen their fundraising expertise and capacity so that they can raise more money.  Mena volunteers on the Board of the AFP Ottawa Chapter as vice president of professional development and is on the Steering Committee for Prime Ministers Row, an initiative to create Canada’s first street museum.

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