Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Difference between Stewardship and Donor Relations

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.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Donor Relations is booming!

Happy Tuesday everyone. I hope you all have been enjoying the fruits of the acknowledgment swap that were posted last Monday.  In the meantime I've been doing a great deal of reading and recently was ensconced by a great report from the folks at Academic Impressions. It's called HEI Executive: Advancement. Over 300 chief advancement officers responded to a survey they released earlier this summer regarding the state of the industry and fundraising trends. They spent much of July analyzing the data and the 90+ page report is out- you can find it here:

The news for donor relations is good- Executives are investing more and more in donor relations. I can tell you first hand that the industry is booming. I know of at least 4 current executive level searches for donor relations talent, many teams who are investing in more FTE for their efforts and large shops that are now centralizing and elevating their donor relations efforts. Look at this data from the report.

 This is a great demonstration of forward movement for our profession. As we increase the number of positions, budgets and importance, are we ensuring that we aren't replicating past efforts and that we are building proactive strategic donor relations programs? Doing the same reactive work year after year will catch up to us and cause our profession to stagnate. Of course, sometimes the news helps prove the case for excellent donor relations for us:

The trend of the past 18 months, the thing most in demand are top and custom stewardship plans, ways to engage our donors who give the most to our organizations- more on that next week, but look at the evidence from the report.

How are we tapping into these new opportunities in donor relations? I can tell you that the buzzword that will be headed into the mix soon will eclipse the past two of metrics and top donor plans and that will be RETENTION. Donor relations can actually move the retention needle significantly and in concrete ways that have tangible ROI. Have you thought about this in your shop? Remember, knowing your numbers is powerful. When's the last time you looked at yours?

How do you feel about this growth target in donor relations? As more resources and staffing come forward, and as expectations increase, what are your thoughts? Where do you see us headed and what are the greatest challenges facing us?

Please contribute in the comments below. Thank you.