Archive for May 13th, 2011

May 13, 2011

A Lesson Learned in Vegas Can Help You Score Big

I was recently in Las Vegas. I was there to see Keys to Tall Buildings, a play written by Lloyd Noonan (, a former development professional turned playwright. In my friend’s darkly comic play, the hero (or anti-hero, depending on your point of view) kills “bad” people. The initial twist is that the “bad” people have committed only minor offenses such as failing to properly sort recyclables and trash at the Whole Foods Market. The second twist comes when we learn that those responsible for minor offenses are also guilty of terrible crimes. Oddly, this got me thinking about the impact of stewardship on the philanthropic process. Allow me to explain.

Most donors to nonprofit organizations make modest donations, at least initially. Even people of great means make modest contributions. For example, I did an analysis for one large charity and found that over one-third of their donors of $5,000 or more made an initial gift of $100 or less. In other words, as many modest donors gained confidence in the organization, they increased their giving. One way this organization earned the confidence of donors, and their increased support, was with effective stewardship.

Consciously or subconsciously, donors often test nonprofit organizations. They seldom start the relationship by making the largest possible gift. Instead, donors want to see if the organization uses their money responsibly. They want to see the impact of their giving. They want to know that the organization appreciates their support. Good stewardship will help donors answer the questions they have about the charity. Effective stewardship will also set the stage for the next ask. The better the stewardship, the better the outcome of that ask.

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