Winning the Battle – Part Three – Donor Stewardship

Leadership // December 13, 2010

While studying for my certification with CFRE International, we spent considerable time on Relationship Building and Donor Stewardship. Here are descriptions used by CFRE (forgive the institutional language):

  1. Initiate and strengthen relationships with all constituents, through a systematic cultivation plan designed to increase support of the organization over the long term
  2. Acknowledge and recognize gifts in ways that are meaningful to donors and appropriate to the mission and values of the organization
  3. Develop and implement a comprehensive communications plan in order to inform constituents and identified markets about the mission, vision, and values of the organization, its funding priorities, and gift opportunities
  4. Inform constituents about the value of giving in order to promote a culture of philanthropy

Why share this with you? Remember, you are competing with more than 1.2 million non-profits in this country for their charitable dollar. They have people on staff that study AND practice this stuff every day.

Unlike the typical non-profit 501(c)3, you have an amazing opportunity to reach those who support your ministry 52 or more times each year! Are you making the most of those opportunities?

Have you considered all facets of potential contact that will keep your donors engaged and excited about the impact of your ministry? More than ever, givers want to know their generosity is making a difference. You have to help them “connect the dots” between their giving and the good that is happening in and through your church.

Here are suggestions for strengthening relationships with your supporters.

Stories of Life Change: Immediately begin to share stories and testimonies from and about people who have been changed as a result of your ministry. Try to touch upon every significant program that your church offers during the year. Examples I have heard recently:

  • A reconciled marriage that resulted from a couples retreat or participation in a couples small group
  • A young couple sharing how their child came to Christ through the children’s ministry or Vacation Bible School
  • A man who has rededicated his life to Christ as a result of his playing basketball in the church’s recreation ministry
  • A family who has avoided bankruptcy and is getting their financial life in order as a result of participation in the church’s Financial Peace University course offering
  • Generosity lived out through the life of a teenager who gives her birthday gifts away and asks her friends to forego gifts at her party, but instead to make a contribution to Charity Water

Share these stories through a video, live during worship services, on a “stories of life change” page on your website, in your newsletters and e-mail updates, at special events, on slides prior to services, on your Facebook page, in letters that accompany giving statements, in your annual report, just about EVERYWHERE! Here’s how Community Christian does it through their website.

Giving statements: I recommend that you mail an updated giving statement each quarter. Surprisingly, most people do not keep track of their giving, as it relates to their year-to-date income. A quarterly statement reflects their giving to date and serves as a reminder to keep up the good work of supporting the church. A cover letter should accompany the statement. Make sure you share at least one story of life change in the letter!

Online Access: Most online giving vendors provide online access to one’s giving records. This is a substantial feature that is yet another reason to offer online giving. You can include reminders (and links) in your e-mail and mail communications to go online and check your current giving statement.

Annual Report: Consider creating and publishing (in print and online) an annual report that reflects ministry outcomes alongside fiscal data. Unlike the annual reports of old, here is an example from NewSpring Church. Note the emphasis on results, ministry impact, and the lack of highly detailed, boring columns of numbers. Most people are interested in knowing the outcomes that result from their contribution, not the accounting detail contained in balance sheets and cash flow statements. I am not suggesting you, no longer disclose that detail, just that you not do it in this communication channel. You should continue to offer high levels of detail and an open book policy to anyone who desires to set an appointment to come in to the office to view those documents. Transparency is vital.

These steps will enhance relationships between your ministry and those who want to support your mission. Assign responsibilities to those on your team and hold them accountable.

About Rusty Lewis

As a church leader, there’s nothing more frustrating than not having the funding to do what God’s calling you to do. But when you think about trying to address that problem, you feel overwhelmed, you dread the potential pushback from your congregation, and you’re not sure where to turn for help. Over the last 18 years, I’ve helped more than 120 churches close the gap between their current financial reality and what they need to move forward in ministry.

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