Imagine that you sat down with a member of your congregation and started a conversation with, “Let me tell you what God is doing through our congregation.”? I think most people would be thrilled to have a conversation like this. It feels deeply spiritual.
But what if that conversation ended with, “Would you consider a gift of $5,000 to allow our congregation to live out that mission?” Who still wants to be in that conversation? I suspect many church leaders would not. There is a palpable discomfort of talking about money. It feels worldly, dirty, or tainted. It’s something other organizations do, but not the church! But consider:
If we come back from asking someone for money and we feel exhausted and somehow tainted by unspiritual activity, there is something wrong.
Those aren’t the words of the latest fundraising guru. They come directly from Henri Nouwen, renowned priest and author, known for his writing and speaking about the spiritual life. In his very brief book, A Spirituality of Fundraising (which I highly recommend), Nouwen continues:
As a form of ministry, fundraising is as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry.
Really? How is this possible?
Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and ministry.
When our congregations have a clear sense of God’s purpose for ministry, we have the exciting opportunity to invite people to generously provide the finances to expand it. If we truly believe that we’re doing what God calls us to do, how can we not invite people to financially make that vision turn into reality?
On a synodical level, much discernment work has gone into clarifying our purpose. As a synod, we develop and equip spiritual, resilient congregations and leaders. We accompany partners around the globe. Or, to put it another way, “We are equipping congregations and leaders to follow Jesus into a changing world.” As a synod, we don’t ask individuals or congregations to give to support a $2.1 million budget. We invite them to participate in this mission that God has given us and we have specific stories showing what God is up to.
What does your congregation believe in such a way that you can offer other people the opportunity to participate with you in your congregation’s vision and ministry?
What part of God’s great mission invigorates people in your corner of God’s kingdom? Once you have clarity about that, then inviting people to be a part of it is easy. You simply tell the story of God at work among you and allow people to join in that work.
We don’t invite people to meet a budget goal. We’re simply inviting them to be a part of what God is already doing in our midst, and God’s activity is not limited by budget spreadsheets. We invite people to unleash our congregation’s potential to make a significant impact in people’s lives, both within and outside of our congregations.
Fundraising not only makes ministry possible, it opens people take steps on a spiritual journey, a journey of generosity. God works in the midst of it all, building faith and trust in individuals while expanding God’s ministry through communities of faith.
The other night I was leading a congregation council retreat. We explored the way they messaged their ministry through announcements and through their weekly bulletin. As I read the bulletin, I was bored.
The announcements were focused on “what” the congregation did. I read about Lent worship times, a pancake supper, and a need for people to help with the food pantry. Those things are not bad. However, all that was shared was “what” they did or “what” they needed. I could never find anything about why they would gather for worship on a Wednesday night, why you wanted to come eat pancakes, or why someone would give up their Saturday morning to help at a food pantry.
We control the message that people hear. We need to spend time discerning what we want them to hear.
I want people to hear that the ministry we do is critical. I want them to hear that God is incredibly active in what we do. I don’t actually care about pancakes or giving up time on a Saturday morning. What I do care about is why people give up their Saturday morning to help at the pantry. I care about why kids need to experience a national youth gathering to grow in their faith which will be funded by a pancake supper. I care about why people need to take time in their life to worship to live a more full life with God.
We focus on what we do because it is easy. The crazy thing of this night is that when I asked why a certain activity was taking place, one of the leaders said “I don’t even know why we are doing this and I am leading the activity”. How will God work through activities that we don’t even know why we are doing them?
So, we started to reflect on how we promoted activity. We reflected on this announcement:
Calvary Food Pantry Needs Volunteers! Consider joining the St. Mark’s crew on the first and second Saturday mornings of the month. To volunteer, sign up at the Welcome Desk or click the link in the enews. Questions? Contact Heather… or Pastor Sarah.
When we reflected on why we did this, we re-wrote the announcement to read:
God calls us to feed the hungry. We partner with the Calvary Food Pantry because we take this calling seriously. Mike, who volunteers at the Food Pantry, says this about the experience, “What I love about the Calvary Food Pantry is that in addition to helping people get the food they need, in a small way, we get to know the people in our community who are hungry. Therefore, I can put a face with the issue of hunger and it changes the way in which I look at the issue.” St. Mark’s is responsible for volunteers on the first and second Saturdays of the month. Sign up at the Welcome Desk or contact Heather… or Pastor Sarah…or just drop a note in the offering plate and we will contact you.
We need to promote the “why”. We need to share with people why we do the ministry we do. This is what people care about. This is what people give their money for.
I’m tired of people saying that our culture doesn’t care about what we offer now. We need to line up what we offer with what people need in their life. Our ministry is not irrelevant in people’s lives unless we let it become irrelevant. If we share why people need what we offer, they will flock to it.
Focus on the “why”. Nobody really cares “what” we offer. However, they need “why” we offer it.
Contact Mike at email@example.com.
