On the tip of everyone’s tongue throughout the sessions was the key question: what makes good stewardship in major donor fundraising? The keynote panel kicked off the opening discussion on stewardship by reflecting on the importance of establishing strong relationships built on mutual respect that inspire giving. Ensuring that your donor feels that you are genuinely interested in what they have to offer beyond monetary donations, that they are valued and important, is of fundamental importance. Taking a moment to evaluate and tailor your messages to each donor can go further than you may think.
Good stewardship means that everyone who donates, regardless of the amount, feel valued. Go the extra mile and consider what approach they would appreciate. After all, it’s human nature to want to feel listened to and understood, which translates into making your major donors feel truly heard and seen. Embedding stewardship across your organisation means that everyone understands its importance in fulfilling your charitable aims is key – particularly senior leadership. Getting everyone from top to tail, from data to finance, to understand why letting them have their say can keep donors coming back time and time again.
This likely will come as no surprise to anyone working in philanthropy, but sometimes the best approach is to simply pick up the phone and call your donors. Want to invite them along to an event? Give them a call rather than dropping them an email – depending on the type of relationship you have established with them. This can also be incredibly useful when you want to make your donors feel special. One of the many key takeaways from the conference was the importance of having an accessible, up to date database with information including relevant dates so you can celebrate or acknowledge an anniversary, whether it be the date they first engaged or the first donation. A quick thank you call, for one organisation, resulted in a major donor doubling their monthly donation amount.
Of course, this approach won’t always work or be possible for all donors and fundraising teams. Some may prefer a different approach, and you may find that written communications land better. And, of course, fundraisers with limited resources and less time on their hands might not have capacity to do this for each and every donor. The good news is that there are ways to make your mass communications more bespoke, saving you time while still retaining that widely beloved personal touch. Consider using variable copy, segment your donors, and when possible send personalised gifts that remind your donors you are thinking of them.
The key to winning back those major donors who feel ignored or disgruntled? According to the experts on the keynote panel, the power of saying you’re sorry and being a good listener can make a world of difference. Providing them the space and opportunity to vent without judgement, and then doing what you can to rectify any wrongs, might just remind them that you care and are willing to do what it takes. They were once engaged for a reason, that being a shared passion for your cause, so remind them of all the good work they have contributed to.
On this note, ‘radio silence’ doesn’t necessarily mean your donors are disengaged. Some donors will naturally be more inclined to respond than others, and you may wonder if those who say nothing are still within reach. However, an interesting revelation during the conference is that it’s sometimes the ‘quiet donors’ who read and absorb everything you send them. So don’t be disheartened – continue keeping them in the loop and consider what messages will encourage acts of giving.
One of the hot topics for fundraisers today is about how we can engage Gen Z’ers in philanthropy. Reaching the donors of tomorrow and getting them excited about your cause could translate into lifelong support. While expanding to new platforms such as TikTok can be a valuable way to reach this audience, engaging them comes down to recognising their needs and the differences in how you approach them compared to ‘traditional’ donor types. One example is language – younger age cohorts prefer to be called sponsors, supporters, helpers or equivalent, as opposed to more traditional terminology such as patrons. Consider altering your existing message to suit the preferences of the young donors you are trying to reach – this may be a simple case of evaluating and repackaging your existing messages.
Many Gen Z’ers are short of time and tend to prefer events and resources they can access from home or on the go, such as videos or virtual events, as opposed to galas and auctions. When they are committed to a cause, they are bold and ambitious, with a powerful desire to see real change happen. Reaching these donors is an incredibly valuable way to support your organisation into the future, with a new pool of donors who, if handled well, may become loyal lifelong followers who give time and money for the cause they care about.
If you would like to stay up-to-date with the latest sector research findings, our research roundup is regularly updated to help you understand current trends which will guide you in your fundraising.