Your Mass Donor Fundraising Is “Stewardship” (and here’s why that’s important)


Jeff Brooks recently wrote an incredible post called “Fundraising vs. Stewardship: Which Is More Important?”

You should read it.

I want to show you how the “which is more important” argument – though it sounds academic – is having real-world consequences for your organization right now.

And it’s those consequences that cause some organizations to out-raise their peers, and some organizations to never “make the leap” to the next level. 

Where It Starts

Here’s what I think this whole debate comes from:

  • I think most organizations don’t believe that donors enjoy giving to anything other than events.

Organizations believe that it’s not really possible that a donor could enjoy giving to a piece of direct mail, an email, a radio-thon, etc. 

These organizations believe mass donor fundraising is somehow a negative act.  They believe donors don’t like appeals or emails.  That we fundraisers have to “twist the arm” of donors, or emotionally manipulate them, to get donors to give a gift. 

The Demonstrably Untrue Argument

If you believe that arm-twisting or emotional manipulation is necessary to get a gift, of course you will enjoy stewardship activities more than “fundraising” activities. 

These organizations think something like, “Now that the icky job of fundraising is done, it will be so great to steward our donors.”

There’s even an argument that goes something like this: Stewardship is the way we keep our donors giving to us year after year.  

That’s demonstrably untrue.  How do you explain all those organizations who don’t do any meaningful stewardship, yet they retain a significant portion of their donors each year? 

The Consequences

In my experience, believing that mass donor fundraising is a negative act results in the following tactical mistakes:

  • Asking donors less frequently than you could be
  • Refusing to put a reply card and reply envelope in your printed receipts
  • Refusing to turn your newsletter into a fundraising vehicle
  • Always telling a story of “the good you’ve already done” in appeals and e-appeals

All of those things are done out of a belief that Asking in mass donor fundraising is a negative thing and will – sooner or later – drive donors away.

However, it’s doing the opposite of those things that raises the most money AND increases donor retention:

  • Asking donors more frequently than you think you can
  • Putting a reply card and reply envelope in your printed receipts
  • Turning your newsletter into a revenue-generating machine
  • Never telling a story of “the good you’ve already done” in appeals and e-appeals

Every one of those things, done well, works like crazy.  (It’s why so many of our clients are having incredible years.  Some of them are sharing that they’re embarrassed to talk about how much money they’ve raised to their peer organizations.)   

So I ask you a question: if the definition of “stewardship” is something like “making donors feel good about their giving so that they give again” – then if all of those tactics above increase donor retention, don’t they qualify as effective stewardship?

Donors Love to Give

Donors get joy from giving – whether that’s giving to an appeal letter or at an enjoyable event.

Donors love to give.

In every way, in any form.

They don’t give every time they are asked.  (In the same way, you don’t buy your favorite product or service every time you see it advertised.  And you don’t feel bad about it when you don’t.)

So as an organization, ask yourself if you believe that mass donors love to give to your mass donor fundraising.  Because if you believe donors love to give, you’ll make different decisions about your fundraising.  And those choices will help you raise more money.

And it will bring more joy to your donors at the same time.