Three Things Donors Want to Know

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 2.20.36 PMBy Tim Kubatzky, CFRE

Thank-yous are essential to donor cultivation and the next ask, so we usually take the time to get this step right. But, because thanking is so important, it makes sense to regularly take stock of our stewardship efforts.
Donors of all types and levels want to know:

  • Did you get my gift?
  • Did you use it like you said you would?
  • Did it help?

I’ve noticed THREE BIG TRAPS in the stewardship department that correspond to these donor queries. The first is not acknowledging a gift quickly. The second is not reporting back on the use of the gift, and the third is the lack of accounting for results.

For most gifts, the simple solution is to establish a quick and efficient gift process. Send the first acknowledgement as soon as possible, then follow up with more elaborate thanks in keeping with the size and complexity of the gift. The larger and more complicated the gift, the more it bears watching. Unusual gifts or gifts from a key constituent need thorough follow-up to make sure the funds are handled correctly and an appropriate thank you reaches the donor.

Pay attention to any restrictions or preferences a donor places on a gift, and make sure it is used appropriately. Remember, no one at your organization is as invested as you are in making sure gifts are used appropriately. Once you have used the gift, report back to the donor so they are assured their gift went to the program or area for which they intended.

Many of us miss the opportunity to reinforce the giving decision—and build donor loyalty—by sending only a gift transaction receipt, the minimum requirement under the IRS guidelines. That is a lost opportunity to let your donors know that their gifts, when combined with those of others in the annual fund, allowed you to do great things! For an excellent recent take on this topic, including examples, see Simone Joyaux’s post in the Nonprofit Quarterly.

Your work is not done when the gift comes in. You have to follow up relentlessly. Anticipate snags in the process. Over-communicate. Calendar out major gift reports, even if the donor does not require them.

Foundations have started a conversation on stewardship around “outcomes versus outputs.” Donors who are confident you used their gifts appropriately still want to know that the program they support is actually working. Mario Morino’s book Leap of Reason is provocatively informative on this subject. A parallel conversation about accountability comes from Dan Pallota, who has a great TED talk about how using overhead costs as a measurement of effectiveness in nonprofits is wrong-headed.

To be accountable for the results of your programs you first must know what you’re trying to accomplish. Then, you must be able to document the difference you are making in the world, or at least in your corner of it. Only then can you communicate results to your donors.

In summary, three of the most important best practices of stewardship are to:

  • Acknowledge gifts quickly
  • Keep donors informed
  • Be accountable for results

Your goal is to be a step ahead of your donors, so they never even have to ask:

  • Did you get my gift?
  • Did you use it like you said you would?
  • Did it help?


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