Saturday, September 20, 2008

Stewarding When It Counts Most

I hope all philanthropy-seeking organizations have taken the time to commiserate with their donors in the financial sector. While it may be astonishing and frightening for many of us to see some once-great financial institutions totter and some fall, imagine how it must feel to be a part of those institutions. Imagine how it must feel to have your way of life turned upside down by a perfect storm of adverse circumstances. Imagine waking up and wondering if anything you assumed in the past can be applied to your future.

I suspect that most of us have somehow benefited by the generosity of donors in the financial sector when markets were flush. Now is the time to let them know you remember and that you are mindful of their concerns as they were once mindful of yours. Philanthropy-seeking institutions can respond in different ways. It could be a simple as an e-mail from your CEO to donors in that sector. A more personal note would be appropriate for major donors and volunteer leaders. My university, which has a large number of alumni and donors in affected financial institutions, is conducting workshops on ways to personally and professionally manage the crisis. Our Wall Street Alliance, an alumni network that mentors recent graduates and raises money for scholarships, is an important segment of our community that now needs special attention.

Those of us who rely on the support of philanthropists don’t just steward gifts, we steward relationships, and true stewardship persists through thick and thin. And, when we reach out to donors during their most difficult times, we show that the value we place on their support is not measured by the most recent gift. If the fortunes of those now struggling return, the fortunes of our institutions will improve if we have sustained those relationships. If not, we will still have proven who we are and what we believe in. And those values will sustain our organizations over time, no matter what happens.

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