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Scoring Big: Donor Stewardship and Football – A Team Approach to Success

Blog title graphic with photo of football team standing with hands in a circle and blue overlay with text reading Scoring Big: Donor Stewardship and Football - A Team Approach to Success

When we discuss stewardship, acknowledgments and reporting are usually the first items that come to mind. Similarly, when people think about college football, especially in the South, sacks and touchdowns are the plays that gain a lot of attention and excitement. However, as with any successful football team, there are more players involved in these individual plays than just the quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive back, and these additional players all contribute to the success—or failures—on the field.

While acknowledgments and reporting are very important components of stewardship, they can only happen once gifts have been processed. There are responsibilities prior to processing and post acknowledgment and reporting that also are a part of the stewardship donors receive.

A definition of stewardship I like to share is – “conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. Aimed to build a good relationship with donors to maintain loyalty.

Donors entrust organization staff, at all levels, with their gifts whether they’re received by mail, online, or in person. Development Officers are the offensive players of our organizations. They are managing the relationship of the organization with donors to secure gifts. They have the background and knowledge to know how the gift should be allocated in line with donor intent.

Constituent Management professionals are our defensive players. They process and accurately allocate gifts to maintain healthy records for tax receipts and stewardship touches. They can only be successful when they have all the information necessary to execute their role. The team is working together to “score” the goal of efficiently following donor wishes. If stewardship is to be executed successfully, then it must be a team effort.

At any time, a series of plays may not go as planned, and Donor Relations—our “special teams”—may have to come in with the assist because we are able to understand the objectives of both sides of our team.

The importance of accurately allocating gifts is crucial! When it’s time to send those acknowledgments, we need to know they present the correct information—leading us all to a win! I have firsthand experience with situations where a donor reaches out in confusion and frustration because the communication they received does not align with their intentions! When our team has “dropped the ball” like this, it's certainly a real fumble. If not handled properly, all confidence and trust can be lost in your organization. We must recover quickly to maintain our donors and their confidence. Empowering all your organization’s team members to learn how to address and swiftly correct mistakes is key, and could make all the difference in maintaining a good relationship with your donors.

The legendary football coach, General Robert Neyland, had seven maxims he believed summarized what it takes to be successful on the field. The first – “The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win” – is so true for the work that we carry out.

There’s a saying we’re all familiar with that says “fundraising is everyone’s responsibility.” Well, I believe stewardship is also everyone’s responsibility, as gaining a donor is just as important as retaining a donor. When it comes to our savvy and engaged donors, we must all do our part to ensure we are managing donor’s funds correctly and efficiently to successfully deepen relationships and further loyalty between our donors and organizations.

Fundraising analogy that includes image of cheerleader being held up to take a photo with a member of the crowd.

Do you have a big win that came from great stewardship practices? How about an opportunity where you could improve your stewardship practices? I would love to hear your experiences so we can learn together and have more wins and fewer fumbles in the future!


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