All I really need to know about donor stewardship, I learned on my paper route

By: Robert Pye

 When I was 11 years old, I had a paper route. I delivered The Orillia Packet & Times in the village of Atherley. I knew each and every one of my 45 customers by their first name. Delivering the daily newspaper was a chance to learn more about the people in my community. I always made time to build those relationships . As each winter approached, I was off to K-Mart to buy Christmas cards for my customers. I found myself trying to match the pictures on those assorted cards with the interests and personalities of my paper route customers. For instance, the anglers and hunters on my route received the cards illustrated with deer or snowy cabins. A family with young children received the cards that colourfully captured Santa or Frosty the Snowman, and the faithful churchgoers received the cards adorned with hallowed angels and a nativity scene.

Important people deserve important considerations, I thought, no matter how subtle the gesture. Focusing on personal touches is always worth the extra time.  Inside each of those cards, I wrote an authentic, personalized message. I wished my customers well in the New Year and tried to mention topics or upcoming events in their life that I distinctly remembered from some of the conversations we’d shared.

As I was taking interest in my customers’ lives, they were taking an interest in mine. They remembered our discussions and some even remembered my enthusiasm about saving up for a new bike! While it is always better to give than to receive, in return for service and sincerity, receive I did. House after house, customers slipped a Christmas card into my newspaper delivery shoulder bag. Inside, a generous Christmas tip with a special message: “put this towards your new bike.” Anyone who has ever read Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” might suspect where this article on donor stewardship is going. All the things association professionals must embrace to ensure quality membership service and donor stewardship can be summarized by the important lifelessons learned on a paper route.

CSAE members understand that relationship building and communication is always a two-way street. We listen carefully to the interests and ambitions of our members, and we never stop showing them how hard we are working to achieve our goals. That kind of trust and dialogue opens the door on opportunities through new fundraising campaigns, but most importantly, through regular membership interaction.

It’s impossible to pick one K-Mart greeting card that speaks to the interests of all paper route customers, and it’s even harder to pick one “case for support” or passionate cause that speaks to the heart of thousands of donor prospects.  My organization has been creating specialized themes and messaging, as well as personalized appeals that really show how much the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) has been listening, and how much we care. Every donor appeal includes those statements that galvanize the shared passion and volunteer drive of all 80,000 OFAH members.

Guided by Purpose

My organization is also proud to point out that our work to enhance Ontario’s natural resources is not unlike the work of other great charities that enhance community services, including healthcare and education. Yes, taxpayers have a right to keep pressure on the government for stronger leadership, but at the same time, we must support our tireless community volunteers who help provide various sport and wellness centre needs, as well as those who provide essential hospital services. Whether it be health care or conservation, progress is achieved when more people find opportunities to give a little extra.  To recognize the “extra” help from OFAH members, for example, we take the time to craft personalized, hand-written notes to special conservation donors, making sure we remember what topics motivated their OFAH support. We are paying close attention.

Like the paper boy who takes the time to get to know his neighbours, association professionals are also focused on building long-lasting connections within the community their association serves. Every home is different, but we make every home feel like they are the most important home in our respective organizations. We are building on our great membership service reputation, and we never make apologies for reminding our supporters about things we are saving up for – and no, not for a new bike, but for association-funded priorities like MRI machines, music or physical education programs, mental health care support or wildlife habitat protection.

Robert Pye has been a proud OFAH member since his days as a paper boy. He was hired by the OFAH directly out of Durham College, and has been delivering PR, Marketing and Fundraising programs for his organization for 21years. He is the OFAH Manager of Business Development and Corporate Messaging, and a 2009 graduate of CSAE.