In the first post in this series, I talked about why it is so important to have a donor stewardship strategy in place for your organization. However, sometimes getting a good program off the ground isn’t as simple as making sure you send thank you letters on time. Sometimes some work has to go on into your organization to get an effective stewardship program off the ground.
In this post, I focus upon some of the processes and activities you need to have in position so that your stewardship program is able to run effectively.
Can you demonstrate impact?
One of the most important aspects of donor stewardship is being able to demonstrate to your donors that their donations have an impact. It is not enough for them to know that you spend their money on programs. They want to know what your programs achieve and that it is their funding that is making a difference.
To do this, having the right monitoring and evaluation procedures in place to measure your impact is essential. This includes measuring your output (i.e. how many people you help, where you help them, how you help them and whether your activities are cost-effective) but more importantly, your outcomes i.e. how your programs are making a difference in a way that you can quantify. For example, if your organization makes claims that reading clubs lead to increased achievement in schools, how can you prove it? Or if you say that better education around sexual health reduces incidences of teenage pregnancy, how can you demonstrate that this is true?
Of course, proving impact isn’t just about statistics, it’s also about telling impactful stories about your work. These stories should illustrate to donors the difficult circumstances that you help people to move out of, as well as how the organization succeeds in doing this. Testimonials from beneficiaries as well as program staff that do the same can also be very powerful, as can photographs and video clips that provide a visual representation of the work that you do.
Having an appropriate donor management system in place
This is crucial for donor stewardship. The type of system you have is likely to depend upon the extent of your fundraising program and the donors that you have, but whether you are using Excel spreadsheets or a dedicated donor database, your system should be able to:
- record all the details of your relationship with the donor;
- record details of their expectations in relation to their donation/grant/sponsorship, so that you can ensure that conditions are met;
- record what communications they are receiving and sending. Some systems will allow you to attach letters and other communications to their file;
- their giving history, including cumulative giving and giving within a certain time period;
- allow for appropriate segmentation of donors so that you can communicate with donors appropriately and determine the level of stewardship they receive;
- flag up when donors, or groups of donors, need follow up and who is responsible for that follow up;
- providing appropriate security with regard to information e.g. access passwords for different levels of information available and permission to change data;
- record pledges, partnership arrangements and indeed, contractual obligations and arrangements with from/for donors, so that they are followed up appropriately and redeemed.
Of course, for the system to work effectively for you, it is crucial that the use of it is consistent, otherwise data selection and segmentation will be inaccurate. Therefore, make sure all your staff using the system are trained properly on how to enter data, on any policies you may have around data management, or on how to run reports properly.
Thanking and acknowledging your donors
Thanking your donors should be the minimum standard when it comes donor stewardship. By making a donation, they have earned the right to be thanked for it. However, there is no doubt that as your donor numbers grow, the task of acknowledging gifts becomes harder to manage.
So do you have the right systems in place so that donations are handled properly, particularly when dealing with larger donor numbers? Do you have systems in place to ensure that all donations are recorded, that thank you letters go out in a timely fashion, and that the right people are aware of the donations coming? For example, what procedures do you have to make sure that major donor contributions are referred to the person managing the relationship as soon as the gift comes in? How about flagging up new donors so that they can receive special, very welcoming treatment? How do you ensure that any special conditions relating to the acknowledgement of the funding are going to be met?
Ensuring that you have capacity
As your fundraising program grows it can be very exciting to see the additional funding come in and then to focus all this money on delivering more programming, but you also need to plan, financially, for the additional effort that would be required to manage those new donors.
Developing an effective donor stewardship program is time-intensive, and is never something that should be done off the side of someone’s desk. Any organization that is looking to grow their fundraising program, must also be prepared to invest more time and funding into stewarding these donors, so that you don’t lose them. This investment can range from having more staff to do the “thanking and banking”, so that thank you letters can still go out within a few days, to engaging your Board more to support your donor stewardship efforts.
Roles & Responsibilities
This leads me to talk about making sure that you have clarity over roles and responsibilities in relation to donor stewardship. For a stewardship strategy to be most effective, it is crucial that all levels of the organization and the people within them are committed to it, from the board onwards.
While the roles of different members of the organization will need to be agreed internally, suggested responsibilities may include:
- to act as the organization’s representatives at the organization’s and other functions and events;
- to thank donors in person, by letter or email and by phone, as appropriate;
- to follow up with donors that they know or have met;
- to always report back to the Executive Director or fundraising team on conversations that they have had with donors so that they can be followed up appropriately.
- to make decisions on and oversee the stewardship strategy implementation;
- to be the organization’s representative at functions and events;
- to thank donors in person, by letter/email and by phone, as required;
- to report back on meetings and communications that they may have had with a donor;
- directly manage some donor relationships as appropriate.
- to coordinate stewardship activities in relation to donors and “account managers”/ambassadors;
- to manage and oversee some categories of donor, including directly stewarding relationships;
- to oversee and coordinate recording of donor information;
- to maintain the schedule of communications with donors;
- to regularly review donor segments to ensure that donors are receiving the right levels of stewardship in relation to their giving.
Preparing your team
Once you have a clear idea of who will be on your stewardship team, you need to ensure that they have the tools and information they need to do their job. This support might include receiving training on your stewardship strategy, their role and how this role fits into your overall fundraising strategy. They might also benefit from receiving a copy of your Case for Support with guidance on how to use it with regard to donor communications. Others may benefit from having a clear donor cultivation plan, with respect to individual donors, so that they know what the next steps should be with the people that they are meeting.
Whatever the role might be, ensuring that your team has the support they need is essential to maintaining their engagement and effectiveness.
There is no doubt that by preparing your organization properly to run a donor stewardship program, you will be much more likely to keep on top of all your donor relationships, leading to more satisfied and engaged donors. It also leads to a happier, healthier team that are able to fully engage in creating a wonderful donor experience.