If you’re like me, you’ve probably been inundated with last minute donation requests disguised as a “thank you” from various organizations over the last month. Some of these thank you’s come from organizations you may have donated to throughout the year, or they could be ones for which you’re a volunteer. The “strategic” thinking behind this is that the holiday season supposedly makes people more generous. I have mixed feelings about that. I personally gave Kiva cards to my family members this year, but that was planned much before Christmas. I hadn’t planned to give anything more to my local organizations past my United Way of Central Indiana contribution in the fall. Because I work for a foundation, I also know that it’s time to push for people to get their final donations in toward 2010 tax credits. This doesn’t impact my giving so much as a graduate student, but I know it’s important for people with larger giving power than myself. While all of these strategies are important for raising money, I don’t think stewardship is necessarily about increasing the financial bottom line. It’s about building meaningful relationships between your organization and your stakeholders.
If that’s true, when was the last time you got a really unexpected, meaningful thank you from an organization you’re connected with?
I want to share a few examples of good stewardship that I’ve received this year. Here are two of the best:
Ball State University
I donated to my undergraduate institution for the first time this year. I received a mid-summer/early fall ask. I wasn’t receiving other mailings at the time, so I had time to think about giving. The tone of the campaign spoke to me as a young alumnae. It was specifically geared toward alumni. They included an ask from an alum who had been the student government president at the time I attended BSU. Seeing a picture of her and hearing it in her words encouraged me to donate. There were also sensible, easy to understand ways to designate my dollars. Participation in the Honors College at Ball State was a wonderful part of my academic career, so when I had the opportunity to designate toward the new Honors House, I was more than happy to do so.
I hardly expected more than a tax-receipt in the mail. Ball State is a large university, and the amount I donated wouldn’t really cover much on its own. However, I received something wonderful! Ball State sent me a personalized, handwritten card from a student. The student thanked me for my first time contribution and explained how it would benefit her. What I like best is that the card reminds me of how I felt Ball State treated me during my time there. The university never treated me like just another number, and even now, they’re paying attention to my status as a donor.
Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis
If you know me, it’s no secret that I love Girls Inc. I’m about to start my third program as a volunteer facilitator, and I think the work they do in the community shows that they “get it.” The staff members are supportive both during and between programs. I’m impressed by their communication style, so I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising to me that they’d go above and beyond to make the top of my holiday stewardship list.
What did they send me?
I fully expected the inside of this card to contain a simple, computer printed “thanks for volunteering!” inside of it. Instead, I opened the card and found the picture on the right!
It’s a handwritten thank you note from my program support coordinator. I’m aware of how many volunteers she probably has based on the number of programs, so I’m sure this took quite a bit of time on her part to do it for everyone. I absolutely appreciate that. She also sent me a copy of a girl feedback form from a girl who was in my fall cycle program. The girl feedback forms show what girls like about the program and what they’ve learned. This was an INCREDIBLE stewardship tool. Reminding me of how my participation impacts girls was the best Christmas gift I could have received this year!! Most importantly, Girls Inc. didn’t solicit me in this card. It was all about how much they appreciate me as a volunteer and the work I’ve put in for them since I was trained last February.
This, to me, is stewardship at its best. Some fundraisers frown on soliciting your volunteers, arguing that you’re already asking for their time. However, when a volunteer receives something like this in the mail, how can one not want to become a donor?
Stewardship Tips for Any Season
+Stewardship is a relationship, not a task to be completed on a checklist. Think about your volunteers and donors. What would be really meaningful to them and improve your relationship? If you send out meaningless stewardship pieces, chances are slim that you’ll see an increase in volunteers or donors. Take the time to send something that matters.
+In many cases, meaningful stewardship will produce the financial results you want without the presence of a hard ask. Ball State’s personalized acknowledgment of my first time contribution put currency in our relationship bank, and that will certainly carry over into a larger gift from me to them next year.
+ Adding even a little personal detail goes a long way. It may not be feasible for your organization to write a handwritten thank you note to everyone, but if you can do it, you should, especially if your organization relies on volunteers to carry out its programs. For smaller organizations with limited budgets, even a personalized thank you email or phone call goes a long way.
+Remind your donors or volunteers how they are personally making an impact. Including general stories of success is one way to handle it. If you can go the extra mile like Girls Inc and include something like the feedback form, this is even better. It reengages your volunteers by reminding them how their personal contributions make a difference.
What are your tips for being a great steward?