The concept of stewardship dates back to 15th century England. The word steward is derived from the Old English stigweard meaning “hall keeper”. [1] In its most general sense is the concept means the responsible management of something that belongs to someone else. It is contextually linked with religion, environment and economics and is associated with sustainability.[2]

A steward is the individual charged with overseeing and protecting another’s property, finances, or household affairs, that which is worth preserving, sustaining or nurturing.[3]

According to Thomas Jeavons “Real stewardship has inescapably moral obligations and responsibilities.” [4] Peter Block discusses stewardship within an organizational context as accountability in which service rather than control should be the motivating factor, and that managing and governing our institutions must be done in a sustainable fashion. [5] Block argues that replacing leadership with stewardship reallocates the purpose and power of the organization. [6]

Stewardship and Public Relations

According to Amanda Brown’s PRLine blog, there is a new trend towards stewardship in public relations as continuous relationships aid public relations practitioners and the practice in strengthening relationship-building efforts. [7]

Public relations practitioners, as stewards, consider every characteristic of their organizations that might have an effect on relations with publics. [8] Kathleen Kelly argues that stewardship is the “S” in the ROPES (Research, Objectives, Programming, Evaluation & Stewardship) model of the public relations process, which is a derivative of a theory of fundraising, and highlights how relations with all publics should be managed. It is a challenge to practitioners to meet the dynamics of change. [9]

Four Elements of Stewardship

Kelly addresses stewardship’s four dimensions or elements: reciprocity, responsibility, reporting and relationship nurturing. These elements of stewardship in public relations help to build goodwill and are closely aligned with social responsibility. [10]
  • Reciprocity recognizes stakeholders by showing gratitude and is the essence of social responsibility.
  • Responsibility refers to the organization keeping its word or fulfilling promises and meeting the key publics’ expectations. It means that the organization acts in a socially responsible way.
  • Reporting requires organizations to keep their publics informed, and communicate with them about ongoing changes and developments. It is a basic requirement of accountability.
  • Relationship nurturing involves going beyond reciprocity, responsibility and reporting in treating publics well. It demonstrates continued relationship building with a focus taking care of existing stakeholders and fostering new relationships. [11]

In measuring the four dimensions of stewardship in not-for-profit public relations practice, it was found that “they have a significant impact on how donors evaluate the non-profit organization-donor relationship.” [12]

Kelly concludes that without stewardship, the practice of public relations is incomplete. Public relations practitioners “must ensure that expressions of appreciation are provided, recognition activities are planned, responsibility is monitored, a system of reporting is in place, and strategies for relationship nurturing are carried out.” Without the elements of stewardship, the process of public relations is incomplete.[13]

Stewardship and Public Relations Ethics

Kelly posits that the added step of stewardship “ensures continuity in the public relations process but also promotes ethical behaviour by practitioners and their organizations.” [14]

In Kathie Leeper’s discussion of communitarianism as an ethical base for public relations, stewardship is outlined as one of three elements that constitute a communitarian approach. “Stewardship is a concept combining elements of quality and social responsibility.” It encompasses more than viewing environmental responsibility but also human responsibility. The approach acknowledges that stewardship has helped the business world recognize the significance of community. [15]
  1. ^
    Stewardship origin in American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved from:
  2. ^ Stewardship definition in Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from:
  3. ^
    Stewardship in Retrieved from:
  4. ^
    Jeavons, T.H. (1994). Stewardship revisited: Secular and sacred views of governance and management. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 23(2), 107-122, (p. 115).
  5. ^ Block, P. as in Leeper, K. (1996). Public relations ethics and communitarianism: A preliminary investigation. Public Relations Review 22(2), 163-179, (p. 171).
  6. ^ Block, P. (1995) Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest. San Francisco: Berrett- Koehler Publishers, p. 1. Retrieved from:
  7. ^
    Brown, Amanda PRLine (December 27, 2010). Stewardship and the public relations process [Web log post]. Retrieved from:
  8. ^
    Kelly, K. S. (2001). Stewardship. In R. Heath (Ed.), Handbook of public relations (pp. 279-289). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  9. ^ Ibid.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^
    Waters, R.D. (2009) Measuring stewardship in public relations: A test exploring the impact on the fundraising relationship. Public Relations Review 35(2), 113-119, (p. 113).
  13. ^
    Kelly, K.A., op. cit. (p. 289).
  14. ^
    Kelly, K. S., op. cit. (p. 283).
  15. ^
    Leeper, K. (1996). Public relations ethics and communitarianism: A preliminary investigation. Public Relations Review 22(2), 163-179, (p. 171).