Stewardship: Ministry’s Most Missed Opportunity

Written by Timothy M. Winkler Sr., CFRE; CEO, Winkler Group

Stewardship: Ministry’s Most Missed Opportunity

This blog is the fourth in a series exploring the challenges facing fundraising in churches and ministries today. 

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how churches and ministries too often throw sound fundraising principles out the door in the name of bad theology (The Lord Will Provide…).  Too often, we see another bad practice implemented by churches and ministries: misguided stewardship. 

In fundraising circles, the word stewardship is used to describe how an organization treats a donor after they make a gift.  In ministry, the nomenclature is different and unique; stewardship is synonymous with giving.  For example, we frequently hear, “Our church is about to launch its annual stewardship campaign” when the church is beginning to focus on asking members to consider their overall giving in the upcoming year.  For the purposes of this article, the word stewardship will be used in the broader context of the fundraising profession, i.e., your interaction with donors after a gift has been made.

The focus and practice of thanking donors to faith-based organizations, especially churches, is nearly non-existent.  This should not be the case and is actually odd if you stop to contemplate it.  I say odd because most people think of the church as a place where gratitude is most easily and frequently expressed.  But yet in reality, the church is the very place where stewardship is most lacking.    

It has been our experience that churches rarely practice even the simplest forms of donor stewardship.  Handwritten thank you notes, a thank you call when a pledge is paid off, or even a generic thank you form letter when someone has made a commitment are rarely sent or made.

I have a very good friend who is the head of a ministry.  The ministry does great work and raises a lot of money, but with proper donor stewardship, their impact could be even greater.  I once suggested that he might want to send out some type of gift acknowledgment (not a receipt) or thank you when his organization received gifts.  His response was that acknowledgements are unnecessary because the ministry was doing the work of the Lord.  In his estimation, support for the work was both biblically warranted and even mandated.  His rationale: why should someone be thanked for doing what the Bible has told them to do?!  While he is not wrong in asserting biblical support for giving to churches and ministries, people still want to be thanked—and should be recognized.

Many pastors and church leaders hold a sacred view of anonymity when it comes to church members and giving.  I understand and appreciate their convictions, and I am not suggesting breaking any confidentiality if such practices are in place.  However, leadership can be prompted to say thank you to a member or donor without knowing the specific details of their gift.  In our practice, we constantly hear from church members that they want to know the ministry is aware of their gifting and commitment.  Their reasons for desiring some type of stewardship are not centered around recognition or other selfish motives.  Rather, they want to have confidence that pastors and leaders know they are committed to the ministry. 

I have a number of working theories as to why a lack of donor stewardship takes place in churches and ministries.  But the why is not as important as changing the practice within ministry contexts.  Church members and ministry donors will appreciate on many levels the time you take to offer a simple thank you.

With all this mind, wouldn’t now be an appropriate time to take inventory of your stewardship practices and protocol, or lack thereof?  Implementing some of the most basic stewardship principles into your church or ministry can provide the opportunity for greater engagement from the very people who are the most passionate about your ministry.  With greater engagement comes greater involvement, not just with financial resources, but also with time, talent, and the opportunity to grow more in their faith and understanding of biblical generosity. 

Read other articles in this series to explore the disconnect between philanthropy and ministry and learn concepts that fuse the best practices of the fundraising world with biblical concepts of giving.  (The Lord Will Provide… and Fundraising and Ministry: Overcoming the Oxymoron-Part Two) 


Follow Tim Winkler @TimWinklerCFRE and @WinklerGroup.


The Winkler Group is a full-service fundraising firm headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, with offices in Orlando.  The Winkler Group specializes in capital campaigns, feasibility studies, and strategic development planning.

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