By Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE, Vice President – Annual Fund

Years ago, I received a giant padded envelope in the mail with a lunchbox as a gift. Confused, I found a generic “Thanks” card tucked inside. I had recently given a gift in honor of a dear friend who had earned her Doctorate in Management and Leadership. The donation was in support of a college scholarship fund for single mothers earning their degrees – something I knew my friend would sincerely appreciate.

But here’s the thing…I had no idea why the college mailed me lunchbox. And I also had no idea why the college NEVER notified my friend that a gift was made in her honor. Did they serve lunch to the mothers with scholarships, and I now had a matching lunchbox? Was I supposed to give the lunchbox to my friend with a pudding cup and juice box? Or was someone cleaning out a closet and thought, “Hey, let’s get rid of these lunchboxes, and we’ll call it a donor stewardship move.”

Why am I telling you this? Because donor stewardship needs to make sense to the donor and connect to your mission!

As fundraising professionals, we talk a lot about donor stewardship. Sometimes we do well; others, well, not so well. Here are a few wins and misses we’ve seen…

Stewardship wins:

  • A s’mores package in support of a summer camp – We Love You S’More!
  • Shamrock plants on St. Patrick’s Day from an organization with Irish roots.
  • Thanksgiving pies from an organization’s kitchen so the donors and the kids served enjoy the same dessert.
  • Hot chocolate bombs in a logo cup to brighten all those donor Zoom conversations.
  • Feast of St. Joseph cards to all the donors named Joe, Joseph, Josephine, JoJo, etc. from a religious organization.

Stewardship misses:

  • Only sending out acknowledgement letters and calling that stewardship – and not changing the letter monthly. Booooring!
  • Starting each stewardship letter with, “Thank you for your gift of…” Make the opening snappy so the donor continues to read how awesome your nonprofit is – otherwise you wasted a donor credit.
  • Buying expensive gifts (wine, tickets, etc.) for donors.
  • Not showing any real gratitude. Don’t fool yourself – donors can feel it.
  • Doing the same stewardship move over and over and over…mix it up.

We aren’t talking about spending a gazillion dollars here. We are talking about reminding donors that we really care about their involvement with our missions. So add a small line item into your budget for stewardship and add it into your workflow. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it connects to your mission in a meaningful way.

And for goodness sake, if you send a lunchbox to someone, tell them how it connects to your mission. Your donors will thank you and they’ll enjoy their lunch while knowing their support truly impacted your mission. It’s that simple!

At Let’s Build Hope, we love to hear the good (or bad…or ugly!) donor stewardship stories. Share them with us. Reach out via phone or send us an email. And let’s make sure we have (mostly) stewardship wins. 😊

#LBH #LetsBuildHope #GlimmersOfHope #StewardshipWins #NoStewardshipMisses #Gratitude #DonorStewardship

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