In my experience, donor research and stewardship go hand in hand. In fact, a little bit of research can take even the most routine stewardship efforts to a whole new level. This week, my colleague Angie Herrington describes a recent stewardship fail on the part of an organization she wanted to support for a lifetime. They lost her, though, and in this article she offers great advice to help guide nonprofits on the value of just doing a little research to keep donors close. ~Helen
A year ago, I lost a dear member of my family. Not long after, I knew I wanted to do something to remember her while helping another. This was going to be my first gift, a significant one for me monetarily and personally. After doing my research, I found my answer with a personalized paving stone memorializing our loss, honoring our longtime and dedicated doctor, and with a portion of the gift going to a hardship fund.
Within seconds of pressing send, I felt an unexpected and absolute high! The personal pride and joy made my heart swell and I was immediately thinking about my next gift. I remembered prospect strategy meetings and discussing a donor’s answer to the “what’s your passion” question. I finally had MY answer.
As a fundraising insider, I should not have been surprised by the following months. Several weeks later I asked about the timeline and if the doctor would be notified. A boiler plate acknowledgment letter was mailed.
Three months later I emailed and learned the order was delayed. Six months after I made the gift, I sent another email and was told it would be sent to the engraver any day now. It included a firm “we’ll contact you when it’s installed.” Ouch.
Three more months and another follow up email… **crickets** I stubbornly sent one more email last month and this time I had a response – the paver was already installed.
That night we visited our long-awaited (and unexpectedly hyped) paver. There were a few tears and there were a lot of happy memories. In the end, the intent of our gift was met, but an additional memory was now attached. I wondered if I hadn’t stayed diligent would our gift have been honored and when. Two days later, I received an automated email soliciting me for another gift – a memorial paver. I unsubscribed.
This ambivalent firsthand experience reminded me – organizations have to evolve with their donor base. Think of the years of presentations you’ve attended about how the next generation of donors won’t respond to the status quo. It’s time for us to practice what we preach.
Here are two things about me as a first-time donor to get you started:
1st – I’m a female donor. Don’t send mailings only to my husband, refer to me as Mrs. (His First Name) Herrington, or assume he is your prospect. Numerous studies show how women are more likely to give than men and give twice as much when they do. Women control the majority of their household’s spending. Reports estimate more than 70% of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth will transfer to women after the passing of their parents and spouse/partner.
2nd – I’m a member of your next generation of donors – Generation X (1965-1980). You’re already thinking about Millennials and how you’ll one day approach them, but don’t forget about why you should already be cultivating my generation now. You’ve been comfortable with my Baby Boomer parents for decades, but there are 65 million of us entering our prime years for cultivation. We’ll respond to the same changes you need to make for Gen X anyway – a different approach to annual fund solicitations, quality and type of stewardship, how you keep me engaged, and how to approach me to ask, “what’s your passion.” I’m about accountability, long-term impact, and sustainable change.
How has this first philanthropic experience changed my outlook as a new donor? I’m disappointed and that high is past. Yet, I’m also ready to move on because I know it’s more than about me. After a little more research, I’ve already found a similar cause (at a different organization) and know I will help make at least one person’s life a little easier.
The photo accompanying this post was chosen solely for its beauty and appropriateness to the topic. The Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, which probably has a terrific stewardship program, was not the subject of this article.