Stewardship and Donor Relations: How to Crash the Party

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For years, stewardship and donor relations professionals have talked about ways in which to develop a presence at the leadership table. This may mean a standing invitation to sit in at prospect development meetings, event planning meetings, executive briefings or leadership planning meetings. Participating in all of these types of meetings are helpful for several reasons:

  1. You remain aware of the next steps in your team’s fund-raising efforts;
  2. Your development team remains aware of the role you play in maintaining and enhancing donor relationships with the organization; and
  3. You can develop efficiencies in your own planning and productivity efforts by anticipating needs and delivering solutions.

Whether you are new to the field or a seasoned veteran in the industry, your role as a donor relations and stewardship officer will be viewed very differently across institutions. No matter where your position falls in the overall hierarchy, the reality is that all productive members of a foundation or university advancement team are highly valued, and your executive leadership will respect you and invite to the table if you are able to appropriately demonstrate your value to the organization. So I encourage you to consider how best you and your talents, knowledge and relationships can make an immediate, positive impact on the institution’s stated goals.

Be Present

It sounds obvious, but make sure you attend and participate in optional team meetings. Know what you have to offer to various conversations and do not hesitate to be vocal when your strengths will be of help to the larger effort. Come prepared with data to share: the number of new endowed funds created, the amount of restricted income spent or share snippets of donor impact reports that may prove useful in future donor conversations.

Also, consider positioning yourself physically in an office or other work space that facilitates conversation with your development officers, data managers and prospect researchers. At the least, make regular rounds to keep tabs on the important hallway conversations being had.

Being present results in a general awareness of hot topics and your organization’s highest priorities.

Be Proactive

By being present and understanding the highest priorities of your organization, you have a far greater opportunity to be proactive and anticipate the critical needs of others. Furthermore, you will be less likely to be caught off-guard by urgent requests; you may even be able to anticipate needs and offer creative solutions before the requests are even made.

Plan ahead for opportunities like the Foundation or University Board meetings. Collect data that demonstrates to your institutional leaders and governing members that your stewardship and donor relations team is leading valuable conversations and managing important initiatives. Report out statistics that they never thought to ask about, such as the number of philanthropic funds supporting educational initiatives, or the percentage of donors interacting with the institution in any given year (i.e. event attendance, correspondence or gifts received, or personal visits accepted).

Just because you aren’t responsible for the whole of the activity does not mean that you cannot proactively report on the success of department-wide donor relations and stewardship efforts. Develop a suite of reports that others will depend on you to provide and enhance with new programming from year-to-year.

Be Relevant

Lastly, be relevant in all that you do.

We all undertake projects that aren’t demonstrating significant impact or results for our institutions. Sometimes we rationalize doing them simply because these projects have always been done. In all efforts, though, we should be keenly aware of how our work is moving the institution closer to achieving a higher-level goal. If your executive leadership questions the work that you do, make a point to draw solid lines between your personal results and the organization’s success.

For years, your colleagues across the nation and abroad have been working hard to professionalize the fields of donor relations and stewardship. I would challenge anyone who is still waiting for someone to invite them to the table to simply stop waiting. Crash the party by being present, proactive and relevant in all that you do and demonstrate just how critical your work is to the success of your organization.


Academic Impressions brings you these recorded webcasts to transform your donor relations office: