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The Importance of Good Stewardship

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by Meg Gammage-Tucker

At a course I was teaching a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to provide definitions to the jargon that fundraisers employ—sometimes ad nauseam­­—to our work.  Certain terms take on a slightly different meaning when applied to fundraising, so it’s no surprise that some clarification was in order.

Indeed, in the introduction of Mal Warwick’s publication, The Five Strategies for Fund Raising Success (1999), Mal notes how “encrusted” the profession has become with jargon.  Encrusted both because of the growing amount of information available (through outstanding research by organizations such as the IU Center on Philanthropy), and, unfortunately, because some professionals use jargon as a way of covering up their lack of understanding of the most basic principles of their work.

Whatever the reasons for the growth in our lingo, we do have a lot of it and it is important to understand what many of the terms mean so we can accomplish the tasks that we are trying to describe.

Stewardship is one of the most important concepts we can define.  According to Merriam Webster, stewardship is “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” 

In fundraising, nonprofits seek to further their mission on the shoulders of very important people—their donors and volunteers.   These people entrust their precious resources—time, talent, treasure—to the care of the nonprofit to help the organization achieve its goals.  It is, therefore, incumbent on the organization to carefully manage those key resources in the most effective manner possible. 

Effective stewardship requires the volunteer and staff leadership of the nonprofit to:

  • assure that gifts are used in accordance with the donor’s wishes;
  • be transparent and forthright about how their gifts are managed and used; and
  • be proactive and consistent in  the acknowledgement and recognition of donors and volunteers for their gifts—whether financial or intangible—in a manner that is appropriate and best suits the donor and/or volunteer’s needs.

It is my opinion that there is no more important concept than stewardship to the building of healthy relationships that are vital to the overall success of a nonprofit.  If relationships and gifts are properly “stewarded”, trust in, and commitment to, the organization are a natural result.  Therefore, understanding effective stewardship – as it applies to fundraising – can assure your organization gets the most out of its key relationships and resources.

Need a fundraising term demystified?  Let us know and we’ll be sure to help you out!  Post your term in the JGA comments section below.