Four Key Responsibilities of Donor Relations and Stewardship

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – sending a timely receipt of gift and statement of gratitude

RECOGNITION – presenting ongoing demonstrations of appreciation, both public and private

REPORTING – informing the donor of the impact of his/her giving

ENGAGEMENT – providing opportunities for the donor to participate in the mission of the organization as appropriate to his or her level of interest and relationship to the organization

Acknowledgement is the obligatory set of steps, but done well, they build donor confidence and set the stage for a mutually rewarding relationship. This set of activities includes receiving the gift, processing the check, record-keeping and the delivery of written confirmation to the donor. For most organizations, these activities are structured around an efficient system, allowing for timely response. Penelope Burk focuses on timeliness and the delivery of a statement of gratitude separate from any further request for a donation as the most critical steps to donor retention. Effective acknowledgment is a significant demonstration of the creditability and integrity of the organization.

Recognition is the variety of activities designed to thank the donor, both publicly and privately. Ranging from a thank you note to a plaque on the wall to a recognition event, these strategies are typically based on the type of gift and the gift amount. Many organizations could use more focus on standardization to make practices efficient and effective. Consistency, coordination with the brand and cost effective implementation and maintenance must be carefully balanced with a sense of creativity and spontaneity.

The word “recognition” comes from the Latin verb recognoscere, meaning “to know again or recall to mind.” Our industry’s definition of recognition, “to show official appreciation of or formally reward” appears much further down the list of possible meanings. The two definitions point to the dual purposes of all public recognition: to show awareness of the individuality of the donor while communicating to the public at large – donors and potential donors alike – the value placed on philanthropy.

Reporting is all the various ways that we communicate with our donors about the impact of their giving. Impact reporting is receiving substantially more focus as donors become ever more discerning about what organizations they will support and what information about performance they expect. Peer benchmarks for effective and efficient reporting models can be hard to come by. Furthermore, reporting styles vary greatly by institution type and the donors’ level of understanding and involvement. The more involved the donor, the more specific the information should be. Some donors are best served by facts and figures, others by a heart-warming story. However, in every instance, the writing must adopt a “because of you” stance, not merely report institutional accomplishment and mission outcomes. Look for low-cost, high-impact ways to communicate with your donors. As with all modern communication, content, timeliness and ease of access are key. Don’t be afraid of email and social media.

Engagement is the myriad “touches” designed to make the donor feel a part of the organizational family, build affinity for the mission and increase the inclination to give. These touches typically take the form of more information, increased access or additional experience. This is where “thank you” meets cultivation, and success in this area is critical to donor retention, especially at higher giving levels. While frequent outgoing communication and large events may play a role in engagement strategy for large groups of donors, individual customization is the trend, with an increasing emphasis on one-on-one interaction between the donor and beneficiaries, subject matter experts or other influencers. Additionally, donors appreciate the opportunity to network with other donors and respond with greater affinity when asked to serve in a volunteer role. Knowing the donor is key to identifying the activities that will have the most meaning for that individual.