By Brett Cobb
© Compassionate Tampa Bay
Welcome to the Compassionate Fundraising for Holistic Centers blog. After hosting a recent HCN webinar, I was asked about practices to keep donors informed and interested once they have made a contribution. A quick search for donor stewardship best practices will yield numerous articles on helpful practices that center squarely on four key ideas, 1) thank them correctly; 2) confirm their intentions and expectations; 3) recognize them accordingly; and 4) report their impact.
For holistic centers, these helpful steps to steward authentic relationships are particularly vital.
Relational stewardship can be defined simply as being aware of, and focused on, the cultivation of authentic relationships over time. This requires an even more fundamental, baseline attitude of trust and appreciation of our donors that exceeds the attitude of many nonprofit organizations in other fields. Why? Because within holistic education, cultivating authentic relationships is part of the core curriculum! Whether we are investigating personal growth strategies, yoga, Tai Chi, climate change or sustainability, relational communication is part of every course. Stewardship that rings false will be instantly identifiable.
So what do we do? Whether in newsletters, special reports or personal notes, superb donor stewardship is transparent, truthful and consistently shares communication to inform, educate and inspire. Be prepared to dig deep. Know that within fundraising for holistic centers, you are being called on to be relentlessly genuine and transparent, and that this is not a burden, this is a gift –to you and to your funders.
- If you know the answer to a question, say so. If you do not, say so.
- If you know what something will cost, say so. If you don’t, do more research and get
back to them.
- If you are realizing the goals of a project, say so. If you are not, say so and why.
- If you make a mistake, say so! If you need to modify a project and its budget mid-
stream, then tell them.
- If you are about to say something that isn’t 100% true, STOP. Then tell them the truth.
Here are a number of additional practices (pet peeves?) that are not so often pointed out.
These simple pitfalls can instantly become traps that can damage the beginning of promising
friendships. Each gets in the way of truly relational donor stewardship.
1. Listen with Genuine Openness. Note that “listen” and “silent” use the same six letters. With any prospect or donor interaction, give the gift of listening as an ideal gift of donor stewardship. In one-to-one conversations in person or over a conference platform such as Zoom, turn your full body in the direction of the person, offer them your full and open attention, lean gently forward, and listen. Being fully present with the human being in front of you comes first in any stewardship. If you are listening in order to make a future funding case, you are treating the conversation like a transaction! This does not give the funder or yourself the opportunity to build truly relational communication.
2. Pronounce the Name Correctly. When verbally acknowledging a funder, please know how to spell and pronounce their name. Yes, this is obvious – yes, it must be said! We have all learned the hard way, me included. And keep in mind that the public speaker acknowledging a donor (ie, the CEO, the event chair, the Board chair) is often not the person primarily responsible for the relationship. You have a responsibility to both speaker and donor to help ensure their name is correct.
3. A Friend’s Name is Always a Beautiful Sound. On a more subtle but vital level, whether verbally acknowledging a single funder or multiple donors, you are first and foremost acknowledging friends – NEVER recite a phone book. Our personal friends warrant hearing their names with the warmth of friendship, right? The same is true for friends who provide resources to your organization. A cold, unfeeling reading of a donor roster by an unprepared speaker is not acknowledgment – it’s torture.
4. A Real Person, Not a Bank. Be in touch with your core funders multiple times every quarter, and preferably at least two, three or more times per quarter minimum—and that’s independent of asking for or renewing a gift. As a generous philanthropist told me just this November, “I got a call from __ yesterday. I’ve never once heard from him that he didn’t want a check. You’d think it would dawn on him that I’m not a bank—I’m a real person.”
5. You’re Missed when You’re Away. If you are going away for a period of time, let your closest donors, including your most generous funders—know when you’re going with a quick note and if it’s relevant, what you’re looking forward to. When you return, let them know that you’re back and a takeaway from your trip. You may not think so, but your core funders are actually interested in you, sometimes as much as their own family. Even if you feel that they are somehow in some kind of special, different category, most of them already see you as a real person or friend or potential friend or all of the above. Treat them like one!
6. Listen. Did I say listen? Yes. Listen.
And join us in January for the six-week Compassionate Fundraising course when we deeply explore effective donor stewardship practices and so much more. We hope to see then!