I chatted with a senior fundraiser recently who told me that the past month was devoted to meetings, budgets and planning.  There wasn’t time for talking with donors.  Sound familiar?

Ever think about how grand it would be if all you had to do was steward donations.  If you could invest all your energy in making sure donor’s gifts and their intentions are fulfilled … if you could spend your days reporting back to people on how much good their giving did … if you could be the Director of Donor Delight!

We know that giving is pleasurable – it makes people feel good to support a cause.  Science tells us that giving lights up the same pleasure centres in the brain as food, sex and love.  Hearing that their gift was put to good use makes people feel even better, and perhaps more importantly will likely inspire them to give again.  People want to give.

The number one complaint donors have is that they don’t know where their money goes.  The number one complaint fundraisers have is that they’re losing donors.  Retention rates are dropping, attrition is soaring and donor churn is on the rise.

We all know that donor loyalty, commitment and trust are the foundation upon which successful fundraising is built. And we all know how it’s done.  But, do we do it?  Not as well as we should, in my opinion.  Tell me:

  • Do you have delighted donors?  Are they loyal?  Committed to your cause?  Do they trust you?  How do you know?  Do you have processes in place for measuring donor satisfaction?
  • Is donor satisfaction one of your top priorities?  Where exactly does it fall amongst the long list of important things you have to do every day?
  • Do you have a plan for moving donors from an initial transaction to satisfied, loyal, committed and trusting?  How do you report back to donors, so they can know how their gift has been used?  Do you have a stewardship plan?
  • Are you prompt, friendly, approachable in all your donor communications?  Do you and your staff and everyone in your organization know where donor money goes?
  • And finally, what does ‘stewarding donor gifts’ mean to you?  What does it mean to your donors?

If you’re like many fundraisers, you spend oodles of time administering, asking, analyzing … you do donor research so you can know donors better, you develop creative to ask better … you plan, budget and make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.  But somehow, stewarding donors falls to the wayside – it gets done, but often not as effectively as could be.  Perhaps it’s time to:

  • Send meaningful thank you letters that talk about how your organization allocated donor funds this year, this month or for this particular project.  Make them interesting, personable, personal and prompt;
  • Include articles and pictures in your donor newsletter that tell the story of how donor monies are used.  Talk about ‘benefits’ instead of statistics;
  • Phone at least one donor every day (and ideally more) to say ‘thank you’ – if you reach them, chat for a minute and if you reach their machine, leave a cheery message.  Give them reason to remember you;
  • Understand that connecting with donors is as much for your sake as it is for theirs – there is nothing like a thrilled, grateful donor to make you feel great about your job;
  • Shoot some ‘instant photos’, gather children’s art, ink a dog/cat paw print or find something that you can send to a select group of donors with a short personal note;
  • Write well written pieces that tell donors why you need their money and always talk about where their most recent donations went;
  • Invite donors to come and see what their gifts helped purchase or build;
  • Report, report and report some more … when you’re sick of hearing yourself report on where donor money goes, they’ll just be starting to hear you;
  • Engage donors – ask them to tell you their story, and if appropriate share it with other donors;
  • Find ways to be memorable – when was the last time you brainstormed this question with your team?

This month’s tip: Set a goal for having ‘delighted donors’ and chart the course to get you there.  Talk about what ‘stewarding donor gifts’ means to your organization – how you do it individually and as a team.  Agree on how much of a priority it is, set a plan of action for how you want to delight your donors and make the choices that allow you to deliver.  Get creative … give your donors a reason to smile when they hear from you, a reason to remember your organization and most importantly a reason to want to give again.  Take things one step at a time, but aim to be in a different stewardship place this time next year.

This article originally appeared here in Hilborn eNews (formerly Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy eNews)