Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Why Donor Stewardship is Essential, not Optional

I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.

Annie Dillard

Many fundraisers – and that includes executive directors and board members as well as development staff – are very good at cultivation and solicitation, and consequently, they succeed at securing significant funds for their mission.  Where even the best organizations fall behind is in stewardship. 

Cultivating and soliciting individual and major donors is only the beginning of a donor relationship.  If this is so obvious, then why is donor stewardship second only to crisis management as the primary lament of many executive directors as well as fundraisers. If an organization intends to maintain the support of its existing donors, donor stewardship is essential, not optional.  For many donors, a quarterly or annual report is as essential as receiving a personal note in a donor acknowledgment letter.

As recently as five years ago, the conventional wisdom prevailed that stewardship is solely the responsibility of the development department.  The reality is that sound program planning, following efficient systems for managing and reporting outputs and outcomes, and agreement on how the organization qualifies and quantifies impact, should be the priority of everyone in the organization.  All of which should also inform donor stewardship. 

Whether a major gift to your organization means $200 or $2,000, your individual giving program should have a unique strategy for stewardship, well beyond the cultivation and solicitation stage. It entails creating a comprehensive, coordinated fundraising program for individuals that includes:

  • understanding the individual’s relationship to your organization,
  • identifying strategies for approaching them for an ask,
  • balancing the need to be donor-focused on your program management and reporting, while meeting your organization’s financial needs, and
  • coordinating cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship activities with various staff

To be sure, instilling a culture of philanthropy and donor stewardship is the responsibility of the executive director.  Whether s/he sees the glass as half full or half empty ultimately informs the culture of the organization – from program managers to financial officers, communications staff, and of course, the development department.  Every contact a stakeholder has with a nonprofit has potential for positive or negative impressions.  In the case of individual and major donors, why not focus on the positive, and always strive for a full glass.

©Liz DiMarco Weinmann, B.E.A.M.-Impact Generator©

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Liz DiMarco Weinmann

Founder | Creator | Owner: B.E.A.M.-Impact Generator©