It’s the Experience of Philanthropy that Counts…still

January 30th, 2013

There are definitely truisms regarding the best methods for thanking donors, for establishing an experience, a tradition of giving: Be personal, be authentic, be creative and follow a plan.

Communication of the good feelings and positive impact of philanthropy by using all communication channels, even through donor plaques, donor walls and social media, will build a terrific foundation for experiential stewardship. Visitors and viewers, by definition, will experience the greater good that giving empowers while being more subtly impacted by the sincerity of appreciation that’s being shared.

I came across this article by Katya Andreson. In a recent newsletter she highlighted ideas for strengthening the impact of donor communications and set forth a good example of an organization doing a terrific job on line, The Minneapolis Jewish Federation and it’s newly initiated  The Make a World of Difference Project . Her article evaluates the impact of giving being made apparent to each viewer of that site. I present it here as contemporary example of experiential stewardship and plainly stated, philanthropy branding. And if the example she sets forth seems too bold, too much beyond your financial abilities, she reminds us all to:

  • provide clear and simple information on how money will be used.
  • show, don’t just tell.
  • choose messengers wisely.

Likewise, I’ve always implored our clients to “Think, Before You Thank”. Another way to say it is: “plan the work and work the plan”.

So, today the impact that the thoughtfully organized and public presentation of your own achievements through giving will garner new and renewed interest by visitors and viewers. Let donors tell their own positive experiences related to giving; then you, too, tell your own stories;  explain why folks continue to give (donor retention); communicate actual stories and examples of your own progress achieved by generosity.  Conveying philanthropy experiences in these public ways is more important today than ever. Just “share”.

As a follow-up to a survey we conducted of ADRP members in 2010,  we found that certain constants are worthy of mention in a blog we wrote then and they are just as pertinent today:

  • Stewardship must be very personal.  Make sure that you know the donor as you would a friend. Structure the “benefits” your organization gives in return for a gift as you would for some one you know well and enjoy.  More than anything, donors want access to the people within the organization who are closest to the aspect of the mission that is most dear to them.  That may be students, a physician, the president, or the sports team.
  • What works for one organization or department will not necessarily work for another.  Be authentic, be “real” and plan interaction with your donors around your assets.  If you have a dynamic physician, CEO or president who is also good with people, make use of him or her.  If that’s not the case, don’t force it.  An “assignment” for that sort of leader to spend time with donors may backfire.
  • Be creative.  Look at the activities, events and methods for bringing people together available to you.  Not every “gathering” need be scheduled or scripted.  Bringing the right donor into the right situation at the right moment can unlock magic.
  • Keep good records.  Plan what you can in advance, including it in donor agreements or solicitation packages when appropriate. Gather photographs, documents and examples that make communicating your plans with donors fast and efficient.  Be meticulous with notes about those activities that are intentionally less structured, too.  By monitoring your successes (and near misses) you improve your skills and build a library of ideas to guide others.

And once again,  I acknowledge those who were so willing to share their expertise:

  • Dania Beck, Greenville Hospital System University Medical System
  • Robyn Furness-Fallin, formerly of the Metro Atlanta YMCA
  • Robin C. Good, Lahey Clinic
  • Karen Gruner, CHOC Children’s Foundation
  • Dan Gura, University of Tampa
  • Cary Henderson, University of South Carolina
  • Anne Mejia, Best Friends Animal Society

Written by: Robin E. Williams


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