Stewardship, A Tool For Donor Retention


While contemplating my personal year-end charitable giving, I gave careful thought to which institutions merit my ongoing support. I am reminded that those on the receiving end of charitable giving are also pondering a critical question at this time of the year. How can we ensure that our donors continue their support in 2016? It’s all about donor retention, and good stewardship is an important tool in building stronger relationships with donors to ensure their continued support.

Defining Stewardship

Merriam-Webster defines stewardship as the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.

Wikipedia defines stewardship as an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, theology, health, property, information, etc.

As you can see, stewardship is important to all types to institutions, organizations and businesses. However, our focus here is on stewardship as it relates to donor retention within the development process.

Donor Relations and Stewardship

No practice is more important in strengthening donor relation than good stewardship – where gifts are properly cared for and donors are cultivated and involved. If you are effective with your stewardship process and donor relations strategy, supporters will be engaged in a way that drives them closer to embracing the organization's mission and values, thus ensuring donor retention.

There are four pillars of donor relations, as seen in the diagram below. Each is a building block to a long term relationship with those who invest in your organization. Where do you start? You start with the first two pillars, stewardship and gift acknowledgment. Think of it as a science, with processes in place for appropriate gift processing. The tax receipt must be timely and accurately denote the donor’s gift intent. And gift-acceptance policies and procedures must be in place to accept and credit philanthropy, protecting the donor and the institution.

Next, the acknowledgement (thank you letters and other creative messages of appreciation) is your tool to succinctly tell your story and make the donor feel your gratitude. Following acknowledgement activities, it is important to show donors the impact of their support. Fund and annual reports fit into this post-gift category of stewardship. Focusing on the gift, these reports provide the tangible, real results of their generosity.

Certainly, engaging your supporters through delightful events and dynamic recognition, donors feel special and involved. But first, donors trust in the reliability and integrity of the institutions to which they contribute. The science of stewardship relies on sound policies and procedures, sincere expressions of appreciation and comprehensive reporting. You should view it as a trust builder, paving the way for your donor relations program. With these things in mind, I urge you to implement good stewardship in 2016. It is a proven tool in building lasting relationships and increasing donor retention.


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