The First Stewardship Confusion - Stewardship and Fundraising

Posted by Matthew Thomas

At the end of May, we described the five stewardship confusions. Today, we will look in depth at the first one.

The first confusion we often encounter is the confusion between fundraising and stewardship. The conversation goes something like this:

matthew-thomas-2Leader: “We need to raise money for next year. Could you help us start a fundraising campaign?”


Us: “That sounds possible; how does your organization usually deal with stewardship?”


Leader: “We do a campaign in the fall, so we usually ask people for money about once a year, but it hasn’t been working so well the last couple of years.”


Us: “How do you ask?”


Leader: “We usually tell people how much it costs to run the place, keep the lights on, pay the staff, and carry on our programs. We ask them to give to make that happen.”

There are actually two confusions going on in this conversation, but we’ll just deal with one in this post.

The first thing we need to do is define terms: Stewardship is managing the assets of another. Fundraising is securing funding for a cause. These terms are interrelated, but not mere synonyms.

Since stewardship is based on managing the assets of others for their benefit, how might we see the owners and the beneficiaries in various environments?

  1. In a Public Funding environment (Governments, School Boards, Park Districts, etc.) the governing body stewards the assets of the general public (both fixed assets and tax levy revenue, along with civic engagement, public safety, civic pride, volunteer time, and so on) on the public’s behalf.
  2. In a general non-profit environment, the Organization stewards the assets of the general public (funds, goodwill, volunteer time) to achieve an end or ends for the public benefit (charitable, literary, religious or scientific, along with testing for public safety, fostering national or international sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals).[1] Charitable is defined by the IRS as follows: “The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.”[2]
  3. In a church or faith-based environment, the Church or Ministry stewards God’s assets toward his purposes. This broadly includes his people (his most treasured possession)[3], the Gospel itself,[4] God’s land (and all of its natural resources, the environment)[5], and the increase therefrom.[6]
  4. In the Christian household (individuals and families), people are stewards of the resources they hold individually and those they share with the household. This includes gifts, talents and skills; the material resources they hold (their own bodies, money, property, the environment); their relationships; and those over whom they have authority (minor children, work subordinates – the latter jointly with the other parent or guardian if still living; the former jointly with business owner).


No matter which environment your organization operates in, good stewards will use resources according to the owner’s desires, needs, values and best interest. Therefore, Stewardship campaigns must address three basic concepts for maximum success:

1) describing the needs of the organization in terms of the owner’s desires, needs, priorities and best interest, and therefore in stewardship terms;

2) developing the people involved to help them see themselves as stewards and deepen their understanding of what it means to live as such;

3) Developing generosity all around – not just pointed toward the organization. This means that “Where does it go when I am done with it” is as much a stewardship question as “what does it cost me to get it in the first place.”


Where do you see this confusion at work?

4 Financial Confusions Get the free e-book

[1], Accessed 25 March 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Deuteronomy 7:6.

[4] 1 Thessalonians 2:4, 1 Timothy 1:11.

[5] See Isaiah 5:1 – 7, Matthew 21:33 – 46 and parallels.

[6] As symbolized by the redemption of the Firstborn – see Exodus 13:1 – 16 and parallels.

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Topics: Stewardship Development, Fundraising, steward leadership

Fundraising: Personal Finance Impact on Donor-Dependent Groups

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Organizations that are dependent on fundraising often do not realize the extent to which the personal finances of individuals and households impact their ability to raise funds. While some nonprofits are capable of developing funding through major donors for the bulk of their needs, other organizations – particularly churches and local community service organizations – are dependent on the regular donations from average families for the bulk of their income.

dollar being squeezed by measuring tapeOrganizations for which this is true feel economic pressure quickly when even a few of the donating constituents change or lose jobs, or are forced to relocate for work. Moreover, donors’ giving capacity limits the organization’s income capacity: and like it or not, debt – particularly the consumer debt tied to credit cards, auto loans and even cash advance outlets or rent-to-own furniture stores – plays a debilitating role in donor giving capacity.

A household that consistently is paying on revolving debt (such as credit cards) is paying significantly more for the same goods and services as a household paying up front through cash or a debit card. And as costs increase faster than income for both individuals and organizations, there is decreasing margin for increasing donations as monthly (or even minimum) payments take up a greater and greater percentage of the household income. This makes fundraising in a debt-laden society all the more difficult.

Organizations that find themselves in this predicament – where their primary donors are living with significant debt and expenses are rising faster than income – do have options.

  • If it is within the scope of your organization’s mission, your organization can sponsor personal finance seminars for your constituency.
  • You can partner with other organizations in the same predicament to share the costs of doing community education on personal finance topics.
  • You can use some of your general-purpose dollars to support low-cost or free debt relief counseling to households in your area of impact whether through your own organization or by supporting an organization that specializes in personal financial counseling.

This way, your organization can strengthen your constituency’s capacity for giving while extending your reach into your community. This will help sustain your organization’s mission through both the abundant and the lean years.


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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, Organizational Management, Fundraising