Strategic Stewardship to Engage Hearts, Heads, and Hands

Engage hearts, heads, and hands with strategic stewardship.

You’ve heard the common saying “If you want to understand somebody’s values, look at how they spend their time and money.” It’s a simple measure of resources to identify what is truly treasured.

Fundraisers are philanthropic facilitators. We build relationships to identify donor passion and align that passion with investment opportunities in our organizational mission. Relationship-building is fundamental to effective fundraising. Because of the role relationship-building plays in fundraising, our allocation of people may be the most telling measure of our current values and the future of fundraising.

Look at the division of labor within the philanthropic arm of your own organization. How are staff responsibilities allocated? To help illustrate the alignment of staffing, try another quick exercise.

Write down these common stages of the fundraising process:

  1. Identify/Qualify ___________
  2. Cultivate/Solicit ___________
  3. Steward ___________

Now, assess the primary responsibility of each member of your development team and assign them to just one of the three areas listed above. If your experience is anything like mine, the results are disheartening.

It is little wonder why our profession struggles with issues of donor attrition and staff retention. It is easy to see why the philanthropic sector continues to battle the court of public opinion regarding fundraising overhead, fundraising effectiveness, and the use of unrestricted support.

The most critical area for the future of fundraising is in how we utilize the concept of stewardship. Let’s dig deeper. In my experience, for most organizations, stewardship is a fancy way of describing the many ways we say “thanks for your gift” (e.g., letters, events, tokens and premiums, clubs and societies, and newsletters). If this is the future of fundraising, we have a problem.

The future of stewardship should be more than the various ways an organization says thank you as it waits for subsequent gifts.

Stewardship should be as intentional as a gift cultivation strategy. If gift officers are assigned a portfolio of donors to qualify, cultivate, and solicit, why shouldn’t the same intentionality be taken toward stewardship? Imagine the transformation if nonprofits had stewardship officers tasked with developing a stewardship strategy to engage the hearts, heads, and hands of their assigned portfolio.

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The future of fundraising includes strategic stewardship taking the same time and effort in cultivating a donor’s passion to make a difference. This involves aligning donor passion with mission (heart). Then utilizing stewardship to demonstrate the impact of their philanthropy on the need (head). And actively engaging donors in the outcomes of their giving so they become partners for life-long investment (hands).

Strategic Stewardship to Engage Hearts, Heads, and Hands by Benjamin Mohler, originally appeared in Advancing Philanthropy, (Winter 2018), 62. Reprinted with permission.

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