The practice of donor stewardship usually includes a variety of steps or phases that aim to move the donor from their most recent gift to a next gift sometime in the future. Steps like the ones below are commonplace:
- Formal and timely gift acknowledgement and receipting;
- Personalized gratitude and thanking the donor for the gift;
- Updating the donor on the impact of the gift;
- Recognizing the donor publicly for their gift (if applicable and appropriate);
- Inviting the next gift from the donor.
When we look closely at this concept and how it is practiced, we can see a theme of each step is the connection of the donor to their giving. In other words, “donor stewardship” is as much about their gift (or giving) as it is about them as people.
Recently, I learned that a commonplace way of referring to pet owners in Hawaii is to use the word, “kahu.” Kahu means an “honored attendant,” a “regent,” or “caretaker,” or even a “pastor” in religious circles. It’s a person who accepts the role of having close and confidential relations with another soul. It’s about caring deeply for another individual regardless of what they can do for us.
It seems to me that our current thinking and practice of donor stewardship might be a bit off-base.
What if, instead of only responding to donors through a lens of their gifts and giving, we purposefully included caring for them as individuals?
What if we viewed ourselves less as practicing “donor stewardship,” and more as serving as the “kahu” for individuals who support our mission?
What if, today, you simply reached out to a donor or volunteer with whom you’ve not heard from in a while and humbly said, “I was thinking about you today. How are you doing?”
In our outreach to donors, we may find that disengaging our care for them from their giving might be the most engaging work we can do.