Going Beyond Gratitude

What comes to mind when you think of the word stewardship? Thanking? Recognizing? Expressing gratitude? Making wise use of resources? Perhaps you think of all of these things or something entirely different.

First-Level Stewardship: Expressing Gratitude

The first level of stewardship involves making sure our donors receive a timely thank you and ensuring they know we have received their generous gift and we are grateful. We do a good job expressing timely thanks and sincere gratitude to donors for their gifts. Examples of first-level stewardship we’ve mastered include:

  • Distributing thank you/gift acknowledgment letters 24-48 hours after receiving gifts,
  • Sending hand-written notes in addition to acknowledgment letters,
  • Making personal phone calls to offer thanks,
  • Recognizing in annual reports, and
  • Gathering annually to show appreciation to donors in person.

But if this is where our definition of stewardship ends, we’re missing something very important to our donors. What is the missing link? Illustrating the impact of their gift.

Second-Level Stewardship: Illustrating Impact

Increasingly, our donors want to know their gift is making a positive impact on our institutions. And if it is, they want to give more. A Fidelity Charitable study confirmed this…they found that 64% of donors actually want to give more! So why aren’t they? A resounding 81% expressed concerns with “nonprofit transparency and understanding the impact of my giving” as the #1 barrier for giving more. These donors were asked what would influence them to give more. And 65% said, “greater insight into the impact of my giving.”

Another study that shines the light on the need to do better at communicating impact to donors is the U.S. Trust 2018 Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy. In surveying more than 1,500 high net worth donors, the topic of “impact” was directly addressed in many different ways, including the following.

U.S. Trust 2018 Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy

Alarmingly, 54% of high net worth donors responded, “Don’t know” when asked if their gift is having the impact they intended! These donors have the means to make significant gifts to our institutions and more than half are left wondering how their gift has made an impact. Not good!

A final example (of many) comes from The Millennial Impact Report, which found that 78% of Millennials are very likely or somewhat likely to stop donating if they didn’t know how the donation was making an impact.

Your institution may not rely on the Millennial generation for major gifts…yet. But if your stewardship practices aren’t finding some way to help them feel the impact of their giving, as they advance their careers and their financial resources, they may have already moved on. Finding a way to illustrate impact to your Millennial donors should be a part of your comprehensive stewardship plan.

It’s clear from surveys that there’s room for improvement.

How are you doing in helping donors realize the impact of their philanthropy? 


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