Lately, folks have been posting great questions to listservs about donors who have been placed in "perpetual stewardship" and bench-marking for plans around those generous people who have "made their final gift". I'm kind of miffed by this entire concept and am wondering if placing a donor into perpetual stewardship isn't a myth or isn't taking the easy way out. I think it undervalues and underestimates a donor and at times can be dangerous.
First, let's explain why the practice occurs. Gift officers are measured on dollar goals usually and have to carry portfolios of donors ranging from 75-200 people. From time to time they work with prospect management teams to cycle donors through their portfolio. One way to remove a donor from your portfolio is to mark them in "permanent stewardship" status so that you can bring in a donor who has the chance of giving more or helping reach dollar goals.
But where does this donor go? They often fall off of a cliff in reality. Meaning, there is no one assigned to people in "perpetual stewardship" and thus and therefore, the personal contact stops. One way to guarantee that a donor won't give again is to take their visit behavior from once or twice a year to nothing, but I understand the need to prioritize. The conundrum lies in how we determine when a donor is done giving and how many attempts we make before we have them walk the plank.
Planned gifts are no excuse. We know that once a donor commits to a deferred gift, their annual giving goes up, also ALL planned gifts are revocable given a good attorney so that logic doesn't play out. Someone that says they've made their final gift to us is another excuse. Final gift though to what? Have we just not found another good match for their philanthropic desires? What about the fact that the average lifespan of a fundraiser is 16 months? Could it be a personality glitch? Donors are randomly assigned based on geography or area of giving, what if we assigned donors based off of strengths or personality types? Donor doesn't give with one person at one point in time after huge philanthropic giving before, why don't we try someone else? Just because I tell Johnny that I'm done giving, doesn't mean Jane won't spark my fire. But once a donor is placed in "permanent stewardship" Jane doesn't even get the chance...
So what are the solutions? I really thing being more donor focused and realizing that preference is subjective is one path to success. Another would be a clear, consistent, definition of what it takes to be exited from a portfolio. Am I placed in permanent stewardship because I won't take your calls for a visit? Let us not be so hasty to write someone off. And if we place someone in this Oz of "permanent stewardship" let's also ensure that there is still someone there to take care of them, treat them well and meet their needs. We don't put our friends on a shelf. Why do we put donors there?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you have donors in "perpetual stewardship"? Is this a legitimate donor category at your organization? What do you do for them and who is responsible?