Planting a shade tree is one of the most unselfish acts you can do, because when it’s fully grown and large enough to provide plenty of shade, you probably won’t be around to experience the shade it will throw off. Being part of medical research is very much like that. You might not see the results, but somebody else will benefit.

— Donor

An old adage tells us that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second-best time to plant a tree is today. This saying also provides sage advice for development professionals in providing stewardship for donors—especially for those who are providing contributions for medical or scientific research.

Most donors who contribute to medical research understand that, when it comes to research, there are no guarantees for success. This is precisely why providing stewardship for these donors is so critical. Waiting to provide stewardship until the shade tree is fully grown—in other words, waiting for a definitive report on the research—can result in missed opportunities to fully engage the donor. What are some ways to provide stewardship for medical research?

Provide One-on-One Contact

Because most donors make contributions because they have a deeply felt need to make a difference in people’s lives, think about ways you can provide personal contact. Because of the long-term nature of medical research, you might need to think more creatively. Would the researcher be willing to meet with the donor to describe ways in which his or her contribution is making an immediate difference in the lab?

A tour of the lab could do double duty in stewarding donors: They can see the place where their contribution is being put to work, and they can experience first-hand the dedication the lab employees have for their work—from the lab techs to the administrative assistant who greets them at the front desk. While donors are certainly hoping the research they are contributing to will provide positive results, they will be gratified to see the level of dedication demonstrated by the research team.

There’s an old saying that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And that came across.

— Donor

Research rarely happens in a vacuum. Often positive results from one trial provide the foundation for further research and testing. Perhaps you can arrange for the donor to meet with a patient who has benefitted from that foundational research. A broader way to demonstrate this kind of impact would be to create a video montage of testimonials from patients and researchers who have been touched by the research completed thus far, and what they are hoping to accomplish with further funding. Seeking philanthropy for a research project can gain momentum by sharing the studies that informed it.

Steward the “Failures”

Most donors of medical research understand that results won’t always be positive. Even research that doesn’t produce the hoped-for results can provide hope. Breakthroughs in research often happen by ticking off what doesn’t work. Even not-hoped-for-results can provide can provide optimism when researchers can articulate why they are now closer to a positive result.

There’s always a sunrise on the other side. The researchers are going to learn from that and keep going. It’s a learning process. The only failure would be if we stopped trying.

— Donor

Do you have experience in providing stewardship for medical research? Share your successes with us on social media.