Fundraising: A Spiritual Activity

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.

This article appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of River Crossings, a newsletter of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod
Pete Reuss

The Witness of Giving

Last week my wife, a recent kidney donor, gathered with over 400 others in Chicago to set the Guinness Book record for the most living donors assembled in one place. As she and other donors visited, they talked about how uncomfortable it is to be recognized for their organ donations. Yet they all understand that only awareness and engagement will motivate others to consider organ donation themselves.

Financial donors are much the same way. One of the basic tenets we at GSB teach is the concept of donor witness. When we invite others to join us in making a commitment to a campaign or appeal, the most effective way to ask is to begin by sharing our own story of generosity. It is not boastful or arrogant; rather, it is the beginning of a deep conversation about what drives us all to give: the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, in gratitude for the many blessings God has given to us.

Henri Nouwen, in his book A Spirituality of Fundraising, discusses the taboo nature of talking about money. “The reason for the taboo is that money has something to do with that intimate place in our heart where we need security…” When we share our joy in giving, though, we share the living, daring confidence that God gives us what we need and that God is our ultimate security. We are then free to be generous and enjoy the community that comes from a deep conversation about what is really important.

How do you begin to share your generosity witness?

Start by answering these questions:

  • What was the most generous act you ever witnessed?
  • Who taught you generosity?
  • Describe your favorite giving experience. Why did it feel so good?

As you share your enthusiasm, others will begin to think about those questions in the context of their own lives. Your witness to giving and generosity will have just changed the conversation from one of asking to one of invitation.

3 ways to boost your volunteers’ efforts

Do more with less. Nearly every non-profit organization I work with is asked to raise more money this year with little—or no—added fiscal or human resources. More visits, deeper cultivation, broader fundraising reach and more impressive events will take their toll on even the best fundraising professionals.

Yet, even with limited resources, achieving elevated goals is possible. Consider one of the most under-utilized resources: volunteers.

Don’t cringe! Admittedly, coordinating and motivating volunteers requires time and dedication. And maybe that’s energy you’re not feeling these days. But, volunteers are impact generators. They expand the impact of your organization by as much as 60% by offering connections that staff may not have; they can open doors for gifts that may have gone unnoticed without the volunteer’s connections. And engaged volunteers increase their financial giving!

Volunteers humanize your organization beyond those who are paid to tell the mission story. Often, because of limited resources, organizations focus on efficiency to complete tasks. But fundraising is heavily influenced by relationships, and building relationships is a task not done “efficiently”. When cultivated properly, volunteers become an integral part of the organizational mission and are among our greatest organizational resources. Equipped and engaged volunteers generously grow their giving and draw others to the cause.

Unfortunately, volunteers are often relegated to roles which do not maximize their knowledge, skill and network, left ill-equipped to help extend the organization’s impact reach.

As you re-evaluate programs and chart goals, how will you intentionally use volunteers in your efforts? Here are 3 tips to get you started:

Consider the unique value each volunteer brings

It’s more than simply what volunteers can do for the organization. And, it’s more than the money they may contribute.

Find ways to thoughtfully incorporate volunteers’ skills and knowledge from careers and other volunteer experiences to help make your programs, administrative operations, and public relations stronger. Volunteers see your organization from a different point of view and find fulfilment in helping solve problems for causes they care about. Ask for help; in most cases, they’ll be delighted to give it.

Equipped volunteers are the best advocates

Educate your volunteers—continually, and packaged in ways so they can be an ambassador for the good work you’re doing. Keep in mind, you and the volunteers are working together toward the same goals.

Volunteers and donors alike want to know they’re making a difference. Share stories and outcomes in national, regional or the organization’s historical context to help them understand both the broader need and the impact value they’re partnering to address. At every gathering of volunteers, share a story or two of the benefit of your work together. It’s okay to repeat the same story several times; the more a volunteer hears it, the more confident they’ll feel about retelling the story themselves.

Don’t burden volunteers with mountains of statistics and internal jargon. Be intentional to identify specific examples of success stories.

With thoughtful consideration to confidentiality and discernment for appropriate information, let volunteers understand the challenges and obstacles the organization faces. If the environment demands new services, but you don’t know how to offer or fund them, bring volunteers into the conversation about it. Presenting an impression that your organization faces no opposition suggests that there’s no room for growth and expansion, therefore minimizing the added value of new donors and volunteers. Clearly define the prioritized needs and communicate how meeting those needs will improve the services you provide. Volunteers may have connections or insights to achieve those needs in ways you may have not anticipated.

And when you close a gift which a volunteer helped to introduce, encourage or nudge, tell them of your progress and thank them for their support in this way.

