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Fundraising Philosophies And Board Ownership

Christian Leadership Alliance

By Kim Stezala

I had a recent opportunity to lead a discussion with scholarship providers about board ownership of fundraising.  I presented three core fundraising philosophies:

  1.  sales,
  2. strategic, or
  3. stewardship-based, with various degrees of staff-driven or board-driven efforts.

Depending on which philosophy the board ascribes to, the culture around fundraising, or more broadly about fund development, is very different.  If the board hasn’t clearly stated which approach they ascribe to, staff is often left to make it up as they go along, perhaps following their own philosophy or building a hodgepodge of approaches to make do. We’ve also seen plenty of examples of board members that publicly state agreement and commitment to fundraising but don’t actually do it.

So what is going on here? Let’s take a closer look at these three philosophies.


On the spectrum of fund development approaches, sales might be described as a transactional approach with lead lists and pipelines and moving people up the ladder to reach your revenue goal.  This is how I first learned the basic tenets of fund development and many organizations successfully use this method.


strategic approach might be described as building donor relations and practicing effective philanthropy through leveraging and maximizing gifts, often to support a sophisticated theory of change – it is a multi-faceted approach. The key is that the approach is very donor-centered, vs. organization-centered, and it is an evolution of fund development from the charity mindset to that of strategic philanthropy.


The stewardship approach is grounded in the belief that the organization serves as a conduit for the donor’s purpose and the experience should be relational, meaningful and transformational for the donor – to the point that your staff may even refer them to a different organization if you cannot fulfill their needs. (Really!) In my church, this has been expressed as: from God, through us, to others. Resources are not yours to begin with…you are the steward.

In addition to the different approaches, friction arises when staff and board members have unclear roles and commitments, generational or cultural differences about fundraising, lack of knowledge about the facts and trends in giving, and, quite often, limited time as staff and volunteers.

How can nonprofit leaders turn this around?

I have been involved with organizations and individuals who have used each one of these approaches successfully. The key is that everyone is honest and has mutual expectations about their approach, and holds each other accountable.


Kim Stezala is president of Stezala Consulting, LLC . Kim has devoted nearly twenty years to the nonprofit sector in leadership, management, volunteer and founder roles.

Want to develop your fundraising skills? Enroll in the Outcomes Mentoring Network presented by Christian Leadership Alliance. Here you will  find a mentor with extensive experience in resource development and strategy. It’s time to invest in your leadership. Register HERE.

The Outcomes Mentoring Network


What is Christian Leadership Alliance?

Christian Leadership Alliance equips and unites leaders to transform the world for Christ. We are the leaders of Christ-centered organizations who are dedicated to faithful stewardship for greater kingdom impact.

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