Tips for Effective Stewardship of Individual Donors

I’m blogging today and tomorrow from the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits Annual Conference in Winston-Salem. This morning, I attended a great session called “Building and Sustaining Your Individual Donor Base through Effective Stewardship.” The two speakers were Amanda Osborne, Director of Development for Fellowship Hall, Inc., an alcohol and drug treatment program, and Peggy Carter, Vice President of the Forsyth Medical Center Foundation.

The pair did a solid job of synthesizing and sharing some of the key points in the leading fundraising how-to books, sprinkling in examples and anecdotes from their own work. Their main point was that you have to know each and every donor individually to be an effective steward of their participation with your nonprofit. They offered different methodologies for categorizing donors based on why they give and on how they want to be thanked.

Amanda discussed the Seven Faces of Philanthropy and suggested that nonprofits try to recognize the different categories in their donor lists. Here’s a brief run-down of the categories, if you aren’t familiar with them.

Communitarians–They give because they consider nonprofits effective and they have strong ties to their community and local history. They represent 26% of donors, and tend to give to cultural and human service groups.

Devouts–About 21% of givers, they believe everyone has a responsibility to give and that it is God’s will. They are not interested in public recognition.

Investors–This 15% of donors gives in the same way that they invest–very business-like, want to solve problems and see results.

Socialites–They are interested in giving as entertainment, socializing as philanthropy, and like special events. They represent 10% of donors.

Repayers–They do good in return for what they have received and feel a personal responsibility to give back. They represent 10% of donors and typically focus on client needs, because they were likely once the clients themselves.

Altruists–They look for causes that offer a sense of personal fulfillment for them. Giving is the right thing to do for their own spiritual growth.

Dynasts–Giving is what their families have always done; it’s part of their socialization and their identities are often tied to giving.

Personalize and tailor your communications with your donors as much as you can. The same event invitations, newsletters, etc. are not going to appeal to all of your donors in the same way, or at all.

Donors also want to be thanked in different ways, and the only way you are going to know why way is right is to have that conversation with them. Do they want the plaque? Their name on a sponsor list? Ask and find out. Listen.

Amanda also reviewed some key points from Donor-Centered Fundraising. The majority of donors say they’d give again if after the first gift, they received three things: (1) prompt meaningful acknowledgement, warm and personalized (2) reassurance that their gift will be used as they intended and (3) meaningful results about the program they funded.

Forget the token thank you gifts (lapel pins, mouse pads). Gifts closer to your mission (artwork by clients, free tickets to performances, etc.) can work. But what people really want is a personal thank you. More than 80% of donors said that if a board member called and said thanks that they would give again.

Peggy talked mostly about the art and science of saying thank you to donors. She emphasized the need to say thank you with the same high-quality attention that you used to ask for the gift. She suggested that by making thank-yous a highly personal part of your work, you give your organization a personality that will bring donors back. Just as we relate differently to each of our friends and family members based on who they are as individuals, nonprofits should relate to donors in the same individual ways.

She then shared the guidelines for thank yous from Developing Major Gifts.

1. Gifts must be recognized by letter AND call
2. The gift size guides the type of thank you
3. The size of the gift guides who makes the thank you
4. Each thank you must be tailored to the donor
5. Use donor information to make thank yous as personal of possible
6. Donor wishes on how to be thanked must be honored
7. The more creative the thank you, the more appreciative the donor will be.

Some people want as much publicity about their gifts as you can muster. Others would be horrified by a press release. Ask, ask, ask! You can get really creative and come up with meaningful thank yous that may seem simple to you, but really impress the donor. For example, sending photos is an inexpensive but personal way to show donors the impact they are having. Even the smallest organizations can manage to send personalized updates with photos to their major donors a few times a year. Schedule a day where that’s all you do, and do it!