No common definition of stewardship, survey concludes

The term stewardship is understood in different ways across the fundraising sector, an online poll has shown.

The survey, by fundraising agency Relationship Marketing, showed that, rather than one unified definition, the word has three distinct sets of meanings across the sector.

The survey was launched to try to identify a clear definition of what fundraisers understand by the term stewardship. The study analysing the results, All Things to All Men, said 60 per cent of the survey's 105 respondents said there should be a commonly accepted definition.

Gordon Michie, director of development at Relationship Marketing and author of last year's white paper on stewardship, Pretenders to the Steward Throne (Third Sector Online, 31 October 2007), said definitions of stewardship ran on a ‘spectrum' from passive to proactive.

"The idea of fundraising stewardship as a single unified practice is myth," he said. "There is no such thing. But there are different ways to practise it, which can fit onto a sliding scale depending on how involved with your donor you want to be."

Michie's stewardship ‘spectrum' defines ‘passive stewardship' as the process of donor care. "It's about getting names and details right and making sure you thank donors properly." He said fundraisers practising this kind of stewardship focused on direct marketing, with little emphasis on personal contact.

Interaction with donors in two-way relationships and a greater focus on phone and email contact is termed 'active stewardship' by Michie. 'Proactive stewardship' is defined in the study as traditional major donor fundraising, where people meet donors and make personal contact.

Michie said respondents who wanted a common definition of stewardship were on the proactive end of the scale.


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