Congregations who contract with me to help them improve annual stewardship or to conduct a campaign typically have a laser focus on their goal: raise more money! Many are somewhat taken aback when I tell them we actually have THREE goals. Can you guess what those goals are?
- Of course we want to raise more money. We don’t seek increased donations to keep the lights on or to keep the coffee pot full. We want to raise more money so that we can continue doing ministry. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and housing the homeless cost money. If we are not about serving the marginalized and the disenfranchised, then why do we as the church exist? When we raise more money, we must tie that effort directly to the outwardly-focused ministry that is defined by the tagline “God’s work, our hands.”
- Our second goal is to grow generosity. Generosity must be taught, and it is taught not by criticizing those who we determine do not give enough. It is taught by making generosity a joyous activity, one that becomes as much a part of our spiritual life as prayer or service to others. Whether donors grow their generosity from giving $5/week to $10/week, or from $750/week to $1,000/week, celebrating that growth and sharing gratitude freely is key to making the act of giving something that donors want to repeat.
- The third goal is growing a willing volunteer base in our churches. Who are the regular volunteers in your congregation? You can probably name them. Most people do not volunteer at church because of nebulous task descriptions and never-ending assignments. When we ask people to serve as volunteers in our fundraising efforts, we provide a written job description as well as an idea of the time commitment. We also share the same gratitude and work to make their volunteer experience is satisfying enough that the next time they are asked to serve, they willingly step forward.
Amazing things happen when we don’t just focus on raising more money. When we marry the needs of donors with the ministry of the church, generational change occurs, and the church becomes something we do, not just somewhere we go.
Having been through my share of capital campaigns, including some I led myself in my own congregations, I have developed a set of keys to helping such campaigns be successful. One of those is “don’t do it yourself!” That’s my first key.
Yes, I realize I just said that I had done my own but I definitely don’t recommend it. There are several reasons. One of the most important is that as a pastor you are most likely simply too busy to dedicate the time a really effective campaign needs. Capital campaigns are intensive and demanding. They aren’t something you can just whip out in your spare time.
Another reason for not doing itself is that most of us don’t have the expertise. That’s where a professional comes in. Those who work in the development field have training and experience. They have learned the “dos and don’ts” of a campaign. In addition, since this is what they are paid for, they have the time. This means a “key” key is to get outside, professional help. And one more reason is that sometime the outside professional can take the “heat” that might otherwise go to local leadership. Capital campaigns can generate some controversy. If so, how nice is to to direct that to this person the congregation has retained.
Almost as important is a second key which is simply involving as many people as you can. When there is widespread involvement throughout the congregation there also tends to be widespread understanding and support. A capital campaign is a good place to involve dozens, even a hundred or more, people in a variety of roles from preparing treats or meals to serving on the main steering committee.
Yet another key is to allow plenty of time for planning the campaign. Frankly, a year is not too long. One reason for a lengthy planning time is to get the “buy in” of the congregation, beginning with its leadership and ultimately reaching as broad an audience as possible. All of that takes time as does the recruiting of leaders and communicating the mission. A campaign can be done in six months. I did one once for a congregation in two months! But a longer period of time is generally a good thing.
A fourth key is to have a very carefully developed case statement. Such a statement sets of vision and the rationale for the campaign. Why are we doing this and what will it accomplish? The case statement needs to be clear and concise as well as motivational. This is not a good place to try to answer all the questions. That can be done in an “FAQ,” or “frequently asked questions” document. Along with a case statement, an FAQ is also of key importance.
While there are more keys to a full “set,” a fifth key I will mention in this brief article is having strong communication materials. Too many congregations or organizations skimp at this point. What is called for are materials professionally prepared and produced. Many congregations have people with training and experience, maybe even equipment, to help with communicating effectively. But also don’t hesitate to spend what it takes if, for example, you want a fine video. Typically that isn’t something with a small home camera can do. Hiring a professional, while not cheap, can make a world of difference.
It is amazing how many keys most of us have. So, too, there are quite a number to conduct a successful capital campaign. Now you have in your hand or pocket, a few such keys.
Gary F. Anderson
“I don’t know where to start.”
“Too many expenses, not enough revenue.”
“We know what to do, but can’t figure out how to get there.”
“If our organization raised more money, we could….”
Hiring a consultant is like hiring a mountain climbing guide. You have goals you want—or need—to achieve, but something inhibits you from reaching them. Maybe this something is internal disorganization or limited resources; perhaps it’s external challenges or competition.
If you were planning to scale Mount Everest for the first time, you could swing by a store to pick up a few supplies and set out hoping for the best. More likely, you’d seek out experts—via books, blogs, individuals who have successfully navigated the elements. You’d pour over trail maps and test supplies before you leave. You’d probably find a seasoned guide to make the journey with you, to lead you through unfamiliar terrain.
Similarly, a consultant can help your organization identify your goals, develop a realistic and timely plan for reaching them, and provides the tools and accountability for you to be successful. You’ll have a knowledgeable partner and guide in the fundraising effort, peace of mind in the process.
