This post comes from the Gravyty Fundraising Academy, a series that examines how fundraisers adapt and strategize to evolve what's possible through philanthropy.
Your guide for the Gravyty Fundraising Academy is VP of Customer Success, Lisa Alvezi. Lisa has worked with countless fundraisers across Higher Education, Health Care, and Nonprofit organizations to transform fundraising. As a former frontline fundraiser herself, her goal is to help you see better results from your fundraising efforts.
What's the Tone of Proper Stewardship?
Stewardship – for many fundraisers, it's both the most important thing we do and our favorite part of the job. It can also be one of the most scrutinized because it needs to satisfy the needs of many audiences, including the donor's expectations, your institution or organization's brand, and the personal style of leadership.
So how do you find the perfect tone for proper stewardship? The team at Gravyty is here to help.
Challenge the Myth that Formal Communication is the Best
The first rule of stewardship is to be as personal as possible. It's essential to approach your donor as you would speak to them in a conversation. Consider this post from Daniel Pink, in reference to research published by UC Berkeley's Greater Good Magazine:
"What's the most effective [way] to say thank you?... Turns out it doesn't matter much. What people appreciate is the sentiment, not the form." – Daniel Pink
Now, you don't want to go to a donor with significant grammatical errors or change your style of that handwritten letter to your 95-year-old donor who appreciates mail correspondence. But, if you are a gift officer with not-so-great handwriting or know that you are prone to typos, you might think about changing your approach to a phone call with the majority of your donors.
Are you waiting for a stewardship committee before acknowledging your donor's gift? Many fundraisers run into a problem because they were taught gift acknowledgments (along with the tax receipt) should not go out until they can personally connect with their donors. However, gift acknowledgment and stewardship are two different things.
The point of a gift acknowledgment is primarily administrative:
- Provide a receipt to your donor
- Confirm your organization received the gift
- Prove you will properly apply the gift
The point of stewardship is about your donor relationship:
- Express personal gratitude and make them feel special
- Remind them their relationships with you and the organization are real and not just transactional
- Open the lines for further communication
- Connect an emotional attachment to their gift
With this in mind, welcome that gift acknowledgment going out separately from your stewardship touch. Allow it to happen within two business days of being received, unless it's a busy time of the year like Giving Tuesday, year-end giving, or otherwise. Then, within two weeks, follow up with your highly personalized stewardship message.
Notes on Personalization
Donors want to know that you recognize them personally. Here's what I recommend adding to every stewardship note to ensure that's how they feel upon receiving your note:
- Acknowledge their connection to your organization (i.e., "everything you do as a trustee/alumni board member/volunteer...).
- Say the amount and type of gift they gave to ensure that it's processed and applied correctly.
- Note what the gift is earmarked for and its benefit to your organization or the community you serve.
Then, three months after sending your stewardship note, follow up with your donor. Rarely, if ever, would you want them to think their gift was just about keeping the lights on. Give them an update on the progress made for the program they gave to. If possible, bring in a voice or champion who is impacted by these gifts and allow the donor to see the difference they make.
It's that time of year where stewardship becomes a priority. I hope this post helps you personally thank your donors and deepen your relationships.
If you’d like to learn more about how artificial intelligence can empower your organization to have a culture of philanthropy, personally reach new donors, and inspire giving at scale, connect with Gravyty today.