How to Knock Stewardship out of the Park

Feb 8, 2019Board, Donors, Leadership

Valuable-Advice-on-Stewarding-Your-Donors Board Donors Leadership

Ralph, my significant, had a smile of his face when he handed me a handwritten note he had just received. He said, “you have to read this!” He had been the executive profiled in the local business journal and made a statement that “fairytales do come true.” Unrelated, Childcare Resources, a local nonprofit, had an upcoming fairytale ball. Connecting the dots, the director of development Morgan Hargrove wrote to Ralph to congratulate him on his career successes, connected the fairytale dots, and invited him to the upcoming ball. After receiving such a thoughtful note from Morgan, he gladly supported the organization by buying tickets for his grandchildren to attend!

I was so impressed with Morgan writing Ralph this congratulatory and personal note. They did not know each other. After watching Morgan for several months, I sat down with her to get her take on stewardship.

How do you practice stewardship?

Morgan learned early from her mom to be grateful and say thank you. She could not play with a new toy or gift until she called or wrote a thank you note. “I now love writing notes. I do it all the time. It is just an easy thing to do.

No one ever gets upset from my saying thank you. So why not say it as much as you possibly can?” added Morgan.

We sometimes take donors for granted. We think donors know we are grateful for their support. “Not true,” says Morgan. It is important to always let our donors know how grateful we are for their continued support.

The best part of our job is saying thank you to people. It is how we should be spending most of our time. Make a quick phone call or drop by for a visit with a donor. That is more important than asking someone for money. Donors need to feel appreciated.

Morgan says she tries to put herself in the other person’s position. “If I were that person, what would I want to hear? What would they need to hear from me to make them feel appreciated and important?”

Be thoughtful in how you show your appreciation. The magic is combining creativity with gratitude.

Do research. Always try to make connections by keeping up with people in the news. Like Morgan did with Ralph, let people know you appreciate what they are doing in their community. Then look for ways to connect people to your nonprofit’s mission. Think about what it would take to involve them in or to support your organization.

Morgan believes there are three main channels in connecting people to the mission of a nonprofit:

1. Review your donor database for history of giving, area of passion, and other links to the mission.

2. Utilize your boards and resource development committee to make connections in the community and to the mission. Connect the dots.

3. Utilize LinkedIn to find mutual connections for introductions. Because of the professional audience, nonprofit leaders must be on this social media platform.

Develop lists and determine the best way to plug in people to your mission. Ask board members if they would connect you with a person on the list by making an introduction. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their contacts or asking people for money. That is ok. Be respectful and give board members multiple opportunities to help with fundraising.

Have board members make phone calls or sign letters saying thank you to donors. No asks. You never know how those touches will affect people. “Make them feel good about what they did to support your organization. Saying thank you becomes a part of what your organization does everyday,” emphasizes Morgan.

When meeting with potential donors, Morgan shares about the organization so they can get to know it better. She always wants to offer people a tour of the agency so they can see the mission in action. She listens for what they are passionate about. She wants to learn more about what they care about.

I asked Morgan how she could possibly fundraise in a community where she didn’t grow up.

First, our executive director knew everyone. I went with her all the time to events and meetings. You have to make connections quickly. Then I would look around and think, ‘I need to know that person.’ I would meet with people from the area, ask for their advice, and ask them to help me understand the community. This is a generous community. With the UWCA so big here, people understand the importance of philanthropy. Fundraising is about building relationships and connections.

Being passionate about the mission is critical for fundraisers. Find your story that connects you to the mission. Morgan conveys her belief in the work of Childcare Resource this way:

When talking with potential donors, it is easy for me to be passionate about the mission. My husband was raised by a single mom. Thankfully he had support – not everybody has that. That is my mission moment. I share what the mission means to me and hope it resonates with others. Your mission moment can be the same story you share with everyone. The more you talk about it, the better you can articulate it. Just share from the heart.

Fundraisers think we always have to be making an ask. Morgan shares,

As fundraisers, we must nurture our relationships like we do friends. Don’t let too much time go by that your friends and donors don’t hear from you. Don’t let the only time a donor hears from you is when asking for a gift. Treat your donors like your best friends. It is like planting flowers – we must water them and take care of them.

What do you think is magical to your success in cultivating donors for your organization? Add a comment below!

Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising coach. She provides executive and development directors with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at [email protected].


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