First of all, thank you all so much for the support of my new book, The Four Pillars of Donor Relations. It has sold out of its first run and is going strong on its second publication run. I will also have 100 on hand at the ADRP conference in September and will be doing a book signing there!
Often, I am asked about my strong assertion that stewardship and donor relations are not synonymous. I believe that this clarification is crucial to the profession moving forward. We must be advocates of this difference and help explain it to others in order to build understanding and awareness. The major difference is that stewardship is tied to the gift the donor gives; one cannot steward a donor, only their giving. But an organization can engage, cultivate, and relate to donors, with stewardship being one part of the overall donor relations strategy.
This is a vital distinction that cannot be overstated. Using the terms incorrectly blurs the clear divides of the work and can lead to confusion and error. If donor relations is proactive, then it must also be said that stewardship is reactive. Stewardship is the activity that takes place after the gift is received. Donor relations encompasses so much more, both in anticipation of the gift and in preparation for a long-term relationship that must be nurtured in order for positive philanthropy to occur.
In another metaphor, I look at stewardship as one or two dimensional, flat and static. Donor relations should be sensory, round, three dimensional and robust. It is a dynamic part of the relationship that exists between donor and organization. If a shop of donor relations professionals is just cranking out stewardship reports and acknowledgments, this is the foundation and a good first step, but by no means is all encompassing proactive donor relations. Far too often, when performing assessments of donor relations, I find that the professionals are task oriented and busy, but that the work that results is much more gift oriented than donor oriented.
So how do we make the shift and also explain to others that while stewardship is a baseline, it isn’t enough on its own. A donor REQUIRES stewardship but DESIRES donor relations. Think of it as in education where you have prerequisites for classes. Stewardship is 101 and donor relations is 201. In order to advance a relationship, the prerequisite must be met.
How does this manifest itself in your organization? What other examples or metaphors do you use to explain these differences to those around you? I welcome your comments.