What exactly is donor stewardship? Why does it matter? And more importantly, is it necessary?
If you turn to the good old Webster and break down the term, you get this:
a : the making of a gift especially to a charity or public institution
b : a free contribution : gift
1: the office, duties, and obligations of a steward
2: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care;stewardship of natural resources
Fortunately, “donor” is pretty straight-forward, but “stewardship” …. well it’s harder to grasp and relate back to the organization’s bottom line.
Yet, if you look into staff of different charities and post-secondary institutions, they have full-time positions dedicated to donor stewardship.
I was first exposed to the term when I interned at Red River College’s College Relations department last winter. During my three weeks at the College a lot of my work revolved around just that. I wrote articles and updates on specific projects for donor reports. I spent afternoons dropping off goodies to donors. Also, the department also threw a number of VIP events that catered to…can you guess? You’re right! Donors.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized donor stewardship was everywhere.
Even in less obvious situations I find myself in the act of some form of donor stewardship.
For example, the other day I decided to buy donuts for my co-workers.
Although I support random acts of kindness. This gesture was caused by pure appreciation of something they did for me.
The day before, the girls at work learned I was selling homemade pet treats for the 1001 Iams Winnipeg Humane Society Telethon. I’m a part of the fundraising team and launched the project earlier in the month. As soon as my co-workers learned about my cause, they were eager to buy bags for their own pets and to support my project.
But they didn’t stop there.
Through out the day I had people from other departments, who I have never even met before, visit me at my desk and asked to buy the pet treats. I quickly learned the girls from work were calling everyone they knew in the building and spreading the word on my behalf.
By the end of my shift I had to take orders and promise others I’d bring more the next day I was in. Their own contribution and support for my school project without doubt warranted “donor stewardship.”
The least I could of done was buy them donuts.
But even with that, I got a bunch of “you shouldn’t haves,” “you’re too sweet,” and one, who empathized because I was a full-time student paying for College even forcibly paid me back for the dozen.
I wish I could of done more to say thank you, but despite that – it felt good to do something nice for them, especially for the kindness they showed me.
To me donor stewardship is about maintaining those special relationships. As much as it is strategic and carefully planned, it’s about having opportunities to simply just say “thank you.”