Use volunteers to share your story, recruit donors and other volunteers

Market volunteers as valuable assets to your organization. Use organization publications and social media outlets to highlight volunteer efforts, interviews about why they volunteer and the value they experience in making a difference through your organization—and have them encourage others to volunteer.

Sometimes people want to volunteer, but don’t know who to contact or how to get started. Whether it’s completing an online form or filling out a checklist from your publications, make volunteering easy with clear contacts and ways to sign-up. Then follow-up—maybe with an assigned volunteer!—and use that energy to benefit your organization.

Jennie Wolf SmithFor information on how GSB can help to kick-start your planned and deferred giving efforts with a time- and cost-effective plan, contact me at Jennie@gsbfr.com.

Inspiring with more than an exclamation point!

I think the most important thing is securing gifts for ministry is to inspire people to want to give.  Answering the question “how will my gift advance the Kingdom of God” is critical in helping people feel that their gifts make a difference.

I think we often fail to inspire our donors and therefor they think we just want their money.  Sometimes we add an exclamation point to the end of a sentence that isn’t actually inspiring and we think people should be excited.

People want the money that they earn to make a difference.  If your cause doesn’t make a difference, they will either keep it for themselves or they will give it so someone else who will make a difference.  So, cast a vision for how gifts to your organization are critical in advancing your mission and your donors will be inspired to give more than you think you even need.

Properly Engaging Volunteers

We’ve all heard about the 80/20 rule in fundraising as well as volunteering—80% of the work or funding is given by 20% of the people.  Unfortunately, that rule has become outdated, and should now be called the 90/10 rule.

This is especially problematic in congregations.  We all know the statistics: mainline protestant congregations are decreasing in size and giving.  Congregational lay leadership and clergy have a hard time finding volunteers for any task, much less the important ones of church council and stewardship committees.  Attendance is down as a result of the diminishing influence of the church in family life.

We know that engagement breeds involvement, which in turn causes devotion and investment.  The most involved volunteers, whether in a congregation or in a nonprofit, are the very best donors and donor prospects.

When I work with congregations, I hear similar stories: “I invite visitors and new members to join us, but no one ever does.”  As a two-month visitor to a congregation in northern Colorado, I recently experienced the best way to invite and engage visitors and members in a congregation.

Dave is a member of a Lutheran church in Ft. Collins.  Dave plays guitar in the praise band at church every week.  When I began attending with my family, Dave and I struck up a number of conversations.  At one point, he found out I played guitar (only church-camp quality guitar, by the way).  He did not say “you should join us some time.”

Dave asked me if I would be willing to play with the band.  I said I would maybe feel comfortable doing that after much rehearsal.  When I got home, Dave had already emailed me the music and the dates the band would be playing.  He then got in touch with me to schedule one-on-one practice with him between services the next week.

What Dave did differently was he a) invited me, b) followed up immediately with specifics via email and c) called to confirm my involvement.

When we want visitors or members to get more involved, we have to invite them to join us in a specific task, provide the necessary tools and confirm their involvement.  We are then responsible to make the event a great experience for the volunteer.  Then do it all again.  Soon, our volunteers will be inviting others in the same way and we will grow engaged and dedicated members.  Their financial investment will follow.

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Paul N. Marsh, CFRE
Associate
Click here to view my GSB website

5 Steps to Improving Board Engagement

Whatever the non-profit industry—education, social service, religious entities, health care, culture or beyond—the strength of an organization’s governing board is foundational to the strength of the organization. Board decisions have lasting impact on the organization’s ability—or inability—to adapt to future trends and remain flexible in delivering on its mission.

Yet, too often, board relationships are frustrating for executives and disappointing for members. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five steps to improving your board engagement:

  1. Understand why members agreed to serve.

We typically recruit board members for the skills and networks they may bring to our organizations. Focused on ourselves, we miss establishing a good foundation with prospective board members.

Board members agree to serve on boards for a variety of reasons. Not all reasons are directly related to your organization. Rather, they may agree to serve because they believe in the broader cause which your organization aims to influence. They may serve to build their own professional network—enticed by the opportunity to serve alongside other notable board members, or to gain experience as a board member. They may be serving on the board as a representative from an affiliated organization.

Regardless of their reason for serving, it’s vital to understand what they hope to gain from their service and position board time and effort accordingly. For instance: allow for collaborative time within meetings, couch the organization’s mission within the broader cause, or in partnership with affiliated organizations. Help board members recognize their goals as part of their board service.

  1. Set expectations early.

A board member’s failure to attend meetings, make a financial contribution or understand the mission and core values of the organization he or she serves is a direct reflection on the organization’s poor board recruiting.

Potential board members should know well the expectations of board service—from time required both in and outside of official meetings to financial participation and the opportunities and challenges facing the organization. If there are specific networks or skills the prospective member has which would be particularly helpful, tell him or her that you believe these areas will be important to helping the organization reach new goals.

