Addressing the Misnomer of Foundation Stewardship

If you research stewardship of foundations, you will most likely find information that pertains to managing the grant, NOT the relationship. But is that really all we should be doing?

I think about stewardship often, and it is a topic I always find myself revisiting. When trying to think of what approach to take on stewardship for this article, I came across a position from The Fundraising Authority...

“Stewarding after a donation is like cultivating before a donation: it is a process by which the organization develops an ever-stronger relationship with the donor and involves constant communication to deepen the relationship. One important note: you cannot steward a corporation or a foundation.”
The part that stands out to me the most is that last sentence… “you cannot steward a corporation or a foundation.” And this is true, right? You can't steward a thing; you steward a person in order to strengthen the relationship. So why are so many of us leaving our foundation partners off our stewardship programs? We can take just as much care of the relationships with our foundation partners as we do our donors and volunteers!

The need for depth and detail in our proposals does not negate the fact that there are individuals who are reading and making funding decisions on them. Like major giving programs, those individuals should be acknowledged and kept abreast of your organization's work to ensure they remain engaged. After all, we put a lot of work into forging these relationships through prospect research; months of cultivation; planning and developing, and then managing the grant when it is received. So don't let the lack of a simple (yet thoughtful) stewardship plan ruin the potential of a long-term partnership.

It costs more to acquire a new donor than it does to retain the ones we have, and the same applies to our foundation partners. While there may be a lot of separation between fundraising disciplines, the truth is that there are more similarities than differences. We are all part of the development team and our shared values can help us work together to ensure that ALL our supportive relationships are cherished as they should be.

With that in mind, we can look to fundraising professionals outside of our scope of work and be open to learning new skills. There are a wealth of organizations, chapters, conferences, peers, and opportunities that we could be growing from, yet are missing because we focus too narrowly. Consider all the disciplines and what you might be able to take away from them… individual giving, corporate/workplace partnerships, grants/trusts, community/volunteer engagement, events, major/middle donor programs, digital/direct mail appeals, and legacy gifts.

In every one of those specialized areas, would we not apply these same rules?

Know your audience. Track the history. Educate. Help people make a difference through you. Build relationships through trust and respect. Develop giving programs based on their needs. Focus on retaining current supporters. Make giving fun! 
We need to get outside of our comfort zones to deliver the best stewardship we can to each one of our supporters, regardless of fundraising type. We can view our fundraising plans and strategies more holistically to see what we can be tapping into. With many of us doing the job of at least two and constantly looking for ways to prioritize tasks, choose efficiency and work together with the resources you already have on your team. Team-based fundraising plans are a far more effective strategy than trying to work in silos, and they can deliver a much deeper level of engagement to our most important relationships – our supporters.

What can you and your organization deliberately employ to ensure that the stewardship of your foundation relationships is not simply an afterthought, and that you are delivering more than just the requirements?
Jamie Healy, MS is Senior Grant Writer of Foundation Partnerships for Best Friends Animal Society and serves as President of the SC Chapter of the GPA.


By: Lauren Savord
On: 04/10/2018 17:12:04
This is an awesome article, Jamie, and something I have been trying to express to folks for some time. Grant writers employ the stages of donor development as do those who work with individual donors. We work with groups of individual donors, and usually build one or more relationships with key leaders who assist with introductions of funding opportunities to the larger group. The end result is similar: an award, or gift, or some other iteration of funding released to the grantee. I find it rather short sighted when a development officer diminishes a grant writer's role in fund development because they don't work with an individual donor. The millions raised by grant writers are just as meaningful, and often offer a broader reach in terms of the number of people and business entities who become engaged.
By: Tamara
On: 04/11/2018 11:55:34
Fabulous post! Having come to grant writing and grants management after several years in a larger development role, I have always found more similarities than differences between managing grantmaker relationships and other types of donor relationships. It is the relationship with people that determines our success, and grant writing requires that we engage those who review our proposals as deeply as anyone.

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