One of the core components of good fundraising and development for any nonprofit is stewardship. It is the key to not just retention, but growth – something all nonprofits aspire to.
According to the 2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Project, for every 100 new donors gained in 2017, 99 donors were lost through attrition. This means that at many organizations the time, effort, and money that has gone into winning a new donor has resulted in losing a past donor, likely due to ignoring current donors while in pursuit of new, even though current donors cost less money to retain and grow.
We share these statistics with all our partners and encourage them to make stewardship a priority rather than an after-thought. It thrills us to see our partner organizations grow and thrive when they put a concerted effort towards stewardship using the tips and tools we provide.
But we’re not just stewardship fanatics because of statistics, but also because of our personal experiences as donors.
At Thread, we’re not just consultants, we’re also “clients” of nonprofits that we volunteer with and donate to ourselves. As a team, we collectively have decades of experience working for, and personally giving to, causes that mean a great deal to us.
There’s one organization in particular that I will forever feel a strong connection with. Over the past 20 years, I have been a volunteer, public advocate, and staff member of this organization. Further, I credit this organization with not only bringing me great job opportunities and friendships, but in fact saving my life. Pretty dramatic, huh?
As a survivor, participant, and former staff member I am – for lack of a better term – a “poster child” for this nonprofit.
I was a staff leader who broke growth records and established best practices. But both before and after I was on staff, I was a spokesperson for the organization, with audience sizes in the thousands, as well as a fundraiser who has raised significant amounts over the years.
Even after I left the staff, I was still very tied to the organization and I always spoke of my time there fondly. But over the years, I slowly started to feel like just another person on the organization’s mailing list. Nearly every piece of correspondence I received was clearly for the masses: nothing targeted to long-time supporters or major fundraisers. Nothing targeted at all.
Still, I believe in the organization’s mission and the work, so about five years ago, I decided to do a milestone fundraiser. I threw quite a bit into my fundraising and ended up exceeding my 5-digit goal. When I did, I received a voice mail and I thought, “Finally! Someone is reaching out to learn more about me and my fundraising and I can share why I love this organization so much!” I returned the call almost immediately but ended up in voice mail. I indicated that I was looking forward to speaking soon, and I waited. And waited. And waited.
I never got a call back. And I still, to this day, have never received targeted outreach.
My demonstrated loyalty and specialized roles should qualify me for some sort of targeted outreach that continues to build a personal relationship rather than leaves me as just another name on a mailing list. This is a missed opportunity, as if my fundraising history and long-time involvement were acknowledged in a deliberate and thoughtful way, I could be motivated to push my fundraising into the 6-digit range.
But this is a cautionary tale for a reason! The good news is that ensuring your donors and supporters feel engaged doesn’t need to be time-consuming or difficult. It just requires a solid tracking system and a smart communication plan
1.Consistent data management is key. Staff turnover is an unfortunate reality of nonprofit work, which is why it’s even more critical that nonprofits of all sizes have an updated and reliable database. Without it, there’s no way to capture relationships, mission connection, and past giving history. When those staff leave, the relationship – and possibly, the donations – leave with them. The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to keep careful notes and relationship history details in your database.
2.Don’t ignore the “little people”. Because of time, capacity, and inconsistent data management (see #1), nonprofits can get into a pattern of only cultivating and stewarding major donors. This is a mistake that no organization can afford! While the return may not be immediate, strong cultivation of consistent, loyal donors – no matter how much they may give – can be your organization’s key to long-term rewards. Why? Because…
3.There are almost ALWAYS Diamond Donors in the rough. Screenings and metrics can only take you so far. Even if someone doesn’t stand out as a future major supporter, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a strong affinity for your organization or strong ties to someone, or some funds, that can make a huge difference. Not to mention that classic story we hear time and time again of a surprise bequest from a small, loyal donor an organization never knew beyond a name on the mailing list who leaves a major gift upon passing away. Imagine what may have been if a relationship had been built with that donor while alive? For this reason, it’s critical that you…
4.Thank, segment and steward EACH donor. For a small staff, the prospect of individual outreach to a large number of donors can be daunting. Make sure that no matter how many donors you have, there is a plan to outreach to each one after a major campaign or event, whether that’s through staff, Board, or volunteers, and ensure that you have a plan for continued tracking and cultivation. This does not mean throw them all onto your e-newsletter list! Outreach, especially to new donors, is your best opportunity to understand their giving motivations, what brought them to your organization, and other details that can quickly determine which donor segment they should fall into. And of course, make sure these details are tracked so you can know your history!
Don’t let your organization be the next cautionary tale from the field. Track your supporters and show them the love. Because, in the words of the late great Maya Angelou, “People will never forget the way you made them feel.”