“Active Recovery” Donor Stewardship

To counteract the impact that age is having on my metabolism, I started running last year.  The past year’s worth of running has taught me a lot.  For example:

  • It’s rather easy to get injured running.  Toenails can get mangled.  Knees can ache.  Ankles can twist.  The simple act of running in a straight line can be dangerous!
  • Because getting injured can occur easily, it is important to let the body rest.  In fact, if you don’t let the body rest, you almost assuredly will get injured.
  • Resting does not always mean “inactivity.”  In fact, some of the most helpful rest occurs when we do what is know as “Active Recovery.”

Simply put, “active recovery,” is the idea that you should run a slow, easy, short run on a day after a longer, more intense run.  These are called “recovery runs.”

The idea is that the best way to increase your fitness is to run during a fatigued state (in this instance, you are fatigued from the long, intense run the day before).  You will still achieve some rest because you are running slow and easy.  But because you are running at all during this fatigued state, you are also increasing your fitness.  It’s the best of both world – rest and exercise!

As I learned about “recovery runs,” I thought about how the concept applies to fundraising – especially donor stewardship.  When a donor gives us a major gift it  is similar to the long, intense run.  It taxes the donor and pushes her to her giving limit.

After such a commitment, it is not uncommon to feel as if we need to give the donor a rest.  Here’s what most institutions do when they give their major donors a rest:  They extend gratitude for the gift, they show the donor how the gift has made an impact, and then they leave the donor alone.   Essentially, the institution doesn’t dare ask the donor for anything further for fear of appearing greedy.

But the principle of “activity recovery” would encourage us to respond differently to major gift donors.   “Active recovery” would suggest we continue to ask – easy, smaller asks – in order to keep increasing the donor’s level of “giving fitness.”   Stewardship plans built on the principle of “active recovery” would still allow for the donor to rest appropriately until the next big run. . . errr, solicitation.  But it would encourage us to keep asking the donor for something – even something much easier and/or smaller.

What might an “active recovery” stewardship plan for donors look like?  I would suggest at least 3 types of asks be made of donors following a major gift commitment:

  1. Ask them to attend.  Personally invite them to participate and/or attend events and activities important to your institution.  Keep them engaged in the life of the institution during this “resting” phase;
  2. Ask them to serve.  Match up your formal volunteer opportunities with the donor’s interests and capacities.  Ask them to serve on a governing board, advisory council, task force, or other committee sanctioned by the institution.
  3. Ask them to give financially.  Even though they have made a significant gift recently, don’t stop looking for smaller, specific projects that may have an interest for the donor.  Like the “recovery runs” described above, you don’t want to ask the donor for a major gift, but a smaller project here and there can keep the donor in a habit and disposition toward making gifts.

The conventional wisdom is that “donors need a break” after a major commitment.  “Active recovery” encourages us to think about that “break” much differently.  Keep asking – appropriately – and you might be surprised at how quickly your donors become charitably fit!

 

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