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 examining the third of the three key characteristics that motivate those critical donors.
Donors need relationship and ministry far more than we need their money.
If we don’t see ministry to the donor as our higher calling, our donors are destined to be mere objects and the connection between them and our ministry will be sadly unsatisfying.
Very early in my career, I was tasked with raising what seemed like an insurmountable amount of money for a ministry without a large donor base. As a young and inexperienced development rep, I tackled it head on, filling my calendar with appointments and firing asks at anyone I could corner: “Can you give a thousand dollars? Can you give a thousand dollars?” I was functioning like a desperate man with a gun!
At the end of the campaign, I sat exhausted. I had hit the dollar goal, but it was utterly unsatisfying for me and for those who contributed. I’d brought nothing to them, and their connection to the ministry was transactional at best.
To cultivate cheerful givers in our churches, we have to be committed to demonstrating their impact.
A donor may give a gift in response to a request like mine, but without a passion for that ministry, he or she will soon find a way to avoid future requests. Follow the trail of a donor’s money over time, and you’ll find the real object of their passion. When you demonstrate care for givers and are consistently demonstrating the impact of their giving, it’s almost inevitable that those donors will grow more committed to your ministry.
Donors of all sizes deserve to know the difference they are making. Henri Nouwen reminds us that fundraising is all about creating a relationship between those who have resources and those who need them, in order to advance God’s Kingdom.
“We will find ourselves begging for money and they will find themselves merely handing us a check,” he writes. “No real connection has been created because we have not asked them to come and be with us. We have not given them an opportunity to participate in the spirit of what we are about. We may have completed a successful transaction, but we have not entered into a successful relationship.”
Churches can demonstrate the impact of givers’ investments in their ministry in meaningful and creative ways. While the impact of some gifts is easier to quantify than others, donors shouldn’t feel like their weekly or monthly gifts are going to the operational ‘blackhole’ of the church. Look carefully at each section of your budget and tie those expenses to your mission. How many gifts or donors does it take to keep the lights on? To maintain your website or broadcast your service online? To support the staff or replace equipment in your nursery? To repair the roof?
The hard truth is that none of our ministries would be possible without the generosity of our donors, so take the time to dig into how their gifts propel God’s Kingdom each week. Doing that work to translate giving to direct impact also gives you “handles” for donors who might increase their tithe or commitment if they knew what a certain level of gift helps accomplish.
As Nouwen wisely counseled, “If we raise funds for the creation of a community of love, we are helping God build the Kingdom. We are doing exactly what we are supposed to do as Christians.”
It can’t be transactional: Nurture cheerful givers by helping them see the good they are doing day in and day out for your church and its ministries.
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.