Effective Stewardship Before, During, & After the Gift

About a month ago, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States. New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania were especially hard hit. Millions lost electricity and were driven from their homes. Today, thousands remain without power and without homes to return to.

Through it all, the American Red Cross has been there to help those in need.

My wife and I live in Philadelphia. While many in the area were affected by flooding, fallen trees, and loss of power, we were fortunate. We made it through unscathed.

Recognizing that others fared far worse than we did, we went online and donated to the Red Cross. At the time we made the gift, we could designate to a category or to “most needed.” We were able to print a gift receipt on the spot. As an immediate follow-up, the Red Cross emailed a thank you message with a receipt, an outline of all the services the support helps provide, and another opportunity to print out the gift receipt.

Up until that point, the Red Cross had handled the process perfectly and without any surprises.

Then, several days after our contribution, as the disaster began to subside, we received another email with another thank you with the subject line: “You are amazing.” We had to open it. When we did, we were greeted with a personalized salutation and a link to a slideshow illustrating the impact of our giving.

Here’s the text of the email we received:

Dear Lisa and Michael,

My sincere thanks for your generosity over the past ten days. The outpouring of support for the families impacted by Superstorm Sandy has been extraordinary. Whether you have given a financial gift, donated life-saving blood, or volunteered your time, I’m so grateful to so many compassionate people like you in the Red Cross community, as we provide emergency relief and help millions of families recover and get back to their lives. On behalf of the families and individuals we’ve served and will continue to serve in the days and weeks ahead, thank you.

[Slideshow image and link]

We are making a difference together. To date, you have helped us provide more than 61,000 overnight shelter stays, serve 3.2 million meals and snacks to cold and hungry families and distribute more than 121,000 relief items such as warm blankets, cold weather gear, clean-up kits and hygiene kits. We have activated our entire fleet of 323 Emergency Response Vehicles to bring meals, water, information and emotional support to impacted communities and we have deployed nearly 5,900 trained Red Cross workers to support relief efforts.

Our work is far from over, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you. We’ll continue to post updates for those affected by the storm and for our caring Red Cross community on our website.

You are at the heart of our mission to relieve suffering, wherever and whenever we’re needed, and I am so grateful for your support.

Gail McGovern

President and CEO, American Red Cross”

The slideshow contains many moving images of the Red Cross at work. On the same page as the slideshow, there are tabs to access other useful information. For example, visitors can learn how to donate additional funds, how to give blood, how to help beyond donating money, and how to find assistance. The page also contains links to other useful, disaster-related information such as tips for returning home after a disaster and how to download an app to assist with future hurricane preparedness.

The Red Cross giving and thank-you process is effective for a number of reasons:

1. The Red Cross makes giving easy. Individuals can donate via text message, phone, mail, or online. Donors can choose the method that works best for them. All are easy.

2. The Red Cross gives donors the opportunity to designate their gifts. Giving donors this type of choice increases the chance of getting a gift and of getting a larger gift.

3. The Red Cross provides an immediate thank you. After we made our online gift, we immediately received an email thank you note and a second chance to print a gift receipt.

4. The Red Cross surprised us … in a good way. The follow-up thank-you email was unexpected and, therefore, had even greater impact.

5. The Red Cross allowed us to see our gift in action. By providing a link to a slideshow illustrating how the Red Cross was helping those in need, we could see the impact of our gift and the gifts made by thousands of other supporters.

6. The Red Cross provided additional information. The slideshow page provides much more than pictures. It provides many useful links. This makes getting additional, information easy. It’s also a no-cost way for the Red Cross to give donors something of value. In addition to simply being helpful, the Red Cross has tapped into what social scientists describe as reciprocity. By giving donors something of value, the Red Cross is building loyal relationships.

The Rockaways after Sandy.

I applaud the American Red Cross for its great disaster-relief work and for demonstrating how to effectively thank donors. Unfortunately, much more remains to be done to help people recover from this disaster.

You can donate to the Red Cross by visiting the organization’s website. Or, you can call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

You can even donate $10 to Disaster Relief efforts by texting REDCROSS to 90999.

To find links of other legitimate nonprofit organizations involved in relief efforts, visit the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ webpage dedicated to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts: “AFP Disaster Relief and Fundraising Efforts Page.”  You’ll also find links to several informative articles there.

Beyond it’s great disaster-relief efforts, the Red Cross serves as a fine of example of how to effectively thank donors for their support. I’m proud to support this smart organization that is there whenever, wherever it is needed.

So, does your organization have a compelling gift and thank-you process?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

13 Responses to “Effective Stewardship Before, During, & After the Gift”

  1. Excellent example and a great post, Michael. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Michael,

    I find this very interesting, because I’ve spoken to a number of people, non-fundraisers, who were looking to help the victims of Sandy and wouldn’t give to the Red Cross because they didn’t think the money would get to the people who needed it. In addition, they said, and I heard a few too, news reports talking to people in New York how the Red Cross was not effective in dealing with the needs of people e.g. handing out blankets that were as thin as paper towels. Sounds like the fundraisers do a very effective job (I really liked some of the things they did), but the perception of misuse of funds from prior years and reports of poor service are also hurting the Red Cross.

