Sunday, 28 February 2016

Donor stewardship, the secret to success...again and again!

I was at an Institute of Fundraising Scotland Major Gifts Special Interest Group recently for a really interesting discussion around the subject of stewardship and I started thinking about the dos and don'ts. 

As I've written about before, the relationship building is what fundraising is all about. Strip everything else aside, even the essentials: the research, the theories on moves management, the strategies and all the rest, and what we are there to do is to introduce others to what our organisations are passionate about, and to excite others. There is no point in having robust procedures if you have no-one to use them out on!

The most effective way to build a relationship is one based on trust between the prospective donor and the organisation: with the fundraiser as the conduit. Cultivation towards a gift relies on this, but stewardship is also based upon this.

Once a gift has been secured, we must thank, thank and thank again. A donor should see the impact of their gift, and know that they have made a difference to your organisation. A major gift should be thanked at the appropriate level too and should be bespoke. If a donor has made a decision to support your organisation at a significant level, we don't want them to feel that they are one of the crowd. They are special. They have supported our cause and we think they are AMAZING.

So, some dos and donts of stewardship...


…manage the donor’s expectations from the very start of the relationship: ensure you have a good understanding of donor motivations.

…process gifts efficiently and send out receipts and thank-you letters quickly.

...produce bespoke impact reports and update letters and let a donor see what their gift has achieved by introducing them to those that have benefited where possible (and where that is what the donor wants). creative in your thanking - inventive is memorable.

...facilitate the opportunity for your donors to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of your organisation if they want to.

...enable a donor to develop relationships with those on the ground and those at the very top, if that is what they want.

…ask a donor for something other than money: their time and expertise is of huge value.

…listen to the donor – give them the experience they want (you can ask them!).


…make assumptions about the interests of your donors. You may think you know them because they have made a gift to a project, but get to know them further and you never know what interests you might uncover.

…make promises that you, or your organisation, can’t live up to.

…hide the fact that a project funded by the donor is having problems. Be honest and open and the donor themselves might like to feed into some problem solving. It will only be worse if they find out that you have hidden something down the line.

…assume that someone once to be thanked publicly, ensure you check with the donor before making any announcements.

Do you have some others to add to the list?


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