developing news/What is donor stewardship?

By John Covert

The word stewardship is often mentioned in Christian circles, in numerous contexts. But what does it really mean, and what does it mean in the context of fundraising?

From our Christian vantage point (based on Gen. 1: 26), Christian stewardship is a way of living in which we recognize that everything belongs to God. Some would add that stewardship is the acceptance or assignment to shepherd and safeguard the valuables of others.

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the earth”  (Gen. 1:26 MSG).

Oftentimes we hear the phrase “steward the donor” in our work as development officers. How does this translate given our definition of stewardship? Quite simply, donors are true gifts from God to The Salvation Army, which therefore requires us to shepherd and safeguard that gift. Donors have knowingly and unknowingly given back to God what was God’s in the first place. It is important to note that our responsibility to steward the donor applies whether they have given of their time, talents or treasures.

Raising charitable dollars is first and foremost about developing meaningful relationships with those who care about our mission and ministry to the community. Genuine relationships are not created through emails, text messages and letters. Meaningful relationships are created when we meet face to face with another human being. When we shake hands and share a conversation over a cup of coffee.

Without a meaningful relationship our ability to properly steward a donor to The Salvation Army is at risk of becoming superficial and meaningless. Stewarding a donor is an intentional activity that requires the close collaboration of our Salvation Army officers and our professional development staff. The collaboration may take the form of an officer sharing a special client story or actually visiting a donor with the development officer; both are equally important.

So how do we steward a donor?  It’s quite simple, give them our T.I.M.E.

T—Thank them in a timely and genuine manner. There’s nothing better than a phone call or personal visit to say thank you.

I—Inform them of how their gift made a difference in the life of an individual or a family. Most donors want to know how their gift made an impact. We have a responsibility to tell that story.

M—Manage their gift correctly with a high degree of integrity in regards to their intent. If a donor indicates that they want their donation to send a kid to camp, we have a moral and ethical duty to send a kid to camp.

E—Engage with them on a personal level that communicates that we value them. Provide them with opportunities to volunteer, attend an event, share a cup of coffee. Make sure they get our newsletter, and give them tours of our facilities.

In all of our communication, it is vital that we honor the donor and not just the gift. Our donors are not ATMs, they are gifts from God who care about the mission and ministry of The Salvation Army and deserve our attention and our “T.I.M.E.”

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