One of my favorite movies is the 1957 classic, Peyton Place, which has a narrative about the changing seasons. That prompted me to write about the summer that is quickly coming to an end. In the fundraising world, this is a tough time to start new relationships or make progress on fundraising goals, as many people take summer vacations and the ability of a development professional to get a group of folks to come to consensus on a giving commitment is limited. Prospects are a bit higher for individual giving, where there are less people involved in making the decision, but even those opportunities are impacted by summer schedules.
I have found that the summer months are actually a good time to focus on stewardship, the term we use for maintaining existing relationships with existing or prospective donors. Stewardship should occur throughout the year but, in reality, it sometimes falls by the wayside while programming and fundraising take on greater urgency. It is important for the overall health of a major donor relationship that every interaction not be about a donation. Individual donors and family foundations support an organization for a number of personal reasons, but chief among them is their embrace of the causes the nonprofit seeks to address.
During the non-summer months, it is common to engage these donors about making annual commitments or participating in award ceremonies or gala dinners. But during the summer, it might be a good idea to make personal contact with the donor to update them on key programming achievements, discuss plans for future initiatives, and ask for their feedback and advice about the organization. If the conversation naturally turns to donations – or, better yet, to other people the donor could introduce to the organization – then that is fine. But the development professional should make a point of not being the person to raise the topic of donations first.
As many development professionals will admit, some of your most important donor relationships inevitably become personal relationships. You get to know their personal story, their family history, the reasons why they are committed to certain causes. You form a genuine personal bond and want to help them achieve their charitable goals. I have found myself meeting with folks during the summer on board boats, over dinner at their homes, during drop-bys to their town when I am there on other business. Face-to-face engagement matters on numerous levels.
Stewardship engagement also positions the organization to be fresh in the donor’s mind as the seasons shift into Fall and the organization prepares to engage with its donor base for year-end gifts. Remembering that the organization took the time to check in and ask for input (without asking for a donation) may enhance the prospects of a favorable impression.
A nice way to make the conversation personal is to follow-up with a handwritten note. This kind of personal effort really stands out these days in the midst of impersonal mass mailings or emails. Who wouldn’t like to go to the mailbox in the middle of August and find a handwritten note of thanks for your commitment to a worthy cause?