The Dead Skate

My very first job in college athletics fundraising, as the junior person on staff, was the “keeper of the benefits chart.” You’ve seen a benefits chart – that list of rewards available to donors based on their level of annual giving. The more you give, the more benefits you receive, and it’s entirely transactional. (This is how most athletics] giving programs define “stewardship.”)

Anyway, my primary job was in fulfillment – ordering the benefit items and making sure the appropriate donors received the appropriate benefits. One day, I met with a longtime donor and proudly presented his lapel pin, t-shirt and bumper sticker with thanks for that year’s gift. “Save yourself the expense next time, son,” the donor firmly told me. “I’ve been a donor to your program for 20 years, and I’ve got 20 lapel pins, 20 shirts and 20 stickers. One person only needs so many trinkets. Meanwhile, my gifts over the years have put more than a few students through school, and I’ve never felt any connection to that.”

That was my first true “Wow, you’ve actually got to put a lot of thought into this profession called development” moment.

And since that moment, I’ve been consumed with how to create feelings of connection between a donor and the organizations they support. While it’s a task easier said than done, the undeniable fact is that every organization must provide personalized stewardship…a customized connection…a “benefit” of giving that reminds donors how indispensable they are.

In other words, every organization needs a “Dead Skate.”

Wait, what?

The “dead skate” is Crouch & Associates’ shorthand for that feeling of genuine gratitude as expressed through something entirely unique to your organization. At the Hope Center for Kids in North Omaha, the “Hope Skate” facility provides 20,000 square feet of family-friendly program space and a safe haven for at-risk kids. We encouraged the Hope Center to re-purpose all of its old, unusable roller skates into donor appreciation gifts as a way to demonstrate how many children are utilizing this needed program in their inner city. One lead donor won’t display anything else in his office except his “dead skate!”

At the Lighthouse Foundation in western Pennsylvania, a large community food pantry serving more than 320 families per week, the shopping carts that families use while collecting their weekly groceries were in disrepair, and donor funds were needed to buy more carts. We encouraged the Foundation to take a wheel from an old cart, mount it to a simple piece of wood, and present a wheel to each leadership donor with a reminder of how far their gifts have come. Miles and miles of a cart’s travel through the food pantry meant thousands and thousands of families who’d been served!

The best part is, these old roller skates and those old shopping cart wheels cost much less than those lapel pins, t-shirts and bumper stickers…and were much more meaningfully received.

I wish I had known about this strategy as a junior staffer fulfilling donor benefits!

Every organization has a dead skate. What’s yours, and how can we serve you as you serve others?