Stewarding Business Donors

donor relations Feb 22, 2021

I seem to recall a national politician getting into trouble a few years ago for saying “corporations are people too,” but let’s face it, businesses and corporations are run by people. Yes, they are separate entities, taxable in different ways from how individuals are taxed. Yes, they sometimes appear to be motivated only by profits. I’ve found, however, that most businesses are run by people who care about their communities, want to be good corporate citizens, and are motivated by far more than “what’s in it for me.”

When I was writing Raise More Money from Your Business Community, I recall one of the people I polled for advice on corporate philanthropy saying, “There ain’t no such thing.”

I guess I am the eternal optimist, and I do believe in corporate philanthropy. And I firmly believe that the more we treat business donors similar to the way we treat individual donors, the more successful we will be. This starts with providing good stewardship—the last step in the first gift, and the first step in the next gift. So I guess you could think about this chapter as the end or the beginning.

What Is Stewardship?

The word stewardship has been used in various ways in different contexts, but let’s look at the literal definition of the word, steward. Merriam Webster defines a steward as:

  • one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns (as the supervision of servants, collection of rents, and keeping of accounts);
  • a fiscal agent;
  • an employee on a ship, airplane, bus, or train who manages the provisioning of food [and drink] and attends passengers.

Each of these definitions has some correlation to what nonprofits typically describe as stewardship.

The Role of “Servant”

While most of us don’t have “servants,” we sometimes think of ourselves as serving our donors. And while no one should expect you to give in to unreasonable demands of donors, you do need to put the donor’s interests above your own—and even above those of your organization.

The Role of Fiscal Agent

Collection of accounts is a task we call pledge fulfillment, recording, and reporting. This is a critical part of stewardship. We need to keep accurate records of our donations—corporate and otherwise. We also need to remind donors when pledge payments are due.

Stewards are often called to be “fiscal agents,” ensuring that money is used wisely, in conformity of how the donor’s requested, and adhering to legal and ethical standards. You may not think of something as simple as letting a corporate sponsor know that of the $1,000 it paid to sponsor a foursome in your golf tournament, only $400 is tax deductible, because the fair market value of four rounds of golf and the meal included is $600, as a stewardship activity. But, in reality, this is part of stewardship—being accurate with reporting of gifts and recording only the tax-deductible part of sponsorship activities, dinners, purchase prices of auction items, etc., as donations.

You are also a responsible steward if you send thank-you letters and tax receipts out on a timely basis and in an accurate manner.

What Do Fundraisers and Flight Attendants Have in Common?

Even the last part of the dictionary definition is sometimes accurate. Feeding and providing beverages for our donors is often a way we can thank them for their support.

You might take corporate leaders individually to lunch periodically to thank them for their support and let them know how their gifts were used. Or you might have a recognition event, providing a meal or refreshments to donors at a predetermined level.

All of these are ways to steward your donors.

So, How Do You Thank a Business?

Well, you obviously can’t thank an impersonal entity the same way you would thank an individual donor. Or. . . can you?

Remember, businesses are made up of people—executive management, boards of directors, employees, and perhaps a corporate contributions committee. So whom do you thank? As many individual and groups as is appropriate. If a member of the board of a corporation was instrumental in securing the gift, thank that board member directly for the role played in making the gift happen. If a corporate a corporate contributions committee or manager was involved, thank that person or group as well. The CEO usually has a say in the gift-making decision, so always thank that person. It might be hard to thank every employee, but if the company puts out an employee newsletter, ask if it can put your thank-you note in the newsletter to show employees they work for a socially responsible company.

How Do I Thank Thee. . .? Let Me Count the Ways!

Ways to thank corporations are as many as the ways to thank any donor. You might consider some of the following:

  • A formal thank-you letter to the CEO
  • A handwritten note to the person, or group, most instrumental in securing the gift
  • A listing in your newsletter, website, or annual report
  • Advertising or media releases to local media
  • Plaques or mementos that can be placed in the company’s lobby or CEO’s office
  • Recognition on a plaque in your lobby or on a room designated by the donor
  • Other ideas limited only by your imagination.

Let’s create a stewardship plan for your corporate/business donors.

If you need help with stewarding business donors and raising money from businesses, take my course, Raise More Money from Your Business Community. Sign up here

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