Unless you are new to grant-seeking, the term stewardship is likely to be familiar to you.  

Most non-profit and for-purpose professionals understand the important role of stewardship for building and strengthening funder relationships (both before and after the ask), and how excellent stewardship can result in repeat funding including being approached by the funder – the ultimate KPI in a grants program! 

Yet despite this shared understanding, we often hear from organisations who admit they need to improve their stewardship practices, especially after receiving funding, but say they are too time poor. 

So why aren’t we making the time to steward our funders beyond the basics? Saying thank you and meeting – or ideally exceeding – reporting requirements is essential, but excellence in stewardship goes beyond this.  

To ensure we make the time to meaningfully steward our funders, beneficiaries must plan to do so. By being strategic and intentional with your stewardship activities you demonstrate to the funder how vital their support is and how important the relationship is to your organisation and those you serve.  

Here are our top tips to ensure effective funder stewardship: 

  • Identify opportunities for stewardship as part of your project planning – these may include a site visit at an important stage in the project, meeting a project beneficiary, or attending a special event like a graduation ceremony. By identifying stewardship opportunities long before the funder comes onboard, you are creating the foundations internally for a culture of stewardship and setting your organisation up for stewardship success. 
  • Create a stewardship plan as soon as the grant has been confirmed. This plan should identify stewardship activities and touchpoints, their frequency and who is responsible for each. Ideally this plan is based on a template which you can tailor for each new funder, and is either complimentary to, or includes, your acquittal reporting plan
  • Be thorough with your stewardship record keeping – this demonstrates the importance of the relationship to new staff and helps to ensure continuity of engagement should key personnel stewarding the relationship move on. 
  • Keep an eye out for unique opportunities which may arise outside of your stewardship plan. For instance, there are multiple state and national award programs which publicly celebrate and recognise the contributions and achievements of philanthropic individuals, groups and organisations. Show your funders just how important they are to your cause by nominating them for an award. Philanthropy Australia, FIA and Research Australia all hold annual awards, and the 2024 Queensland Philanthropy Awards are currently open. 
  • Keep the funder updated on the project after the grant has been acquitted. Let them know the difference their support continues to make. 
  • Include stewardship KPI’s in role descriptions for both staff and volunteers (board members) to keep everyone involved in the relationship accountable. 

And finally…

  • Remember each funder is unique and their interest in, and availability for, stewardship beyond the basics will vary. Some funders may not be interested in additional stewardship activities – if they tell you this, respect their wishes. For others who are time poor, receiving an invitation or a personalised message from a project beneficiary can be incredibly powerful – I have seen a short video captured on a mobile phone of a project beneficiary saying thanks to the funder (and texted to them) lead to a remarkable result.  

Excellence in stewardship can strengthen your relationship with the funder, build trust, and ensure your organisation stays top of mind. By planning stewardship activities early on, including responsibilities and timings for implementation, you can help to ensure an enduring and impactful relationship between your organisation and its funders. 

Donor and funder engagement and stewardship is just one of the 7 key success factors of the Strategic Grants Best Practice Tracker. You can self-score your organisation here.