The Planned Giving Blogger

The art and science of planned giving.

Donor stewardship done right.

with 4 comments

When my brother, Ted,  passed away, my mother created an endowment in his memory at the University of Texas School of Architecture (his alma mater).  Over the years I have made outright gifts to the fund and recently made a bequest commitment to them.  One of the reasons I made that bequest is because of the incredible job of stewarding me the school has done.  And you should know that it has not always been thus.

I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that the school had sufficiently alienated me that a previous bequest had come out of an earlier version of my will (that’s the trouble with bequests:  they’re revocable, and if you don’t treat donors right, they will revoke them).  Anyway, the first thing the school did right was to work hard to repair the rift, which they did.  Then I started getting wonderful communications from them.  One was a letter from the Assistant Dean for Development which I’ve saved in my idea file because it did so many things right.

Paper-clipped to the letter was a copy of the Commencement Convocation from that year with a yellow post-it note sticking out from an interior page.  As her letter pointed out “I wanted to share the commencement program with you as all of our scholarships are listed and I thought you might like to see the names of the Ted Freedman Endowed Scholarship recipients.  As you can imagine, our scholarship recipients are among the best and brightest on campus and support for these students makes a tremendous difference in their lives.”

Then she went on to score even more points with me.  She acknowledged directly my prior frustration with the School and transformed it into a positive.  “I know that you have been understandably disappointed with the School of Architecture.  I hope you will consider a future visit with Dean Steiner when he is in Washington.  He would very much like to do so.  When and if you feel the time is right, please contact me . . .”

WOW!  As you can imagine, I got my checkbook right out.  And now, almost exactly two years later, the School of Architecture is back in my will, at double the previous amount.

I’m sure the School of Architecture at the University of Texas has lots of donors and writing a personalized stewardship letter like this one takes special time, expense and consideration.  But it was worth it.  How are you stewarding your donors?


P.S.  This story of donor stewardship is about a planned gift but the example it sets is applicable to any kind of fundraising:  direct mail, special events, major gifts, and online.  Stewardship is critical to your success and is an important component of any fundraising program.  Once you’ve mastered the basics, the more you can personalize the stewardship, the better your outcome is likely to be.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

May 5, 2009 at 10:05 am

4 Responses

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  1. Great example! Any thoughts on stewardship of gifts received from elders in a nursing home or continuing care retirement community? Often family resentment because of cost of care and industry perceptions.

    Bob Price

    May 6, 2009 at 1:11 pm

  2. The example you provide makes the point so vividly.


    May 6, 2009 at 5:13 pm

  3. Interesting case study. I have a $100,000 for a deceased spouse and have to ask each year for a report and also when in the second year I did not get any thank you letters from those who received the $1,000 scholarship payments I adjusted the endowment agreement to read, must send a thank you note to receive the payment, you have to teach many of the younger generation good manners.

    Jim Connell

    May 21, 2009 at 1:23 am

  4. […] my post of May 5th, I talked a bit about my experience as a legacy donor to the UT School of Architecture and I […]

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