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Simple Stewardship: Keeping in Touch without Losing Your Mind

Deadlines rule our lives. Proposals and formal reports come premade with this time-bound incentive to get it done. With all this churn, other aspects of grant writing often get pushed to the back burner. Yet stewardship is one of the most important parts of engaging and keeping a funder. 


Stewardship doesn't have to be a complicated, time-intensive process. It should be thoughtful and meaningful, but that doesn't mean a highly specialized or in-depth report for all of our supporters. Sometimes the regular communication with something small can mean even more than the carefully crafted and designed story or newsletter. Foundations are people too—they want to know you're thinking of them not just as a check!

Take a moment to think about the information and details you gather regularly on the job. These every-day assets may seem commonplace to you, but your donors don't have that kind of access. Giving them an inside view of your work helps them see their impact and feel like more than a donor, but a part of your mission. Work with kids? I bet you've got a lot of drawings, thank you cards, and cute stories. Work with animals? There's no end to the adorable photo potential. Transformation stories from community services? Numbers or metrics that you track anyway? An anecdote from your staff?

Whatever your everyday assets are, keep a few things in mind to help you stay simple:

Authentic always wins. Stewardship doesn't need to look perfectly designed every time (although our graphic designer would kill me for saying that!). A quick video or slideshow is a powerful way to share key visuals, regardless of whether you put it together using free software or hired a production company.

Personalized, not specialized. It's important to make each supporter feel like you've heard and respect their interests and preferences. That doesn't mean you need to create something new for every foundation! Sending a single piece to multiple funders, with some personalization where needed, is essential to keeping you sane. You can create a template cover note to accompany it that your staff can personalize to each specific funder.

Visuals matter, but communication matters more. Don't hold back from stewardship because you're lacking visual content. A brief email, notecard, or phone call still shows the donor that you're thinking about them and want them to feel engaged and aware of the impact they help create.

Make it replicable. If you can set up a tool or structure to make next year's stewardship move easier and quicker, go for it! If you can share your stewardship piece not just with specific donors, but through social media or on your website, all the better.

Don't take yourself so seriously. Humor can go a long way. At my workplace (the Gulf of Maine Research Institute), all staff members take a week or two of kitchen duty each year to help keep our office clean. Last fall, with soup season in its full glory, we noticed a disturbing lack of spoons. One clever staff member turned an email request for spoon returns into a fisheries-style stock rebuild plan … and it turned into a fabulous tool for our President to share with some of our closest fisheries friends about our company culture and reconnect on key issues.

How do you keep stewardship in mind? I'd love your comments and ideas below. And, stay tuned for next week's post with some specific ideas you can steal for your own mission. 



By: PJ Townsend
On: 11/01/2016 15:46:05
This comes as I am writing Thanksgiving cards to a small roster of abiding donors. Several include small gifts that may resonate with that particular donor, but most are simply a card saying "thanks." Personal notes, in my experience, may make all the difference, as noted in this delightful article.

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