One of the biggest differences in the past few years in the evolution of donor relations and stewardship as a profession and area of intense focus for most fundraising shops is the progression of thought about donors and our activities surrounding them. Yes, we are becoming more donor focused than ever, with for the most of us our mantra becoming, "if it benefits our donor and our relationship with them, we must do it".
Many people constantly ask me what the new face of donor relations will look like, the answer for me is basic; strategic, forward thinking donor relations programs are not only the future, they are the here and now.
When the profession began, it began out of necessity, who was going to provide things and services for donors that fundraisers didn't have the time or resources to do? Let's give it to donor relations, they are the reactors, problem solvers, those who get it done. The problem with this mindset toward donor relations is that it is reactive, transactional and does not allow for forward thinking and planning. If you're always reacting and doing the tasks, how do you plan for the future?
Now, donor relations and stewardship, at least those who run sophisticated, donor focused strategic shops, is largely proactive, relationship based and forward looking.
So, how do you change a reactionary, task oriented program into a strategic innovative one and what does that look like?
Here are some tips:
1. Stop waiting for gifts and situations to happen to your organization and anticipate the needs of your donors before requests happen. The best way to do this? Obtain feedback from your current constituency about their needs and desires for the future.
2. Create strategic plans around each area of your operations. Let me be clear, these aren't lists of tasks you do as a result of a gift, these are initiatives that fall into place when giving happens. Do you have this for acknowledgments, reporting, naming opportunities, events, and do you have a program that fills the gaps? How are you working with your data team to find rich data streams that will allow robust analysis of your constituency? Remember data always drives your strategy; be it from your database, peers, donors or other places, your strategy must have solid roots.
3. Find pathways to direct contact with your donors. Your contact with them should be holistic in manner and not just when they call to RSVP or need parking or catering advice. You should have a portfolio of relationships that you help maintain and service, always looking for the forward thinking opportunity to build from.
4. Have you thought lately about those donors that fall through the cracks? What are you doing for them? Consider a blanket stewardship program that can cover multiple populations through the implementation of a measured, strategic combination of communications, unique opportunities and other items, engaging your donors across multiple platforms and experiences. For more ideas, check out my blanket stewardship program in the slides here.
5. Have you evaluated your program from a metrics and ROI based approach lately? How cost effective are your efforts? Are they working for your populations? I'm not talking a task audit here folks, I'm talking about real dissection of your programs, evaluating efficiencies, ways in which you ate involved across your department and whether or not everything you do is donor focused or if you are just doing it because you always have.
6. Finally, in order to be strategic and forward thinking, dare I say groundbreaking and innovative, you need to have the time to do so. Insert shameless plug on workload management blog post here.
If you are constantly fighting to keep up, how can you make forward progress?
I would love to hear from you about examples of how you have taken things from reactive to proactive and how that manifests itself in the comments below.