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Engage Donors by Showing the Path Forward

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Engage Donors by Showing the Path Forward

Part five of the Five Strategies to Engage Donors Right Now

Sometimes those crises within our churches or denominations even garner us bad press or headlines.

In this blog series, we’ve been unpacking five strategies to engage donors right now. For your loyal and long-term givers, your transparent communication to them during difficult times will keep them engaged and help retain them as your advocates.

The first key is not to wait until that inevitable difficult time is in front of you. Here are some steps to take to ensure you’re ready to tell donors how you’re pressing forward when times get tough:

  1. Have a clear plan. Carve out time at your staff retreat or other strategic planning to build. Or revisit- your crisis communications plans as a church. Everyone on your team, especially in a large or multi-campus setting, should know the basics of what their role is and isn’t during a true public relations or media issue. 
  2. Treat your loyal givers as insiders. Your long-term donors believe in your mission and want to be in this for the long haul. Give them the tools to be your advocate in good times and bad. This often means segmented “insider” communication from your head pastor or campus pastors. Talk to those groups of donors and keep them updated on the challenges you’re facing and how they can help. There is nothing more effective than a group of members who are well versed in your church’s impact and how you’re handling a challenge to help diffuse negativity and change the community conversation.
  3. Be transparent. When those challenges hit, let donors know how you’re facing them. give them input on your course of direction when you can, and involve them in helping you solve the issues. 
  4. Don’t hide what’s happening: your donors want to help and sometimes they need to hear that you REALLY need them. Through this past year, we’ve seen churches and ministries who communicated well about their continued work and their needs through the pandemic continue to survive, and often to thrive. Your credibility as a pastor or ministry leader will hinge on your ability to effectively communicate – and seek input – how you are pressing forward to your donors.

Proverbs 17:3 reminds us that God uses our trials to refine us. If we try to keep the reality of those challenges from our closest supporters, we’re missing a chance to see God at work. We’re also missing an opportunity to provide that sacred space for donors to be called to meet a need – be it financial, spiritual, or communal. 

Pastors and ministry leaders must encourage this kind of openness with donors who have made significant, consistent, and loyal investments in our ministries. Sometimes in very large and established congregations, especially, we see pastors hesitate to do this because it feels like a failure to acknowledge when something is wrong or when we have a need.  But God has placed these givers in our community for a reason, and we need to place trust in them in our most vulnerable times. 

The greatest impact among loyal givers will be in their long-term retention by your church. If you are persuasive and passionate, a new giver will typically give that first gift. But the difference between the donor who gives a one-time gift and the donor who engages for the long-term really boils down to personal relationships — and the systems that drive, connect, organize, and maintain those relationships. 

When it comes to a crisis, plan for how to handle that critical group of donors and practice engaging them with authenticity and honesty now. 

Tim Smith has over 30 years of experience in Church, Non-Profit Administration, Management, and Fund Development.  Serving as an Executive Pastor and Chief Development Officer in growing Churches and Non-Profit Organizations has provided a wide range of expertise and resources. Tim serves as Founder and CEO for Non-Profit DNA, a boutique firm committed to helping nonprofits and churches build their capacity through fundraising, leadership, team building, staff recruiting, and coaching.

Additional guides on engaging giving include:

How to Talk About Giving

Visit Church Growth for many more guides on giving and growing giving

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