Why Grant Writers Should Master Stewardship with Funders


Ryan Carruthers


Content Marketer at Instrumentl

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May 13, 2024

Last Updated:

May 14, 2024

Here is something we know: people make decisions that favor people they know and like.

In most nonprofits, there are folks who intimately understand the value of getting people to know and like them. Fundraisers on major gifts, planned giving, and individual giving teams spend as much time as possible talking and building relationships with their supporters.

And yet, far too many grant writers and nonprofits do not steward the funders of grants.

Whether we ask donors to support an organization or funders to give grants to an organization, we are asking people to trust that the funds they provide will be used to benefit a cause. But, trust cannot be created within one application submission—it requires relationship building.

In this article, we’ll cover why stewardship is important for granters, the benefits of stewardship, and practical stewardship strategies to help you increase your grant application success.

Why Is Stewardship Important for Grant Writers?

Grants are essential to the operations of nonprofits, but, depending on the complexity of the grant, it can take dozens (if not hundreds) of hours to complete. And the worst part is that all of that effort is often in vain. The Grant Professionals Association estimates the national average success rate of nonprofit grant applications is between 10 and 30%.

However, grant writers can leverage stewardship best practices to increase the likelihood of success for your application.

A frequently cited research study on social utility and decision-making found that relationships positively influence both personal and business situations. We see this daily in the nonprofit fundraising world. Fundraisers use their time and energy to steward donors and cultivate a belief in their donors that their organizations are worth supporting. The outcome is shown in the form of donations.

To ensure your efforts don’t go to waste, take a page from the fundraiser's playbook and steward relationships with funders. While it’s unlikely that your success rate will increase to 100%, your relationships will lead to other opportunities and hopefully additional grants.

The Benefits of Ongoing Stewardship for Grant Writers

While increasing the success of the grant application is an incredible benefit of grant applications, the benefits of stewardship extend beyond the success of one grant. Developing long-term partnerships and networking with other funders can help you create lasting impact.

Future collaborations: Grant rejection rates can be high, but maintaining positive relationships opens doors for future collaborations.

Referrals: As you get to know the funder, they may refer you to connections who can help fund your organizations. Networking is just as important for fundraisers as it is for grant writers, and any help getting your foot in the door can be a leg up for your application.

Quality of grant applications: By developing a relationship with the funders, you can better understand if your organization is the right fit for the application and what the funder truly values within the application. This tells you where to focus your time and effort within the application and gives you a better chance of success.

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Understanding Stewardship in the Context of Grant Writing

Nonprofit stewardship refers to the ongoing process of building and maintaining strong relationships with those that support your organization. It goes beyond simply saying "thank you" and focuses on fostering a sense of partnership and shared purpose. It can take the form of sharing information about your organization and its goals to simply sending someone a happy birthday note.

To show you why stewardship is valuable in the context of grant writing, let’s walk through these two (exaggerated) scenarios.

Scenario 1: You reach out to a funder who you have no prior relationship with.


We submitted an application for your company’s grant. We’re doing some great things at our organization. Would you give us $50,000?”

This grant request example is extreme, but the point remains that it is much more challenging to ask for support from someone who has no affiliation or awareness of your organization. If you do not have an established relationship with the funder, will the funder be aware of your organization, its values, or mission? Will they be interested in granting you funds? Probably not.

Scenario 2: You reach out to a funder who you have developed a relationship with, is familiar with your cause, and knows its company aligns with your organization’s values.

“Hi John,

It was wonderful seeing you at our fundraiser last week—I hope you were able to get a better sense of the community we serve and the impact we’re making. Let us know if you have any feedback on the fundraiser. We’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can improve it in the future.

We are also looking into applying for the grant with your company. If you have any suggestions on how to best approach it, that would be much appreciated.

Thanks so much!”

By inviting funders to fundraisers or other events, sharing information about your organization, and getting to know the funder personally, you develop a relationship where the funder is already familiar with your organization. This helps you stand out among other applicants and increases your chance of successfully winning the grant.

