By Melodie Carter, MBA
Senior Director of Development and Strategic Partnerships, Shaw University
What is more important — fundraising or stewardship?
The easy, answer is: You need to do both.
As fundraisers, we are bounded to the art of getting more. More funds. More donors. More relationships. But at what point does quantity overshadow quantity?
So, between fundraising and stewardship, which one should take priority?
Stewardship is often defined as the process that occurs AFTER a donor has made a gift and how that organization utilizes that gift to create a long-term mutually beneficial relationship.
Well let’s uncover that understanding a bit. Based on the definition above, fundraising (asking for money) and stewardship (thanking for the money) are two separate actions. But what happens when we alter our view to look at fundraising and stewardship as one and the same?
Asking donors to give is one of the easiest ways to retain them as donors. Given that, Fundraising is Stewardship.
The purpose of stewardship is to keep donors (retention) and to cultivate them to grow their commitment. If you are successful at stewardship, ultimately, you’ll have good donor retention and increased giving.
How do donors retain? They donate or respond to your fundraising.
How do donors upgrade? They donate more than they did before thus responding to your fundraising.
When they don’t respond, they don’t retain. When they don’t respond more, they don’t upgrade.
Of course, there are donors within your portfolio that have a preference when it comes to recognition. Some want more. Some want less. But as fundraisers, our intent should be to create transformational relationships rather than transactional ones, no matter how the donor desires to be engaged.
The donor’s intent is supported by the unity they feel for the cause they are engaging. Their sense of love, connection and relationship, all things we strive to achieve in stewardship, are exactly correlated with giving and more importantly, a culture of philanthropy.
So, our actions to influence the making of the gift, is stewardship. Having the meeting. Sending a special birthday message. Inviting someone to an event.
Don’t think of these as two different activities, this or that, as these actions accomplish both.
Your input and expected output are one and the same, because eventually, we are looking for a transformational experience, not transactional. If you think fundraising is all about the “ask”, your retention will suffer. Your outcomes will forever live in a responsive state. You ask and the donor responds “yes” or “no”.
Conversely, if you focus on fundraising and stewardship as one and the same, the level of cultivation between you and your donor will elevate to one accord. Your donor won’t have to be asked, because the level of stewardship will create a sense of partnership and investment between the donor and the cause. This is seen as transformational giving.
So, value both, for they are one and the same, elements of an orchestra that ultimately bring the sweet sound of music.