Yesterday I attended a fundraising revival of sorts, the second annual AFP Major Gifts Symposium in Seattle. Along with 300+ fundraising professionals, trustees, and CEOs, I was challenged to refresh my thinking about donor stewardship in the context of creating a philanthropic environment that supports successful major gifts fundraising. That environment, keynote speaker Karen Osborne suggested, is based on trust, which is created by strong leaders and great stewardship. I want to reflect on the latter as it has been the topic of many conversations in board rooms and development offices since the economy began to unravel a year ago.
One of several frameworks discussed yesterday was “preparing for the recovery.” For many of us, we feel we’ve been doing just that by focusing our development efforts on all cultivation, all the time. We’ve rationalized this approach by telling ourselves that keeping donors close to us and our missions will position us for more and bigger gifts when the economy improves. But, I ask you, how much GREAT stewardship have you given or gotten lately?
Does inviting someone to our gala qualify as a “move?” What if I send a major donor a note with an article that speaks to his field of expertise? Defining what “cultivation” and “stewardship” mean in your organization is key to imagining and acting on steps that make the most sense for each donor in and of themselves. Karen Osborne went one step further by suggesting that we strike the word “cultivation” from our fundraising vocabulary. Instead, she opined, it is meaningful engagement that begets giving. Whatever you call IT, be clear about how you do it and why.
As you prepare for the recovery and think about what cultivation/stewardship/engagement means to you, remember that it’s the small, unexpected gestures in life that often make the biggest impression. Ask yourself today and everyday, what is a mission-focused, inexpensive, and quick experience I can create for a donor that will make her say “wow!”
P.S. The final word from speaker Bill Tolliver of The Matale Line: “Headlines, hardship, and stock indexes are not supposed to define who we are, they are supposed to test who we are.” Good luck and godspeed!
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About the Author
Kate Roosevelt CFRE
Kate’s clients love her non-nonsense, yet flexible manner. She’ll tell it like it is, but will always go the extra mile to ensure her clients realize their goals.