I. Stewardship

Definition: Stewardship, as it relates to fundraising and the management of charitable institutions, is the act of acknowledging and recognizing individuals or organizations for any philanthropic gesture, including both charitable gifts and volunteer activities. Stewardship actions are most commonly viewed as reactive, initiated by a specific gift transaction or volunteer activity. However, systemic stewardship is proactive in nature, designed to clarify donor expectations, and begins with organization-wide understanding of the proper and accepted practices related to handling philanthropic gestures. For purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the stewardship of charitable gifts and donors only.

  1. Meet all legal obligations, including those obligations made through handshakes, original agreements, and other legally binding circumstances or documentation. Ensure promises made to donors are both legal and sustainable for the entire of length of the obligation.
    1. Develop a strong relationship with your organization's Office of General Counsel and work with them as needed for advice or document review.
    2. Work with Office of General Counsel to determine course of action in situations where it is not possible to meet aforementioned obligations.
    3. Sustainability of promises to donors requires taking the following into consideration.
      1. Resources (people, data, financial, etc.)
      2. University practices and procedures
      3. Establishing/utilizing clear lines of communication
      4. Are concerned persons/departments available and willing to fulfill commitments to donors?
  2. Clarify expectations before a gift is accepted.
    1. If necessary, organization might want to establish a gift acceptance committee and gift acceptance policy.
    2. Education of gift officers and strong relationship with gift officers is a key element of success of education efforts.
    3. Educate all volunteer fundraisers (board of trustees, class agents/presidents, etc.) who might be in a position to initiate major gifts.
  3. Stewardship is customer service.
    1. External customer service discussion
      1. Answer donor questions promptly and comprehensively as they arise from gift conversation discussions, receipt questions, reporting questions.
      2. Prepare documentation of policies to aid in discussions.
    2. Internal customer service discussion
      1. Customers include gift officers, gift administration staff, business managers or financial offices, senior advancement administration. Trustees and other key volunteers may fall into this category.
      2. To ensure transparency in operations, organization staff benefit from written stewardship procedures and guides. Depending on an organization's needs, these might be gift documentation guides, tips for establishing endowed funds, reporting handbooks or clarification of legal issues.
  4. Involve and/or inform front line fundraisers/development staff as needed in actions that will impact their assigned donors. Include development staff in decision-making process as appropriate.
  5. Determine who is to receive stewardship.
    1. Define criteria for who receives stewardship actions (considerations include gift size, familial association, requirements of the gift agreement, cultivation cycle, etc.)
    2. Respect the donor's wishes regarding stewardship (such as anonymous gifts and other factors in making exceptions to stewardship processes)
      1. An anonymous form to be completed by gift officer or donor at time of gift helps determine what is meant by anonymity - i.e. does the donor not want to be on donor lists but does want to receive stewardship reports?
      2. Clarify and resolve any non-standard donor requests at the time the gift or pledge is accepted.
  6. Giving societies as part of stewardship plan
    1. Becoming a member of a gift society may be considered a "promise" made to donors by the organization during a gift conversation.
  7. Donor recognition as part of stewardship plan
    1. In order to make recognition (such as plaques, donor names in printed programs or on the web, etc.) manageable, it should be systematic, clear, and well-documented.
  8. Individual stewardship plans (ISPs) are generally created to track special or extensive stewardship activity, such as reports on activity or financial status, event invitations, personal visits, etc.
    1. It is usually most manageable to create these plans for top leadership giving donors and/or prospects initially, and expand from there as staff resources allow. (Another way to put this is to establish criteria for WHO and WHY the stewardship office creates these plans at the outset).
    2. ISPs should incorporate all of the donor's gifts into this plan to ensure they receive stewardship for all gift types and gift areas, regardless of where these gifts fall into formal reporting procedures.
    3. ISPs should focus only on stewardship activities. Cultivation activities and plans should be documented elsewhere.
    4. ISPs should clarify who (internal and external individuals) is responsible for activities, timelines, budgets if appropriate, desired outcomes, and a reminder of when to revise or re-evaluate the plan.
  9. Ensure that gifts go where they should and that they are used by the institution as they should (i.e. they are spent.) Depending upon structure of institution, this may be a simple matter of reports and follow up or could be a complex program at larger institutions with custom reports, accessible files, annual impact information requests, etc.
    1. This often requires relationship building and internal colleague education as well as implementing checks and balances into organizational procedures.
    2. Relationship with Controller's Office, Budget Office, Gift Administration, business managers or bookkeeping staff is crucial to success.
  10. The gift cycle and how it relates to stewardship. (stewardship is transactional...)
    1. Cycle from gift agreement to gift set-up to tracking and reporting
    2. When stewardship should begin/continue/end
  11. List of typical types of stewardship, such as events, reports, giving societies, donor recognition, media releases, volunteer opportunities, etc.
    1. Events (large or small, general or personalized)
    2. Giving Societies
    3. Donor Recognition
    4. Media releases
    5. Volunteer Opportunities
    6. Gratitude (thank you notes, photos, photo books, etc.)
    7. Naming opportunities