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How to Develop a Stewardship Plan for Funders

To start stewarding funders, it’s helpful to have a plan in place. Stewardship plans can be broken into three simple steps.

Step 1: Research the funder

For grant writers, at a minimum, they should know who the person is that is deciding on their award. Some grants will publish this, but for those that don’t, it is seldom hidden. Often, all it takes is a quick Google search, or at most, emailing and asking.

Knowing the name of the person is the first step toward personalization. If possible, find out more information about the person and the company. Information such as, how long they’ve been in the role, how long they’ve worked at the company or industry, and the company’s values can help you build your relationship.

Step 2: Create your communication cadence

Once you have identified the right person, it’s time to build out a communication plan. This doesn’t have to be complicated, and there are tools out there that will help generate these plans for you.

Fundraising professionals will typically target about 7-12 high-quality touchpoints with their major gift donors in a given year. Grant writers can easily achieve this number by sending impact reporting updates, grant application communications, and then the occasional “this article made me think of you” message.

Write out your 7-12 touch points, checking in every 2-3 weeks. Adjust the cadence as you see fit for the contacts within your portfolio.

Step 3: Send your emails

By sending 7-12 extra emails over the course of a year, you can dramatically improve your likelihood of winning a grant. Follow the communication plan you set out and start drafting. You can even leverage AI tools to help you quickly draft personalized touchpoints.

Practical Strategies for Engaging and Stewarding Grantors

To help you successfully engage grantors, here are a few tactics and examples you can employ to write your emails and build relationships (without coming off as overly persistent or needy).

Before the Grant Application

Strategy: Engage with potential funders through preliminary research and initial outreach. In this stage, you’re looking to understand whether or not your organization is a good fit for the grant. The requirements of the grant are just as important as creating a good first impression with the team.

Challenge: Communications over email are often dry, so making a solid impression can be difficult.

Solution: To remedy this, personalize your outreach efforts as much as possible using the research you gathered in step 1. As you get further into your stewardship plan, it will be easier to personalize the emails to their communication style and interests.

During the Grant Application Process

Strategy: To show that you are invested in this grant, maintain communication with the grantor. Request updates on application progress and check in to see if there’s any other information the grantor needs for your application.

Challenge: While you want to consistently engage with the grantor, you don’t want to overwhelm them with communications. Too many touch points can come off as overly persistent, even annoying.

Solution: Use a predefined communication plan to ensure you’re keeping in touch, but not crossing the boundary into burdensome.

After the Grant Decision

Strategy: You’ve started to build a relationship, so your communication should extend beyond the grant decision. Check in to see how the grantor is doing and share how the grant has impacted your organization. Continue engagement with thank you notes, impact reports, and project updates.

Challenge: It can be challenging to keep funders engaged long-term, which is why creating the foundation of your relationship is so important.

Solution: Continue to connect with your grantor by sharing your organization’s stewardship calendar and by providing regular updates.

While these tips are focused specifically on stewardship, if you’re looking for examples of successful grant proposals, check out Instrumentl’s article, Successful Grant Proposal Examples: The Ultimate List for 2024.

Leveraging Technology to Enhance Stewardship Efforts

Stewardship should be a natural component of your grant writing practice. It can not only help you increase the success of your grant application but also open you up to additional grant opportunities and connections.

While stewardship can be time consuming, there are many tools, such as AI and fundraising engagement software, that can help grant writers develop effective communication plans.

Momentum, an AI Donor Engagement Platform, enables fundraisers and grant writers to more easily steward donors and funders. Using Momentum, grant writers can automatically develop funder communication plans for each of the funders within your portfolio. From there, your Momentum AI Fundraising Assistant can help you draft personalized communications at scale.

By learning your writing style and that of your funders, your AI assistant drafts communications to help you engage your funders while streamlining your workflow.

If you’re ready to save time while stewarding funders, explore Momentum’s platform to learn more.

Ryan Carruthers

Ryan Carruthers

Ryan Carruthers, a Content Marketer at Instrumentl, specializes in unraveling the world of grants and nonprofit success.

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