    • Joe, thank you for sharing your thoughts. My post was about the giving and stewardship process at the American Red Cross. While it was not about the effectiveness of the organization, and while the Red cross is perfectly capable of responding to criticism, I do want to take just a moment to comment on your comment since I wrote that I’m a contributor to the Red Cross.

      First, no one believes that the Red Cross is operationally perfect. Even staff and board leaderships at the organization acknowledge this and strive to learn from previous experiences in order to deliver better service in the future. I have no doubt that the Red Cross will look at its response to Hurricane Sandy and improve as a result.

      Second, the Red Cross gives donors the option to designate their gifts to one of three broad areas: 1) Disaster Relief, 2) Where the Need is Greatest, and 3) Your Local Red Cross Chapter. If donors want to support Disaster Relief, the Red Cross makes it clear that the donation will not be targeted for use in a particular disaster. Instead, such support will be used to “help people affected by disasters — big or small.” The Red Cross prioritizes need and allocates resources accordingly.

      Third, whenever there is a big disaster, new nonprofit organizations are often created. Unfortunately, many of these new organizations are simply scams while others are well-intentioned though ineffective. Following the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, millions of dollars of donated money were wasted. You can read about this at:


      While the Red Cross performance might not be perfect, it’s far better than many of the fly-by-night organizations.

      Fourth, there are other organizations that provide help during disasters. I provided a link to the AFP web page that lists some of these other legitimate organizations. If someone mistrusts the Red Cross, I hope they will support another organization that offers much needed help.

      Finally, as you acknowledged, like their service delivery or not, the Red Cross fundraising and stewardship process is something that all nonprofits can learn from.

    • Hi Joe, this is Gloria from the Red Cross team in DC. I’m sorry to hear that you felt that there were a lot of reports out there about the Red Cross not helping, versus reports that they were. As with any disaster or major event, it is a challenge to make sure that we can respond to every person on the ground, and effectively get the word out there about what we are doing. I agree that it hurts our reputation, and believe that it is extremely important for us to listen for those reports and reach out as much as possible to share what information we have and to be as transparent as possible.

      I can tell you that for over an entire month since Oct. 23, I saw an incredible amount of work from people all over in our organization to mobilize supplies and deliver services even before the storm hit. Our team in Communications used social media night and day to communicate where services were, how to stay safe, and monitored for conversations from people affected by the disaster to find opportunities to help. We stayed in close contact with volunteers and operations folks on the ground in affected areas so that we could find out each day what was being planned in terms of service delivery.

      Overall, there were millions of meals being served, recovery and cold weather items being distributed, and thousands of people in shelters. We also worked closely with established partners and many spontaneous partners and volunteers to make sure we could extend our resources even further. Perhaps in spite of all that, we also recognized that this disaster affected an incredibly densely populated area and it would be impossible for any one organization to address every person’s needs. There are still many, many workers helping in NY/NJ as the recovery period continues.

      As for getting the word out there online, we posted information on our Disaster Online Newsroom (http://newsroom.redcross.org) and Twitter account (http://www.twitter.com/redcross) in addition to our main website, and logged any posts that we saw about needs in certain areas. Those were sent to people working on the operations in NJ/NY every day so they could have better information about where help was needed.

      Although the Red Cross is a big organization and there are many challenges that come with that, I can tell you that when it comes to responding to a disaster, we all put our chins down and do what we do best so that every arm of the Red Cross can support the whole response. The fundraising team certainly does a great job with stewardship, but I believe that great work was also being done by others, like the Disaster Services team, our tireless volunteers, and all of those groups that handle the stuff you tend not to think about- finance, logistics, technology, for instance. We’re not perfect, but I would stand behind the quality and effectiveness of our work, and hope that our donors will feel that their generously donated dollars are being used effectively.

      Thanks for listening and for commenting!


      • Gloria, thank you for commenting and giving us insights directly from the Red Cross. I particularly appreciate the time you took to share your thoughts given everything else you are doing to cope with the ongoing relief efforts.

  3. Michael, thank you so much for this. It was so refreshing to read a positive take on what we are doing. I am a volunteer in NYC and have been keeping a blog to let people know what it is like for a “local” http://oshma.net/wordpress/a-totally-unofficial-and-personal-vent/

  4. I’m really glad to see this! (Though, hmmm never got one myself). The acknowledgement letters I’ve gotten haven’t exactly wowed me, to be honest. I’m glad to see what seems to be a change. Smart of them!

    • Mary, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m sorry to hear that the Red Cross underwhelmed you. I wonder if they have a significantly different thank-you process based on how someone gives. Interesting. It sounds like there’s still some room for improvement.


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