Do you remember playing the classic game “She loves me, she loves me not” when you were a kid?  It is, of course, an amusing, whimsical game of chance that seeks to reaffirm whether the object of one’s affection will return that affection or not.  As adults, common sense tells us that we wouldn’t trust its results to define the relationship status with our spouse or significant other. Yet, why is it that sometimes we do precisely that with our major donors?

Allow me to explain.

My mantra in fundraising is: We have to earn the right to ask people for money. In other words, we need them to “fall in love” with us first, and then we can ask them to support us financially. Whether with spouses or with donors, when hearts are connected, giving becomes natural and desirable. And let’s face it, major donors don’t want to merely “give” to an organization, they want to partner with it. They’ve given considerable thought to their philanthropy, and the dollars they invest in our organizations have more to do with the impact of their support than simply their affiliation with us. Partnering means that we stop approaching every conversation with our own needs, and rather put our focus on listening. This is true in marriage and also in our profession. When we listen our donors’ stories and philanthropic dreams, we create sparks that keep the relationship alive.

An organization’s work with major donors, then, doesn’t end once we’ve “put a ring on it” (i.e. once they’ve made a gift). To strengthen our marriages, we tend to cultivate our relationships. We regularly celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Days, along with the daily acts of nurturing and kindness. So it should be with our major donors. Once a donor has made a meaningful major gift, we need to cultivate, nurture, and steward that relationship. If we don’t, we face potentially dangerous consequences. Donors—like significant others—may leave us (or at least entertain other offers). Even more painful, they may fall in love with someone else who is willing to put in the work to cultivate that relationship.

Leveraging Donor Impact Reports

Donor impact reports—or stewardship reports—are important activities in the fundraising cycle that aim to cultivate relationships for the long term. By periodically informing donors about what has been done with their financial investment, we take relationships with donors to the next level. In short, an impact (or stewardship) report provides a summary of how the funding was used, and how the gift(s) will impact the organization and the community. It is not necessarily a detailed technical report, but may include a general financial report of the funds. Impact reports are usually offered periodically throughout a multi-year payment, but they are particularly necessary once the final payment has been made. From the fundraiser’s perspective, providing donor impact/stewardship reports is based on the correct understanding that the giving process is cyclical, not linear. There is no beginning or end; it just keeps rolling along. Appropriate reporting on the impact of one’s contribution cultivates and inspires donors to continue partnering and investing with you in the future.

Recipients of these reports include major donors, donors who have given consistently over the years, significant corporate and foundation donors, and can also include those who have the potential to make a major or planned gift.

Impact reports must contain these four key elements:

  • Gratitude and appreciation for the donor’s generosity
  • The positive impact of their gift
  • Affirmation that their support was used for the purposes intended
  • The groundwork for continued financial support

Putting a Donor Impact Report into Action

One example of a successful report involves a donor whose $5 million gift enabled our client—a medical center on Long Island’s East End—to open a satellite ambulatory care campus in a neighboring town. This transformative gift was a pivotal moment for the hospital and the community and dramatically strengthened healthcare services in the region. The donor’s support made an indelible impact on the medical center and more importantly, will have a lasting impact on the patients and families served.   Periodic communication and reporting throughout the five-year payment period were provided. And it was important to create a special donor impact report upon completion of the pledge. If we didn’t, it would have been a huge missed opportunity.

To put the plan into action, we took the following steps in an eight-page report:

  • Thanked the donor in a timely fashion for standing out as one of the medical center’s most generous benefactors
  • Demonstrated how the gift was a pivotal moment for the community and for the medical center, by doing the following:
    • Shared how the gift reaped results far beyond expectations
    • Showed the dramatic increase in the numbers of patients seen and services offered since its opening four years earlier
    • Incorporated graphs, charts, and photos for visual as well as textual impact
  • Expressed our interest and commitment in working with the donor in the future, noting:
  • The medical center’s partnership with a major healthcare network; maintaining the same level of compassionate care it is known for while also bringing the world-class capabilities of one of the nation’s leading healthcare providers.
  • Introduced the medical center’s current capital campaign which will make an even larger impact for the region’s residents
  • Included a cover letter from the medical center’s President and CEO, opening the door for future conversations about the exciting new projects underway.

The Result

The donor truly appreciated the impact report and, in his return letter to the medical center’s President and CEO, thanked him for sharing how their partnership greatly benefitted the community. Even more importantly, the donor noted that he would welcome the opportunity to continue discussing the medical center’s future and how he could continue to partner with the organization.

The cycle, then, continues. The medical center leadership is actively engaging this committed donor to inspire him to again partner and invest with us in the hospital’s current capital campaign. In this particular case, the philanthropic “marriage” is a happy one. The donor feels connected. Both sides are communicating, affirmed, and engaged. The relationship grows and the correct steps have been taken to initiate dialogue for the next major gift from the donor. Yes, the cycle continues. This was no game of chance.

About the Author

Carl Marucci has more than twenty-five years of fundraising experience, with particular success in structuring comprehensive development efforts, including developing major gift, annual giving and planned giving programs, along with prospect research, high-level special events, capital campaigns, and board development. As Senior Director at CCS Fundraising, Carl provides on-site fundraising counsel and campaign management services to leading nonprofit institutions in the academic, healthcare, civic human services, religious, cultural, national and international arenas. His current project is a $28 million capital campaign for Northwell Health's Peconic Bay Medical Center, on Long Island's East End.