It’s time to develop a virtual stewardship model

Montgomery College, a three-campus community college, in December 2019 received a $1 million gift from the Kimmy Duong Foundation to establish a scholarship endowment to support students with financial need. The institution then named the newly built Rockville Student Services Center the Long Nguyen and Kimmy Duong Student Services Center after the president of the foundation and her husband.

The gift was extremely significant to the institution. Not only did it put the college’s campaign over the top, but it also allowed them to have a Vietnamese name on one of the most prominent buildings on their campus—serving a reminder to their students and their community that all are welcome.

Given the gift’s significance, the college began developing plans to recognize the foundation in a building dedication ceremony earlier this year. But those plans got derailed after the COVID-19 pandemic began to take root within the United States. With the pandemic raging, hosting an in-person building dedication was not an option. That forced the college to pivot to fulfill its stewardship commitment to the foundation by developing a virtual building dedication. The college recorded a 35-minute video celebrating the gift, then immediately followed that presentation with a live virtual party.

The novel approach enabled the institution to demonstrate the value of the gift to the donor and helped it avoid postponing the celebration (any longer). In doing so, Montgomery College offered a model for virtual stewardship for the current pandemic moment—and beyond.

Rethinking in-person stewardship events

Despite the challenging environment, Montgomery College’s advancement team wanted to find a way to celebrate the Kimmy Duong Foundation’s gift—not only to recognize the donor, but also to encourage others to give to the institution.

That led the institution to develop an approach that had a broad reach. Working with Montgomery College’s communications and special event teams, they developed the video, which takes viewers on a virtual visit with students, faculty, and staff who will use the facility. It also allowed viewers to hear from luminaries such as Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Jamie Raskin, in addition to Kimmy Duong, president of the Kimmy Duong Foundation, and her husband.

The video makes a strong case for the importance of the building; it brought together various student services under one roof, including a student-run café, welcome center, a veterans’ lounge, and student life office.

The institution then followed that by a private “after party” hosted by the college’s president, DeRionne Pollard, and Monica Brown, senior vice president for Student Affairs, that featured a Zoom conversation with our donors, elected officials, and invited guests.

The virtual format enabled the college to bring together a diverse group of students, faculty and others to celebrate the gift and its wide-ranging impact on the institution’s community.

The lesson: Don’t stop your stewardship

The pandemic has forced stewardship professionals to rethink their approach. Whether it is the Montgomery College building dedication or a university using a video conference to enable undergraduate fellowship recipients to present their research to their donors, stewardship has had to adjust. Those adjustments have served institutions well in the current moment. They also provide a template for new ways to steward donors who are not local, unable to travel or have some other challenges.

Stewardship has always been important and it is all the more important at a time when many institutions are struggling due to issues such as the recession and declining state budget cuts. That’s why it is crucial for stewardship professionals to find ways to develop personalized, high-touch and engaging touch points for their donors.

That isn’t easy to do. It requires them to understand and articulate the specific impact of a gift—whether that gift is a building naming gift, a scholarship, an endowed program, or a piece of art—and then finding the right ways to convey that impact. That may be finding ways for donors to hear from and understand how their gift is impacting individuals, regardless of whether that group is performers, researchers, students, or others.

Stewardship is evolving in promising directions

Virtual events and other novel tactics engage donors in new ways and provide a means of offering a high-touch interaction with donors who they might otherwise struggle to engage.

In some ways, virtual events make the stewardship process easier, which is why they are likely to persist in some form even once the pandemic subsides. After all, rather than dealing with the distraction of food, seating charts, and building acoustics, stewardship professionals can focus on the most important part of their job: Demonstrating to the donor why their gift is important, who is impacted by it, and how/why we’re celebrating the gift.


If you need assistance developing a strategy to adjust your stewardship plans to a virtual environment, please reach out to Bob at RRamin@grenzglier.com.

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About the author

Bob Ramin

Senior Vice President

Bob Ramin, Senior Vice President, has spent his career directing and developing institutions on behalf of animal welfare, combining his breadth of fundraising and philanthropic knowledge with his passion for wildlife conservation efforts. Bob’s more than 30 years in the voluntary sector have been focused on building organizational capacity and…