Institute for Charitable Giving

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Stewardship and the Good Giving Experience

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Extract from William Sturtevant’s book, The Artful Journey

Andrew Carnegie once said that “It is more difficult to give money away intelligently than it is to earn it in the first place.” I suspect he was correct. Our donors wish to have an impact through their giving, and to that, they are certainly entitled. Demonstrating just how a gift achieves the desired impact is the essence of the stewardship process.

Some years ago, at one of our major gift seminars, we were fortunate to have Stanley Marcus, co-founder of Neiman-Marcus, attend as a special guest. What a special human being he was. Stanley had long recognized the importance of good stewardship in any transactional relationship, as evidenced by what he once said about Nieman-Marcus customers. His observation was that “There is never a good sale for Nieman-Marcus unless it is a good buy for the customer.” As fundraisers, we should always remember that it is never a good gift for our donors unless they receive the satisfaction to which they are entitled.
Stewardship is critical for two reasons. First, it is our fiduciary responsibility to ensure that donors’ gifts are handled properly.  They must be used for designated purposes, and the judicious application of entrusted gift funds is vital. Where investing is involved, as is true with endowments, responsible actions and prudence in this regard is mandatory.
The second aspect, and the one most important to fundraisers, it that of using stewardship as a cultivational tool. We have already stated that the best cultivation is the good giving experience, and this is truly what stewardship is all about.   If we do our job well, each gift begets the next commitment because we provide our donors with a good giving experience.
Effective stewardship carries our donors to a higher motivational plane. 
The essence of stewardship is providing continuing satisfaction and reinforcement to current or past donors.  Donors to our organizations must be tracked, communicated with, acknowledged, responded to and periodically audited for satisfaction.  The ultimate goal of stewardship is to build relationships with donors by ensuring that their expectations regarding the giving experience are met.  The idea is to provide evidence to our donors that their gifts are achieving the desired purpose and that we are grateful as a result.
Research and common sense tell us that our donors’ perception of the quality of the exchange or giving relationship is a key factor in building long term connections which are positive in many ways.


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