Regrettably, there are some concepts where the English language falls flat and needs supporting context to explain what it means: I love my wife, Mexican food, my classic car, or my college football team. One word, many contexts. “Stewardship” is another of those overused, ambiguous words within the Christian world. We need to drill down and define this word to effectively communicate with our donors.
You can be a great steward over a group of people, your finances, your time, your energy…even your property. But just like the word “love”, the actual meaning remains fluid until context is applied.
When applied to the context of one’s ministry or nonprofit, how does the word “stewardship” apply?
The concept of stewardship is more than preparing numbers from your balance sheet or reporting how many kids have been served this year. It’s the difference between a thriving nonprofit and one that’s on life-support.
The heart of stewardship is the careful nurturing of the trust that others have placed in you.
And as with all personal relationships, so much of trust boils down to how well we communicate. One of the most crucial elements of being a good steward of your ministry to your donors and to your community is clear, consistent communication.
But clear communication is only the beginning…
In today’s world, transparency isn’t just a nice thing that really great ministries do — it’s a non-negotiable requirement of good communication and stewardship.
Transparency builds confidence. Confidence builds trust. And trust builds long-term advocates and increased commitment.
So, how do you go about building clear, consistent communication with your current and future advocates? You can be confidently transparent, uniquely you, without looking like you are trying to impress.
Here are 4 principles of transparent donor communication that build trust:
1. Be Unique
You were not created on an assembly line – so why do the same with your organizational communication?
What is it that makes your organization different from others like yours? Let that shine through in how you talk about what you do.
- Are you perky and optimistic?
- Are you firm and resolute?
- Are you aggressive and bold?
- Are you deep and profound?
Use that God-given talent to stand out from the rest of the crowd with a message that is uniquely inspiring to the rest of us!
2. Be Accountable
Most of us have heard of Compassion International. They serve and care for 1.5 million children worldwide.
They have come to intimately know each child, their family and their communities to the extent that most nonprofits never venture by tracking 4 key life components of the children in their care – their physical, spiritual, social and intellectual well-being.
Can you say the same about your community, your events or impact? Start by defining 3-4 key measurements that you measure and report on.
Accountability and transparency are the foundation in being a good steward.
3. Be Honest
Effective organizations are that way because they have experimented through trial and error.
Don’t be afraid to share these misses with your audience. It shows that you are transparent, honest and (believably) human.
Just because the event was a miss, it doesn’t mean it is not a great learning experience for the next time. Just because you failed to reach your campaign goal, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure.
No one expects perfection. However, if that is all that they see, they will become suspicious.
Don’t be afraid to own your mistakes. Your community will thank you for it.
4. Be Persistent
The last time you tried to learn something – math, foreign language, piano, or how to use a new technology – how long did it take to catch on?
Effective communication and stewardship are the same way. While a campaign might be a “one and done” situation, connecting with people takes time and consistency in the message.
Remember how Jesus told us the Kingdom would grow inside of people…
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
The Jesus model of donor communication is that you’ve got to keep throwing out the seed and trust God for the harvest…over time.
If you talk to a local pastor or a motivational speaker, they will tell you that, on average, people need to hear the message 7 or more times before they will remember it – even more before they begin to act on it.
So, do not expect a single campaign or an email to do it. Stay the course.
No matter the size or reach of your organization, you can practice the skill of clear and consistent donor communication.
Developing the practice of effective donor communication has the potential to be largest catalyst for your organization’s health. Don’t leave it open to interpretation. Organizations that implement the principles of clear and transparent communication develop the trust and respect of their donors.
For personal, real help in ramping up your level of donor communication, call us today. The call won’t cost you anything, and there’s no obligation.