The Power of Donor Stewardship

Mollard Consulting is committed to elevating the voices of nonprofit professionals throughout Central Ohio. As part of this effort, we invited Lisa Courtice, President & CEO of United Way of Central Ohio, to share some of her lessons learned throughout her tenure in the nonprofit sector. The lesson she shared about donor stewardship is eye-opening.

We often tell our clients that the way a donor is thanked is the most cited reason as to why a donor gives, gives again, and/or gives more. Lisa’s “lesson learned” about donor stewardship is a case in point. We’re grateful to Lisa for sharing her experience and for her commitment to the Central Ohio community. We hope her story encourages everyone to send out that stack of thank you notes!

— Mollard Consulting

In the early days of the pandemic, the finance team at United Way of Central Ohio brought to my attention a note and contribution we received. A donor in Connecticut sent us $100, and he did the same for 799 other United Way organizations across the country. He shared that it was his way of helping people through the crisis and that he hoped his idea would inspire others to do the same. In response, I sent him a handwritten thank you note to express our appreciation for the thoughtful and generous gift.

But what happened next surprised us all.

This donor called me, and I learned that of the 800 gifts he sent to United Way organizations, he received only 26 acknowledgments of appreciation. That’s less than 4 percent! While he did not send the gifts seeking praise for his generosity, he was surprised by the silence. For him, the initial gift was an introduction—an opportunity to build a relationship with a nonprofit that could result in ongoing support.

Because we took the time to say thank you, he gifted us an additional $5,000.

I share this story as an example of donor stewardship and what can happen when leaders take the time to show appreciation. As the leader of one of the largest United Way organizations in the country, it’s my responsibility to ensure financial viability. Yes, the majority of our fundraising efforts focus on corporate partnerships. However, we never underestimate the lifelong value of the individual donor.

If we genuinely believe that every little bit counts, we must prove it through our words and actions.

It’s come to my attention that writing thank you notes may no longer be considered basic etiquette by some. Call me old-fashioned, but it’s a courtesy we shouldn’t relinquish. On average, I handwrite and send 20 notes of appreciation every month. Most often, these notes acknowledge a financial gift, but not always. Like the donor from Connecticut, I see correspondence as an opportunity to start or support a relationship. While digital is undoubtedly a disrupter of all things, it amuses me to know that the “old way” of doing things can also be a disruptor. Pen to paper is personal, individual, and completely unexpected in our “reply all” society.

I recently shared this story with a colleague outside of our organization, and she surprised me with her response. She shared that she simply does not have the time to acknowledge donors individually. After more than 30 years in the nonprofit sector, I believe it is mandatory for anyone responsible for fundraising to make time for this level of stewardship.

According to Giving USA, nonprofits overall are seeing fewer donors. That’s due, in part, to the myriad of options people now have to give. However, those same donors are giving more. When swimming in a smaller pool, it’s vitally important to create and maintain lasting relationships, starting with appreciation.

While I take it upon myself to reach out to donors, I couldn’t do it without my United Way colleagues. At the beginning of this story, I shared that our finance team flagged the note from the donor from Connecticut. As with most large-scale nonprofit organizations, donations are not made directly through me. Instead, our team receives the information and makes us aware of relationship-building opportunities. To do that, we have established a culture of appreciation at United Way of Central Ohio. We never underestimate the value of the individual and firmly believe that relationships are reciprocal. Gift processing doesn’t end with a transfer of funds.

There are so many reasons to treat every donor well, and it starts with the basics. Stewardship means the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. Nothing is more important than showing appreciation for our donors. Without them, there would be no United Way.

Article by: Lisa Courtice, Ph.D., President & CEO, United Way of Central Ohio

2022-05-26T15:02:18+00:00May 25th, 2022|