What if you had given sizeable contributions every year to a cause you cared deeply about, but never saw the impact of what you had given? Would you consider giving more?
This development professional’s story of the power of stewardship speaks its own importance:
When I came on board here, there was a woman who had been giving $10,000 a year to a lectureship. But she wasn’t being invited to her own lectures. And I didn’t really understand that. It seemed like we stewarded her pretty well a few years ago; we went out to visit her and so on. But it seemed very inconsistent.
I knew this woman had great ability to give. Her husband had died of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis many years back, and she gave to us because he went here, and she felt like research here was really strong, and she wanted to cure that disease. So that’s her motivation. She’s not an alumna…[she has] no other relationship really with our institution. She doesn’t live in the area, so it takes a certain amount of effort to go and steward her.
But what she said was something I’ll never forget. When I called her and I checked in, she said, “the silence from [your institution] has been deafening”. And that was a real wake-up call around the importance of stewardship.
So I said, okay, we’re going to turn this around. We’re going to, at a minimum, invite her to her own lectureship.
[I thought] what we should do is maybe get a dinner the night before. We’ll get the pulmonary team together. We’ll roll out the red carpet. We’ll have a really nice dinner for her and then I will take her to the lectureship, sit with her, and then maybe we can do photographs with the lecturer. We can take a tour of the campus. And that has gone extremely well. She is so happy.
And the thread is, I’m also trying to bring her good news around the cure of this disease. You know, we’re friendly and I’m inviting her to the lecture and we’re doing all that, but I never forget the fact that her husband died of this disease, and she wants to cure it. And she wants to do what she can financially to help with that.
So she went from giving a $10,000 a year lectureship to a $2 million commitment for the purpose of research in this particular disease, supporting this one particular researcher. So I feel like I’ve really hit the sweet spot with her, and she trusts me. I’m consistent. And I keep trying to bring her the good news, which is, we might be able to cure this disease. It might actually happen. And these are the talented people who can do it, and that’s the matchmaking. That’s where I bring them together and then I just sort of sit back and watch the magic happen.
When donors make meaningful contributions, they expect and deserve a return on their philanthropic investments (ROPI).
Consider how this development professional provides the three components of ROPI for this donor:
- He ensures that she can see the impact of her lectureship series firsthand by inviting her to attend and experience the events.
- He works to meet her expectations by bringing her news of the progress of the research she supports.
- He shows respect by creating meaningful experiences that allow her to engage with respected people doing important work.
What missed stewardship opportunities are preventing your organization from making the most of its philanthropic potential? How can you share impact, meet expectations, and show respect to your organization’s philanthropic partners?