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Stewardship and the Pandemic

Stewardship is for the long haul and not about the immediate transaction;
I think it is important to remember that you are building a sustainable program.

Erin A. Moyer, Associate Vice President of Advancement
& Chief of Staff, University of Rochester

Key to stewardship is building and deepening relationships in the best of times and the worst of times. The pandemic is the latter of these times. So, what are we doing? What has changed? What does the future hold?

Keeping your supporters in the know is important – and perhaps even more important during a pandemic. Presumably, you’ve asked them how are they doing? Perhaps, you’ve asked them how are they feeling? If you and your team spoke with them in the early days of the pandemic, has the interaction been consistent since then?

We should be on our “A game” in these (and all) challenging times. We should show additional appreciation of donors. Of course, make it personal in all communications and interactions. Are you talking with them regularly – quarterly or more - via telephone or Zoom? As the pandemic has changed and continues, are you keeping them informed on what your college or non-profit organization is doing to respond to the ever-changing environment?

When we asked Bianca Whitworth Luzon, Director of Stewardship & Donor Engagement at Boston College, about their stewardship program and its changes this past pandemic year, she shared that they “immediately shifted our in-person scholarship event to a virtual video. This year, it will still be virtual, however, we transformed it into a week of virtual events and smaller donor and student meetings to help with engagement.”

We’ve been learning more about some of the programs and activities that are changing our approaches in stewardship during this pandemic, including:

  • Virtual events are here to stay, and colleagues are developing new and refigured programs with faculty, notable alumni, and students focusing on academic programs. We are reaching a broader segment of our donors and constituents. It’s happening nationally and internationally. We’ve not been in such a strategic position as we find ourselves today. In essence, it has everything to do with the organization’s mission. Now we are able to demonstrate the impact we have even more than ever.

    One of the more interesting ones we’ve discovered is four mini-classes led by faculty. The opportunities are endless in reaching out virtually in new and exciting ways. Key is keeping donors engaged regardless of their location in Chicago, London, or Hong Kong.

  • Colleagues “learned to enhance our digital presence which will help continue donor engagement touchpoints,” according to Whitworth Luzon at Boston College. There are multiple platforms to expand the depth and breadth of what we deliver.

  • Are we surveying our constituents to ask for their input and feedback so we can build our programs to meet their interests? And how might we use surveys to gain more information? Are we asking about their level of engagement with us?

  • We’ve moved beyond posting stories and information on our website and hope that they find it. We must look beyond the website. Rather, we need to directly reach the donors with fewer clicks. The easier the access, the more participants through more platforms for engagement on their terms. This type of interaction allows for true engagement with our donors.

  • Live streaming is working quite well for donors, according to Lynne Wester, principal and founder of Donor Relations Guru. She also advocates for more series-based programs that will invest donors and keep them engaged.

There are so many suggestions, successes, challenges, and opportunities to learn from a wide swath of businesses, non-profits, and other organizations. See what others are doing. Perhaps you can recreate or change slightly to fit into your overall institution’s mission and values.

This may well be a most significant opportunity to capture and form the essence of stewardship as a sustainable program.



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