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The Changing Face of Stewardship: Perspective on Donor Relationships
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By Kathleen J. Friend, Consultant

As is written in St. Luke 12:48, "To whom much is given, much is required."

Benevolent donors of every race and creed deserve to be acknowledged. Whatever the requirement (be it the IRS or the Bible) that may have initially motivated a donor's contribution, the way s/he is thanked will profoundly affect his or her continued support. How does one show adequate appreciation for a generous gift? Of course, generous is relative. Fifty dollars from a single mother working within a tight family budget is as meaningful to her as $50,000 is from a retiring CEO.

Recognition is a fundamental part of the fundraising process and it has many faces. Historically, individuals as well as corporations and foundations expect, at a minimum, to receive written acknowledgement of their gift in a timely manner (usually within 48 hours). That is still the case in development shops that have a central focus on relationship management and development.

But stewardship goes way beyond a list of names in annual reports.

Good stewardship transcends plaques on walls, preferred seating at balls, and all bounty of donor benefits, however gratefully bestowed. Beyond the external signs of stewardship, even when the donor chooses to remain anonymous to the public, a strong and personal relationship should be cultivated and maintained. To quote an often-used phrase, "People give to people."

Certainly, the connection between the donor and the constituency s/he has chosen to support is at the core of a strong philanthropic relationship. However, the depth and quality of the relationship between the fundraising professional and the donor is equally as important as any contact the donor may have with clients, patients, students, and artists, i.e. recipients of the gift. In many cases, the relationship with the development staff will determine not only the size of the next gift, but will also influence donor decisions in terms of enduring support.

In the business world there is a similar stewardship process - customer relationship management. If there was any single message in Tom Peter's In Search of Excellence, it was, "Stay close to your customers." So it is in philanthropy. Keep as close as you possibly can to your prospects.

Traditionally, that meant something as simple as knowing where a donor's grandchildren went to school, or sending a card on a birthday. Today's stakeholders are a very different breed. Nowadays, board members are choosing to be very hands on in the nature and quality of their involvement with an organization. Development directors are finding themselves increasingly accountable in terms of accepting input and ideas from donors regarding everything from budgets to campaign plans. Foundation board members expect outcome-based reports on a regular and detailed basis.

Some development professionals might view these changes as threatening. At Growth Design, we counsel our clients that, in fact, they are opportunities for better and more effective stewardship.

Not only can the new dynamics of closer scrutiny and accountability create healthier and more creative business planning in relation to human and financial resource investment by senior development officers, but key donor relationships can also be deepened and grown. The volunteers who are engaging in leadership roles in 2003 tend to be younger than their parents were when they first got involved with boards and philanthropic support of nonprofit organizations and causes. Many are, in fact, first generation philanthropists. Therefore, this new generation of donors didn't necessarily grow up in a culture of philanthropy and are carving out a different, if not unique, profile for stewardship.

Still, characteristics and behaviors related to the care and feeding of human relationships appear to be as common today as they were in biblical times. People want to be respected for who they are, not just for what they make. Often, development offices create lists of prospects from tax returns that show individuals net worth. Webster defines net as "final, conclusive." However, financial analysts of today consider assets to be a sum of money, a portfolio of stocks and bonds, or real estate. These all have value, but the wealthiest people seem to have found that giving a portion of their net worth away makes it priceless. They still, of course, should be thanked for caring, but this is not really why they give...that is, to merely be acknowledged.

Today's donor wants and expects to make a real difference and, if shown proper stewardship, they will keep on giving - and that, in the end, will make all the difference in the world.

For more information on how to incorporate the changing face of stewardship into the daily operations of your nonprofit organization, contact Kathy Friend, Consultant, through the Growth Design Corporation Customer Service Center, 414-224-0586.

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