And, consultants can be less expensive than you think. At GSB, we’re about serving our client’s best interests, providing only services you need to be successful. Most of our clients secure funding to cover a consulting contract within the first couple of months of partnering with us. With associates throughout the U.S., obtaining local GSB counsel is easy; check our website to find an associate near you.
How many times have you made a discovery call on a donor prospect, only to leave having done most of the talking?
As fundraisers, we are often the first contact a prospect or donor has with our ministry or organization, and we are responsible, therefore, to inform them about its important mission and vision. Yet that can leave precious little time to find out about their spiritual and philanthropic needs.
Exacerbating this is society’s decreasing span of attention. The social media lifestyle has lowered our capacity to really listen to what another is telling us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it “impatient, inattentive listening.” (See Bonhoeffer full statement below.)
Every major gift workshop you have attended has told you the same thing−that successful major gift fundraising begins with relationships. These cannot be cursory relationships, however. The most successful fundraisers I have known are those who truly cared about their donors and their donors’ lives−who celebrated life’s joys and mourned life’s sorrows side by side. It is in relationships like this that we experience and share the true spirituality of fundraising. Relationships like this start by listening with no preconceptions.
The next time you visit with a donor or donor prospect, be aware of how you are listening. Use your active listening skills, and spend the time to find out what is truly important to them. Ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. There will be plenty of time later to make the case on behalf of your organization.
The following is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community”:
“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”
GSB consultants listen. We listen “into” the conversation and we listen “through” the process. We continue to learn how to be present and remain open and teachable. We engage our clients where they are. Our “agenda” is that of the concerns and goals of our client. Whether it be a Feasibility Study for a Capital Campaign, or a Strategic Planning Process to establish Mission and Vision, the GSB consultant collaborates with the client to insure desired outcome. The value of remaining “teachable” is one we expect of our clients. Through conversation and personal interaction, both the consultant and the client move forward in learning from each other. GSB consultants listen. We listen into the conversation and listen through the process and lead the client to the desired outcome.
Before I became a consultant, among other things, I served as General Chair for a congregational stewardship appeal. Task number one was to interview consulting firms. I had bad memories of that from my time as a parish pastor!
My first question and the question that I think is the best to ask when interviewing potential fundraising consultants:
“What is the largest gift you have ever personally given, to whom did you give it, and why?”
Our first consultant was a deer caught in headlights. He stumbled around for a few minutes, grimaced, and then told me about a $1,000 gift he had given once. I questioned him a few times and he couldn’t do any better.
The interview was over.
He had no integrity. You cannot ask others to become generous if as a consultant if you aren’t generous yourself.
When some charities and churches are embroiled in conflict, they think a Vision or Strategic Plan will fix their operational issues. During a crisis or when there’s high anxiety over the instability of the organization, it’s not the time to initiate a Vision Plan. What is needed is an Operational Plan.
When the Annual Giving Program is non-productive for several years, some leaders propose a Capital Campaign to raise a significant amount of money to fix the annual deficit. A more effective plan is to strengthen the Annual Giving Program to solve operational funding needs and thus build toward a capital campaign.
All too often as an organization seeks to initiate a Vision Plan or Capital Campaign, it is discovered that the leadership (staff and/or volunteer) is dysfunctional. When this is the case, there’s no way a Vision Plan or Capital Campaign can be successful. First things first, a Board Development Consultation is needed to focus the leadership and insure success of any Plan or Campaign.
Not all conflict is bad; healthy organizations have conflict, but they have learned how to manage, resolve, and improve from it.
The GSB consultant can help identify where to enter the system and begin to work on effective leadership and clear visioning. . If there is conflict or no Vision, giving will be flat or decrease. However, when the leadership can articulate the Vision, when conflict has been resolved, people will respond and will support with increased volunteerism and giving. It is systemic and organic; all are connected and when open and flowing, generosity grows.
So, you want to lead your congregation to generosity. You need to bring in a consulting firm to help, but you don't know where to start. You ask your colleagues and have a list of 3 or 4 firms you want to talk to. Now what?
You bring them in for the interview. What will you ask them?
The finance person on the interview team will want to ask them:
- “How much do you think you can raise?”
- “How many similar congregations have you worked with?”
- “How much is your fee?”
Here are my 5 favorite questions to ask a potential consultant for your stewardship appeal or congregational capital appeal?
- What is the largest gift you have ever given, to whom did you give it, and why?
- How does your firm’s plan value every member of the congregation and how does that live out in appeals you conduct?
- How do you blend quality fundraising with spiritual growth?
- Why do you feel called to work with our congregation?
- What is your number one goal for our congregation throughout this appeal?
These questions will get at the heart of your consultant and not just his or her head. When I interview a consultant, I want to know that they share my values, and I want to work with someone who I would be comfortable sending to talk to my family members about making a gift.