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Blog » Overcoming Fundraising Anxiety: Full Circle

Overcoming Fundraising Anxiety: Full Circle


In this series, I’ve shared about donors who began giving at moderate levels and eventually became major investors in an organization. As we talk about overcoming fundraising fears, the best antidote is a donor relationship built on relational equity and trust. 

After years of working with churches, ministries, and nonprofits on how to grow their fundraising programs, I’ve come to firmly believe in what I call the four-step cycle. This is simply a way to help you think about where you are in a donor relationship – and what the donor needs – before you ask for a donation. 

This cycle includes the steps of: (1) acknowledgment, (2) trust-building, (3) presenting the case for support, and (4) the ask. When followed, this approach keeps the donor’s needs, interests, and values in view at all times.

Donor relationships are book-ended by acknowledgment. Thanking those who are contributing to your ministry at any and all levels helps them understand their role in advancing the mission. How are your donors advancing the mission on a day-by-day basis in your congregation? You should be able to answer that and share that story. Acknowledgment is the crucial foundation on which an authentic donor relationship and any eventual larger request for funds must be built. We “earn the right” to present the case for support for future, larger projects. If I have acknowledged the donor and his or her impact adequately, I can eventually present a case for greater support with confidence that I won’t be violating the values of the donor, or unintentionally devaluing the donor. 

Donors will not commit to a significant gift where they have not established trust. The importance of the trust-building phase of donor relationships cannot be overstated. No less than 80 percent of the time we spend with a donor will involve the trust-establishment process. If there is a central single value of ministry-based relational fundraising, this is it. This step is where we intentionally discover a donor’s passion and where it connects to our church’s work. (And I’ll note that you will be through this cycle many times with loyal donors…sometimes their interests and passions will shift over the years, which is why the repeated cycle itself is so important.)

You don’t hound, pressure, manipulate, or ‘emotionally inspire’ a contribution from someone; you build trust so that a contribution becomes the natural outflow of the relationship. Author Henri Nouwen, in his wonderful work, The Spirituality of Fundraising, insists that development work with donors IS ministry. Keeping that focus will help us in the next phases of the cycle – making a case for support and an ask. We’ll dive into that in the final installment of this series.

Seeking some counsel about your church’s donor development? Our partnership with ACST means our expertise is available to you. If you’d like counsel about any aspect of donor relations or your church’s development plans, contact us, and we’ll be happy to talk with you.

Tim Smith

Tim 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. He has provided a wide range of expertise and resources. Tim serves as the Founder and CEO of  Non-Profit DNA. A boutique firm committed to helping nonprofits and churches. By building their capacity through fundraising, leadership, team building, staff recruiting, and coaching.

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