Postcards: A Super Fun and Easy Stewardship Opportunity

How Camp Centerland engaged both its board members and its donors at the start of camp.

by Laurie Herrick, Mentor, JCamp 180

At JCamp 180 we focus quite a bit on storytelling. It’s a great way to have your donors and stakeholders get a feel for what you do. Stewardship, illustrating to your donors that they were wise to invest their resources in your cause, can be highly effective when you show the impact with a narrative of how people’s lives were transformed.
Recently, participants of the GIFT Leadership Institute at JCamp 180 were given a challenge to find a way to steward donors while camp was happening. I knew I was asking a lot. Camp was days away from starting. Everyone's energy was going into meeting all the deadlines, working with the new staff, coordinating transportation, and pretty much everything besides donor relations. In a way, this is wise, as campers do come first. But our supporters are pretty darn important, too.
This is what one camp took on.
I was working with Camp Centerland, a Day Camp in Buffalo, New York, and they were literally four days away from camp. We were on a conference call looking for a way to:
  1. Let donors know that their investment in camp was a good one; make them feel appreciated
  2. Have board members understand that fundraising wasn’t just about asking
  3. Get everyone present to why camp is so important (hint: it’s all about the campers!)
I suggested board members signing and sending out postcards to top donors. For many on the call, this sounded outrageous.

There are a million other things on the list to do.
We simply don't have the time.
The marketing person has a backlog of requests.
We don’t have a budget for stewardship.

The narrative against the idea was looming large.
But then we made some progress. What if we did it easy-peasy? Just find a photo – one that fully expresses the joy of camp and why we do this work – print it on card stock, bring it to the next board meeting with a small list of top donors, and send out to each donor as a personalized postcard. The development director can come up with a few sample sentences for board members to use. Something like "Thanks for bringing the joy of camp to Buffalo this summer!"

“When is the next board meeting,” I asked?



Still, you could send a job like this to Walgreens and it would be done in a half hour! The staff pulled out some photos from last summer and we began to scroll through them. One stood out that they decided to use.

Here is the background of this fantastic photo. This youngster arrived at camp one day and melted down. He didn’t want to be at camp. Sometimes this boy had rough days. He was on the autism spectrum and on this particular day, he just wanted to go hide and be alone. He said that wearing a costume was the only way he would stay there. The Camp Director, Michael Garcia, looked around for what might be a costume and couldn’t find one. Being an innovative guy, Michael recalled some boxes being tossed in the dumpster, so he jumped in and found some smaller ones that might be turned into a costume.

This camper's friends helped him color his costume, and all day long he was a rock star. The camp director had provided a transformational experience for a child who might have instead gone home and missed a day at camp. This camper had thought he couldn’t, and he proved that he could. That’s what summer camp is about.
As we sat there looking at this image, Michael quickly found a template for a postcard and put the image on it. It needed one more thing, we thought, so we gave him a word bubble: “Can’t wait ‘til camp!”
The postcards with the photo were brought to the board meeting the next night. First the board members in the GIFT Leadership Institute discussed their coaching from JCamp 180, stressing how fundraising isn’t just about asking for money - it’s about building relationships with donors and having them see that their ‘investment’ in camp is transformational; it changes people’s lives.

They continued to teach their fellow board members about developing a Culture of Philanthropy and how simple actions can make such a tremendous difference in having donors continue to support camp (and how donor attrition is a terrible waste of precious resources).
There were plenty of things the team didn’t do...and that was on purpose:
  • They didn’t put a logo on the front. The image grabs your attention - you want to turn it over and read the other side. But a branded image might be more likely to go in the trash.
  • They didn’t use a montage of photos. This isn’t the opportunity to show every camper. Instead, they showed one story, one camper in a transformational moment.
  • They didn’t use printed labels. Postcards are supposed to be personal. No printed labels, no printed messages. Completely handwritten.
This summer, consider what can you do to engage your board members and appreciate your donors. Be creative! Don’t wait for a marketing strategy. Find a picture that has heart and that tells a story.
We know your camp has countless stories of the transformational experience that campers are having every day. But you only need one.