Bold new ways to give donors what they want

Bold new ways to give donors what they want

Guest Bloggers | 8 May 2018

We use a lot of jargon words in fundraising. We aren’t unique. We share this joy with every other sector. Our own private language that allows us to talk in code, sort of convinced we fully understand each other. It is both a blessing in communication efficiency and a wall between us and authenticity.



Studying the impact of our professional language on organisations for the last five years has been a fascinating glimpse at the havoc that words can play on teams. We borrow words from sectors we don’t like being associated with like the Sales industry (think prospect, pipeline, target). We look to abbreviate complex ideas with catch all words that leave us having little individuality (think support, empower, advocate). And we use words without interrogating what they really mean, or even more importantly, what they should mean to our individual organisations. Think stewardship.

You’ve probably heard of it. You might even say, 'we do it’. You might even be able to say, ‘stewardship is more than just a thank you for supporters, it is a supporter experience’. If you have got to that stage, I take my hat off to you. For so long we have buried this crucial part of the fundraising cycle at the very end of the steps we take. The last thing we have trained ourselves to think about is the bit that comes after the ‘ask’. The afterthought. We are so preoccupied about how to ask for the donations and bring them in that we haven’t even run a course on the 'thank you' at the IoF until now. 'Crazy!' I hear myself shout.

We are diving into the 2018/19 financial year on the back of a wave of socio-cultural change agents and an appetite and motivation to crack on and actually make some significant changes to the way in which we fundraise. The international development scandals have proved to be the latest tough reminder of how dangerous it is to be complacent of scrutiny and just how much damage it can have on supporter trust and ultimately the survival of our projects. Now we need to say that the definition of stewardship is donor experience, but we need to prod and provoke as much discussion about this as possible as The Commission on the Donor Experience is doing. Without this discussion we don’t craft a shared meaning for this word. We don’t craft a meaning that is admired and inspiring. We don’t help fundraisers to explore what this term means in their organisations.

What it cannot continue to be is a set of reminders to send thank you messages. It cannot be a typical charity event to invite people to. It cannot be a series of emails with spin and a snippet of what the reality is. It needs to be a review of how the organisation listens to and responds in bold new ways to what supporters want, not what works for the organisation.

In August I’m bringing together a group of fundraisers to explore in real terms what supporter experience means in their organisations. Tangible stuff. No fluff, no jargon, no assumed meaning. We are going to lift stewardship as a term right off its place at the end of the solicitation cycle and reframe it around the entire cycle. An all-encompassing bubble of experience. We are going to start designs that challenge the ways in which we work and showcase those bravely making the leap. We are going to give these fundraisers the confidence to make the commitment to supporters in exactly the same way they make commitments to their beneficiaries.

Why am I hosting this session? Because I found myself reflecting in a keynote speech in March about my fears that nothing, not even GDPR would ultimately make a huge difference to how we fundraise. So this is my first commitment to the sector that as a faculty member I will teach how to build trust, not just business as usual. If you want to be a part of this and push your organisation’s thinking with the next curve then join me on a course in London.


Kim van Niekerk, IoF Academy trainer and lecturer 


Find out more about the Stewardship Training course and book your place


Piers Lawson, The Gurkha Welfare Trust | 15 May 2018

You are speaking at an IoF event on 1st August and I am thinking of enrolling someone with whom I work but I would like to ensure that, for someone who is very new to the 'world' of major donor fundraising, that this is the right event (and subject) for him. Could we speak perhaps? Please drop me a mail.
Best wishes,

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