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Synchronized Fundraising: 10 Tipping Points between Operations and Stewardship

February 15, 2012

The Association of Donor Relations Professionals (ADRP) is a terrific group of dedicated professionals helping our industry focus on the essential element of great fundraising–stewardship. I had a chance to conduct a webinar for a few hundred ADRP members on the topic of balancing donor relations with operations. This is a vitally important issue. The stronger the integration between the two efforts, the better stewardship your donors will receive.

Stewardship moves from Systemic to Personal, High-Volume to High-Touch

This depiction illustrates the overlap. High-volume, high-tech donor relations is heavily reliant on operations. That is, receipts and acknowledgments generated from the database, accurate gift and recognition recording, and many other areas of great stewardship require great operational effectiveness.

So, what are the top 10 tipping points for, or prohibiting, integration of the two? These ten areas, when coordinated well, bode well for synchronized fundraising:

  1. Technology: ultimately these are means to an end, but using these tools well will improve the partnership.
  2. Online Engagement: some organizations would disagree, but, like technology, this is more of a channel than a strategy. It can be a valuable channel, though, and is often a little too technical for the stewardship team to manage alone.
  3. Prospect Development: operations often plays a bigger role on the front-end, leading to a two-stage process, but coordination is critical.
  4. Internal Reporting: operations holds the key to great reports. The more accurate, complete, and timely, the better donor relations can leverage information to build relationships with donors at the time of and between gifts.
  5. Data: accurate data are the basis for good reports, good receipts, and generally convincing your donors that you are an organization with its act together and worth supporting.
  6. Receipts and Acknowledgments: these are vitally important because they are often the first step in a chain of stewardship activities. Quick and accurate completion is often the responsibility of both teams.
  7. Impact Reports: reporting back to donors requires many sources. Operations and donor relations should work together here to ensure every donor gets the information they deserve.
  8. Recognition: the outward expression of gratitude for giving is mostly in the donor relations portfolio, but really great operations teams are vastly improving how that information is gathered, stored, and analyzed.
  9. Front-of-the-Line: I developed this idea to focus attention on top donors and prospects. The 80/20 rule is an axiom adopted by stewardship but operations folks sometimes just start at the top of the pile and work down. Instead, great partnerships should develop plans like the BIDMC team. Their SIRP (Stewardship Immediate Response Plan) ensures donors get the attention they deserve. And, the operations folks created solutions in their donor database to handle and streamline their process.
  10. Exception Management: Stewardship is essentially about exceptions. Operations is sometimes too, though it is more on negative exceptions (errors).

    Some exceptions and errors matter much more than others

    An integrated team will use points 1-9 to develop a thoughtful process that allows for disciplined handling of good and bad exceptions, so that your best donors and prospects always receive the lion’s share of your resources.

This last point is depicted here. The balance between operations and stewardship can be best summed up as a partnership to maximize donor experiences (partly by minimizing errors) in the upper right quadrant. Don’t sweat the small stuff in the bottom left quadrant.

Synchronizing operations and stewardship requires attention to data, technology, reporting, and business processes. To get these parts, pieces, programs, and processes spinning like a top, take a careful look at these ten areas of integration. The tighter the partnership between operations and stewardship, the better it is for you, your organization, and, most importantly, your donors.

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