• Noah Maier

On Metrics-Driven Stewardship

Ah, yes, I'm talking to you. You who are in the middle of hand-writing thank-you cards. As you lick and stamp them, you wonder how you got so far behind on this work. My friend, I have bad news. Your hand-written thank you notes are hurting you more than you know.

Stewardship (the stuff that happens after the gift comes in) can be an excuse for you not to be your best. Well-executed stewardship does two things. One, it fulfills a cultural expectation. People want you to say thank you. Two, it builds a relationship. Like a Target Red Card, donors will stay loyal to an organization that treats them well.

Stewardship is measurable. You can look at how much money is coming in. You can look at whether it repeats itself year over year. You can look if people's gifts are going up. All these and more will help you value your stewardship efforts.

But I'm writing here to address fake stewardship. These are the habits you've formed to avoid doing real work. Everyone in fundraising loves to take care of their donors. It's not surprising to me that discussions around stewardship are often trite.

There's an elephant in the room. People don't like measuring the efficiency of our donor communications.

Why? Well, stewardship gives meaningless work the patina of virtue. We've all been to events that were a waste of time. You've seen portfolio managers spend hours putting together packages of bumper stickers. At best, they could thank their donors in a more impactful way. At worst, they're scared to ask for money and using the halo of stewardship as an excuse. By claiming "stewardship", they're saying "it's ok that this doesn't make any money". It's a tactic of fear.

Even the best professionals suffer from wrong instincts. Empathy is the natural instinct for most fundraisers, not the exception. Fundraisers are instinctively compassionate. Asking for money is the hard part.

There's a way out. You can be your compassionate, empathetic self without sacrificing quality. All you have to do is test your assumptions.

Assumption: Hand-written thank you notes increase donor loyalty.

Test: Send 100 thank you notes. Make 50 hand-written. Track your test when it's time to re-solicit.

And if you can't prove that what you're doing is a worthwhile use of your time, then cut it out of your life. That especially includes anything we "feel good about". It also includes anything "our donors have come to expect".

You can maximize your efforts by focusing on what matters, and honing away the rest of it.

Speaking of impact, we haven't met mentioned your most valuable resources: time. You can measure the impact of our time. It's simple math. Divide your financial impact by the hours you work in a year. (If you want the math, it's Portfolio Size / 2160). When you sit down and do the math, I'm willing to bet that you could do a lot less busywork. Focus on real, effective, measurable stewardship.

I'm as big an offender as you. I've spent countless hours on annual reports that weren't exactly right. I've labored at seating charts for events that didn't have fundraising asks. I've spent too much time in subcommittees.

Everything you do should lead towards multiplying the impact of philanthropy. After all, that's why donors write checks to pay for your salary.

Bad stewardship hurts your mission. Good stewardship will help you thrive.

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