Fundraising is ministry.
In this series, we’re exploring lessons from theologian Henri Nouwen’s transformational book, The Spirituality of Fundraising, that can reframe how we ask donors for money. Growing cheerful givers in our churches means meeting their needs. This week, we’re unpacking the second of the three key characteristics that motivate those critical donors.
What sets a cheerful giver apart from the usual donor? One of those characteristics is a passion to participate in building the Kingdom through their resources.
Unfortunately, most churches do a less than stellar job in meeting this need for donors. It’s a tough truth that I’ve discovered through several decades of fundraising work.
The Biblical call to tithe and to give our first 10 percent to the Kingdom work too often has led churches to take those members for granted. We’re rightly focused on ministry and congregational care, and we comparatively put very little planning and thought into caring for those actually funding our work. Outside of an annual stewardship campaign, we’re on autopilot and counting on the loyalty of tithers with little focus on turning them into passionate donors.
When your members are at a social gathering and asked about the philanthropic causes they support, is the church at the top of the organizations they’ll list? If we’re honest, we know the answer is probably not. I often hear major donors talk about the animal shelter or child sponsor program they support, the campaign to give clean water to a nation in need, and “…oh, and of course, I give to my church” – the afterthought.
As the church, we must do a better job demonstrating for givers how they advance the Kingdom through their faithful support. Henri Nouwen insists that “fundraising is a very rich and beautiful activity. It is a confident, joyful, and hope-filled expression of ministry. In ministering to each other, each from the riches that they possess, we work together for the full coming of God’s Kingdom.”
A little boy offered Jesus his meager lunch in Matthew 14:14-21. He only had a few loaves and fishes, and Jesus had 5,000 mouths to feed. But gifts in God’s hands can be — and often are — divinely multiplied to meet the demands of greater works. This is one of the greatest-ever giving stories, a beautiful picture of the faith to see something profound happen because of your gifts, however humble they might be.
First and foremost, the young man had enough faith to give his own lunch away! He was risking his own provision, his own comfort, in the hope of helping others. One boy’s faith is what set in motion the amazing miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000.
Cheerful givers donate to see the impossible become possible. It happens inside and outside our churches’ walls each day, yet we don’t often say thank you or tell our loyal donors what their gifts have done to transform lives.
Take the time to regularly brainstorm with your church’s staff about the ministry stories from the past week or month. Which ones would make great features in your communications or social media? Which ones could serve as the centerpiece of a thank you letter to your loyal tithers?
Plan at least one “unexpected” thanks to your donors this year – whether it’s a phone call, email, handwritten card, or a letter, thank them individually for what they are doing to further God’s mission through your church.
“So if we ask for money from people who have money, we have to love them deeply,” Nouwen writes. “We do not need to worry about the money. Rather, we need to worry about whether, through the invitation we offer them and the relationship we develop with them, they will come closer to God.”
Next week, we’ll explore the third characteristic of cheerful givers: their need for impact.
Tim Smith has over 30 years of experience in Church, Non-Profit Administration, Management, and Fund Development. Having served 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.