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Strengthening Ties: Stewarding the Relationship
What is stewardship?
Stewardship is a term of use in a number of fields, always meaning "a responsibility to take good care." As grantees, we are responsible to take good care of the investment a grantmaker makes in our work as well as to make a good effort toward achieving the shared mission that motivated the gift. Stewardship takes many forms, from saying "thank you" to providing requested project updates on time. In some cases, in addition to the moral obligation to take good care, we have a legal obligation to fulfill certain responsibilities as a condition of the grant agreement.
Why does stewardship matter?
Mistakes in stewardship—such as not communicating in a forthright way with a funder when a problem arises with a grant—affect the entire organization, not just one unit or department. Some organizational funders have relationships to the University that stretch back decades and, we hope, will continue for decades more. Careful attention to stewardship builds a legacy of trust, performance, and positive relationships with people involved in grantmaking, enhancing the reputation of the University as a whole and making future proposals more competitive
What are some best practices?
- Reporting is stewardship. Use it to bring donors closer to the heart of your mission. If guidelines permit, give the report a personal touch, such as a nice note and photos from an event.
- Don't lose touch in the shuffle. Vacations, vacancies, sabbaticals, and sudden departures can cause a reporting deadline to slip or another relationship glitch. Plan for staff turnover; explicitly reassign reporting duties and provide a back up contact.
What are funders' hopes for grantee relationships?
An informal survey of staff at corporations and foundations that give to higher education showed that the key to good stewardship is providing timely and thoughtful communication. Grantmakers want:
- Engagement. Open lines of communications make the grant recipient relationship great. Those interviewed noted they enjoy hearing that grantees have received awards or had breakthroughs. A copy of a news article about your work or a quick note or e-mail mentioning an achievement or milestone is usually very welcome.
- Communication in good times and in bad. An open line of communication is crucial when a grantee is facing challenges. Foundation representatives are open to discussing revised deadlines and reporting requirements with just cause—if you've built a relationship already.
- Respect. Program officers and board members take great pains to select the best grant recipients. By failing to meet reporting requirements, we are implying that we do not value or respect their work.
- Reporting. Requirements range from none to a few simple questions to elaborate. Program officers and board members work hard to ensure that they do not impose overbearing reporting requirements, and they are disappointed when grantees fail to meet these minimum expectations.
What tools are available after a proposal is funded?
The GIFT Center has developed a number of tools to guide the stewardship of charitable grants.
- After you receive a charitable grant and provide us with a copy of your award agreement, we will prepare a Post-Award Coordination Form to assist you with staying organized during the period of grant administration.
- FAQ about Charitable Grant Accounting provides an overview and contacts for questions related to accounting.
- Additionally, we will provide you with a copy of a handout, Foundation Stewardship Best Practices, with guidelines and tips for building strong relationships with grantmakers.
- Top Ten Ways to Appreciate Foundations outlines creative ways of showing foundation donors just how much you appreciate their partnership with your grant-funded projects or programs. Included suggestions are beyond standard institutional and unit acknowledgement procedures.
Sometimes as part of a grant review process a grantmaker will make a visit to the project site to get a first-hand view of activities, meet the personnel, and ask questions. Site visits can be brief (half hour) or long (several days), informal or formal. GIFT Center staff members have site visit experience and can provide advice. See our Site Visit Tip Sheet for some simple tips. If you are contacted by a grantmaker wishing to visit your program, please e-mail GIFTCenter@al.arizona.edu.