Development work is equal parts art and science…and it can feel overwhelming when most of us in ministry leadership weren’t trained to be fundraisers. There’s a lot at stake for our churches. And we want to be sure we’re honoring our givers and building our ministries’ mission with their support. In this blog series, we’ve unpacked the most frequently asked questions church leaders have about stewardship and fundraising. We’ve walked through some of the “nuts and bolts” questions as well as questions about staffing and structure. As we wrap up our series today, I’d also like to offer some pointers. The most common mistakes we can make in doing this work.
Pointer #1: Don’t rush the process
This has been the biggest lesson of my career. Don’t try to rush or pressure people before they’re ready to give. We need to spend the bulk of our energy seeking out people’s passions for our church and ministry and building relationships. People take time to engage. And then make their contributions as they deepen that trust and excitement about our work together.
It’s too easy for churches to operate in crisis modes when it comes to fundraising. Any high-pressure tactics for your latest funding “emergency” might have short-term success, but they harm your long-term relationships with donors. (Yes, we will occasionally have a funding crisis or urgent need. But those should be extremely rare and built on an opportunity to invite donors to be part of solving a critical, timely issue.)
Too often, churches manage stewardship and budget needs in a way that feels unplanned and chaotic, and frankly, erodes donor trust. This urgency might get us low-hanging fruit, or what a colleague of mine likes to call “go away money,” but it doesn’t deepen our givers’ sense of partnering with us in ministry. And it doesn’t lead to the kind of fundraising culture that grows loyal, major donors.
Pointer #2: Allocate your time
This is a challenge for all of us, but especially for pastors, who are pulled in so many directions on a daily basis. Carve out intentional time on your calendar each week to do some donor thank yous or to have a pastoral visit with givers to thank them with no other agenda. Engage your staff and key volunteers in helping make this a priority for everyone on your team.
In the fundraising world, it can take nine to 12 months between introduction and the response to a giving ask to a donor. What does this mean for the church? We have to take advantage of the built-in relationship-building opportunities we have every week with our congregants and use those to better understand their passions, interests and what inspires them about our mission.
Pointer #3: Ask for contributions consistently
This is another mistake we can avoid – either over-asking OR going too long without making our case for tithes and offerings to our ministries. Avoid giver confusion or fatigue by intentionally planning your stewardship campaign and any other asks throughout the year.
Some nonprofit best practices indicate a donor should hear from an organization five to eight times for every financial ask. It’s a good rule of thumb to look at how you’re communicating. And thanking your givers each time you’re soliciting them.
Pointer #4: You will not get a financial commitment on every first request
This is a difficult one, but an important one, and it ties to Pointer #5 below. Pastors understandably get discouraged when they get a “no” from a donor they thought would provide a lead gift for a project or campaign. But it does happen, and it’s not necessarily a reflection of the donor’s view of your ministry, the project or your leadership. Sometimes there are other factors at play.
If you have built a trust-filled relationship with the donor, that decline to participate will be just a step in better understanding the donor’s circumstances or views. Sometimes it’s not a firm no, it’s “not now.”
Pointer #5: Don’t lose sight of ministry in the life of the donor
There certainly will be times you get discouraged or frustrated in the process of raising the funds for your ministries. But in those times, remember that this, too, is ministry and keep your eye on the needs of your givers. Remember, they need our churches more than we need their tithes and offerings.
Fundraising is the sacred ground where God can bring together Kingdom needs with those with the resources to fuel them. Trust in His provision, and as you do, invest regularly in the lives of your givers.
Answers to Frequently Asked Stewardship Questions
Fundraising is part art and part science…and it can feel intimidating for pastors and ministry leaders suddenly charged with donor development.
This article provides answers to the six most commonly-asked questions about stewardship – from the pastor’s role in making an ask of a donor to how frequently we should be asking givers for support.
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.