When it Comes to Stewardship, Don’t Forget that Grantmakers Are Rainmakers, Too

In the world of fundraising, most professionals associate stewardship with individual donors or groups of donors, such as college alumni. In this context, stewardship specifically refers to the careful thanking and continuous engagement of those individuals who repeatedly give financial resources, and often volunteer hours as well, to a nonprofit organization’s cause.

Stewardship activities include phone calls, in person thank you’s, informative emails or newsletters, the occasional handwritten note, invitations to organizational events or galas, and printed acknowledgement of the donor’s name. These latter three activities are part and parcel of the stewardship process that is normally reserved for high-end donors.

Large nonprofit organizations, hospitals, and universities, have development departments that have refined this process to the extent that all stages of fundraising have cadres of employees and ultra-sophisticated software programs dedicated to perfectly executing each fundraising phase, including stewardship. There are now a number of software applications that can process a sample of a development director’s handwriting to create the oddly-dubbed computer-generated personal handwritten note. And of course, if you can’t think of just the right phrasing to enter into your app, there are a host of internet sites that will provide appropriate sayings and content for your thank you notes.

But what about stewardship of those other donors–the host of corporate, family, and community foundations–upon which so many nonprofit organizations rely for a crucial portion of their funding? All too often, stewardship of grantmakers is reduced to the perfunctory year-end, or end of the grant cycle reporting, and it is often carried out by overburdened grant writers who may view such reporting as another tiring task or hoop to jump through in their very busy deadline-driven professional lives.

Grant writer burnout notwithstanding, an insufficient level of grantmaker stewardship can be quite problematic. In fact, complaints by funders fall largely into two areas, one pre-award and one post-award. Quite rightly, funders express some incredulity when they receive applications from organization representatives who have not bothered to personally contact them regarding eligibility criteria, appropriateness of the application for the grantmakers’ areas of giving focus, and size and timing of the funding request. Funders equally complain that during the cycle of the grant award, they often hear nothing from the grant awardee until the required report is due. Now, if you were in that funder’s shoes, would you be likely to make a second award to a silent (interpreted rightly or wrongly) unappreciative grantee?

The aphorism that “people give to people” certainly applies in this case. The grant writer who takes the time to ask her organization’s program managers for updates on the beneficiaries of the grant award, photos of program work in progress, stories of individuals who have benefitted directly from the work made possible by the grant, along with any relevant video clips, and then sends these to the funder with a personal note, will have a real advantage over the many silent awardees when applying for a follow-on grant the next year.

If it is possible to get the funder’s program officer on the organization’s home turf to see programming in action, so much the better. Many grantmakers, indeed, set aside financial resources to carry out site visits (sometimes called technical visits by insiders) to get a concrete sense of the impact that their investment in your program is making for its beneficiaries. Concluding the visit by offering a modest lunch or dinner to get to know these program officers is a real plus as well. And this even applies when the funder is a federal agency, though you must be sure to not exceed the federal ceiling of $20 per meal. So, get cracking and launch your grantmaker stewardship campaign–and if you have federal funding, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that even in Washington, DC, an iced tea and a hot calzone can warm up the conversation and be a welcome treat for most any metro-weary federal program officer!

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