Have You Hugged Your Donors Lately? A Lesson in Stewardship from Dogs

Have You Hugged Your Donors Lately? A Lesson in Stewardship from Dogs

December 17, 2014 by jga_admin

My friend Marti Healy writes a bi-weekly column for a South Carolina community newspaper. Recently she wrote about the dog version of hugging – leaning – and how we humans have a lot to learn from dogs about “well-timed, good and proper” hugging. She pointed out that recent research has revealed that “the necessary number of hugs for sufficient wellbeing is eight a day (twelve is better, four is an absolute must).” Marti’s column got me thinking about hugging donors. Do organizations do enough of that?

I equate “hugging” donors with stewardship. Once you receive a gift from a donor, what do you do to develop, enhance and add meaning to the relationship with that donor? How do you continue to communicate with and express appreciation to your donors and help them see and understand the impact they are having through their giving?
All too often, organizations tend to overlook the importance of stewardship. Because your best prospects for future gifts are your current donors, stewarding donors after their gifts is as critical as cultivating them before their gifts.
So how do you “hug” your donors? Certainly, appropriate physical hugs are in order, but what are other non-physical ways to express gratitude, draw your donors into a deeper relationship with your organization, and let them know you care about them? Beyond the standard practices of prompt (and accurate!) gift acknowledgement letters, regular newsletters, personal notes from a scholarship recipients, and a birthday greetings, what are other “hugs” you might consider? Here are some stewardship practices that have caught my eye over the years:

  • Letting the donor know when she/he reaches a significant milestone in giving; for example, cumulative giving of $1,000, $10,000, $100,000 or some other appropriate total, or a certain number (10? 25?) years of consecutive giving;
  • Joining the donor in remembering a spouse, child or former professor on the anniversary date of that individual’s death by calling or emailing the donor just to say, “I’m thinking of you and your loved one.”;
  • Having a board member call the donor within a week of the donor’s gift to thank the donor for the gift -- an additional “touch” to the usual thank you letter;
  • Providing the donor with a “behind the scenes” opportunity to meet with program staff, hear a “things to know” presentation from a cast member before attending a theatrical production, sit in on a class, or take part in a field trip to see the fruits of the conversation work being done by your organization;
  • Sending a card or note on the anniversary of the donor’s first gift or an exceptional gift to your institution; and
  • Sharing stories/updates about the people your donor is assisting with his/her support or sending articles about programs you know to be of particular interest to the donor.

What are other ideas you have for “hugging” donors? How can you help ensure that your organization is engaged in “well-timed, good, and proper” stewardship practices that build strong, lasting relationships with donors?