An abiding perspective on the mutuality of life in human society; a personal stance and attitude that defines an obligation to serve and take responsibility for all we have been given.


The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines stewardship as "the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care."

Peter Block, in his book Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest, explores stewardship from the standpoint of being part of an organization. According to Block, stewardship "is the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organization by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us. Stated simply, it is accountability without control or compliance."

Stewardship can also be defined as donating money for the good of society or the church. In religious terms, this is often referred to as tithing.

Historic Roots

The word stewardship holds varying meanings for different people. The focus of this briefing paper is stewardship in relation to the donation of money, and the idea that stewardship is a way of life or a way to show appreciation for what one has.

Stewardship is used most often in a religious and fundraising context. The main sources for understanding stewardship in a religious context are Jewish and Christian Scriptures (Pribbenow, 28). The Bible contains many references to stewardship and to mankind as stewards of creation (Campolo, 33). The term is often used to describe a relationship in which one person is managing something for another (Vallet, Stepping 4). In one example, from Matthew 25:14-30, the master entrusts three servants with gold coins. Two servants wisely invest and make a profit while the other buries his coins so that he will not lose them. The coins represent the gifts we are given, and we must not hide those gifts but share them with others. The gifts do not really belong to the steward; she is simply handling the transaction. Another example of this would be a wealthy individual who believes that the money he has was given to him in order to help others (Ummel, 7). He is the steward and the money belongs to the good of society.

The Greek word for stewardship is "oikonomia" which refers to the managing of the household in order to increase its value for all of its members. It is more concisely referred to as utilizing what you have in order to benefit others (Pribbenow, 29).

Another Greek word that embodies some of the aspects of stewardship is "koinonia." This term is broader and includes the ideas of free and uncoerced people working together in friendship and fairness toward a common purpose (Lohmann, 58). This concept helps to explain the complex idea of stewardship and voluntary action.

While the idea of stewardship is not new, the word did not gain popularity until around 1910 when it began to be used to address the church's need for funds (Vallet, Congregations 71). Stewardship is now often used when referring to tithing. Though, tithing specifically means giving a percentage of one's income to the church. Tithing appears in the Bible several times, including Leviticus 27:30. This passage states that everything from the land belongs to God and that a tithe from this must go to God. Tithing is a very important aspect of stewardship in some religious denominations.


Stewardship is an integral part of today's society and religious communities. Gifts through stewardship are generally placed into three categories: time, talent, and treasure (Vallet, Stepping 1). Each person is encouraged to give their time for volunteering, their talents to assist others, and their money to provide a better tomorrow for the community. Pribbenow tells us, "It [stewardship] is an abiding perspective on the mutuality of life in human society. It is a personal stance and attitude that defines an obligation to serve and take responsibility for all we have been given. Stewardship is about being grateful for all that we have been given and responding faithfully to the obligation occasioned by those gifts. Stewardship is hard work" (30).

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The premise of philanthropy is helping humankind, so there is a natural partnership between the philanthropic sector and stewardship. Stewardship provides organizations within the sector the tools it needs in order to operate. These tools include funds, volunteer labor, and the belief that each person should do their part to better society.

Key Related Ideas

  • Charitable Giving

  • Citizenship

  • Conservation

  • Social Responsibility

  • Tithing

  • Volunteering

Related Nonprofit Organizations

Any religious organization (including churches, synagogues, mosques, and governing bodies representing the denominations).

Most nonprofit organizations are partially supported by monetary donations made by individuals. The following are just a few examples of such organizations:

  • AmeriCorps

  • Civitan International

  • Habitat for Humanity

  • Kiwanis Club

  • The Greenleaf Center

  • United Way agencies

Related Web Sites

Doing Your Part: A Quick Guide to Basic Outdoor Ethics:
brochure/dopart.html [no longer available]
The Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership:
Christian Stewardship Association:
United Way of America/United Way of Canada-Centraide Canada:


Block, Peter. Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1996.

Campolo, Tony. How to Rescue the Earth Without Worshiping Nature. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992.

Holy Bible. King James Version. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1976.

Lohmann, Roger A. The Commons: New Perspectives on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1992.

Merriam-Webster Online [online]. Available: . (1 November 2000).

Murphy, Thomas J., Archbishop. "Giving from the heart: stewardship as a way of life." New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising 17 (Fall 1997): 21-33.

Pribbenow, Paul. "To Whom Much is Given Shall Much Be Expected." Advancing Philanthropy 6 (Fall-Winter 1998): 28-34.

Ummel, Vernon Doyle. Christian Stewardship and the Generous Spirit. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1986.

Vallet, Ronald E. Congregations at the Crossroads: Remembering to be Households of God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

____. Stepping Stones of the Steward. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989.

This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.