  1. Equip!

Board members are often asked to do things for which they are ill-equipped: from sharing the story of the organization to making decisions which have significant impact on the future of the organization. Help these volunteers help your organization!

A few ideas include:

  • Provide them with success stories from your organization which they can share with others.
  • Present all relevant information regarding internal and external trends to best position their ability to govern and guide organizational decisions—even if (and especially if) they are unflattering or lend to new challenges.
  • Offer—and require—educational opportunities which would help them to better serve your organization. Courses on media relations, fundraising and industry-related trends help to inform your board members, and equip them to be better—and more satisfied—partners in their service.
  1. Provide meaningful tasks.

Board members often say the most frustrating board service is “rubber stamp” meetings which fail to utilize knowledge and skills from the collective board. Members leave these meetings deflated, devalued and discouraged.

Comparatively, working together to solve problems, to cast vision, to respond to the changing environment, are valuable and fulfilling responsibilities. When equipped and empowered, board members increase their engagement with the organization, inspired to reach new heights.

  1. Evaluation

Board self-evaluations are a helpful tool to maintaining a healthy board culture by providing feedback to the organization and affording opportunity for board members unable to honor the pre-determined expectations to improve their commitment or respectfully exit from board service. Yearly evaluations remind board members of their agreed expectations and hold members to the same standards.

Jennie Wolf SmithIf you’d like a sample board self-evaluation form, contact me at: Jennie Wolf Smith, GSB Consultant.

Click here to view my GSB website.

Further reading on Board Development
A great book to understand the mindset of your board members, check out: The Truth About What Nonprofit Boards Want:

The Nine Little Things That Matter Most by June Bradham, CFRE

Data-Driven Fundraising

Data is big business—I mean majorly big business. Consumer information is arguably one of the fastest growing economic commodities in our society, and organizations are paying big bucks to get their hands on this consumer data. From political analysis to product development, data drives strategy and decisions.

In 2012, a New York Times article raised public awareness regarding how companies are collecting and statistically analyzing consumer information. The article’s author, Charles Duhigg, wrote, “Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a ‘predictive analytics’ department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them.”

While the for-profit industry capitalizes on data analysis to strategically grow profits and customer base, the nonprofit industry seems to lag behind—particularly in the area of fundraising.

Here are three ways to utilize data in your fundraising strategy, without a lot of added cost:

1)    Know your (potential) donors. It seems obvious, but I respectfully suggest that you don’t know your donors nearly as well as for-profit companies like Target or Amazon.com do. Understand why your donors give—and in this regard, loyalty doesn’t count. Find out what they specifically appreciate about your organization. What other organizations do they support, and why? Where does your cause rank in funding priority? What would cause a donor to increase his/her support?

2)    Track your donor-organization contact. It’s not just about when you send a mailing to the donor, but also when and how a donor responds. Did they attend an event or volunteer for a committee? Was a contribution made in response to a personal visit or public recognition? Are donations directed toward specific projects, but not others? Often donors self-identify and subtly communicate their interests. There is a host of data here, if organizations are willing to look.

3)    Tailor your appeals. Yes, this is a plug for segmentation. Not all donors are the same;  we should stop treating them so by expecting them to respond to one-size-fits-all appeals. We hail long-time supporters of our organizations with recognition and thanks, but often treat them as though they’re newcomers to our fundraising needs, oblivious to our previous partnership.

Target’s careful analysis enables them to send coupons for baby gear or power tools to specific customers rather than spamming their entire database with unnecessary material. When I log on to Amazon.com, I’m greeted with book recommendations tailored “just for me” based on previous purchases—and, no doubt, statistical analysis of similar purchases made by other customers.

Implementing data to grow support shouldn’t be limited to for-profit markets. Whether an agency or congregation, your nonprofit organization has similar information available if you’re willing to look for it. Use this data to uniquely message your organization—and your donors—for stronger partnerships and increased support.

To Know Or Not To Know

I had lunch with a pastor friend of mine last week. I asked him if he knew what his church members gave to the church. He looked surprised and responded, “Of course! Stewardship is a spiritual exercise which is our way of giving thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon us. If I don’t know what my members are giving, I may miss a sign that something is wrong with my members. I could miss an opportunity for ministry.”

How true. As Henri Nouwen wrote in his book “The Spirituality of Fundraising, “Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry.”

Pastors should not only know what their members give annually, they should make discussion of a member’s giving an annual occurrence in order to unearth any ministry needs as well as to unleash the joy of generosity.

My friend shared a recent example: “Marjorie, a longtime member of my congregation, stopped giving in the middle of the year last year. It was my first clue that something was wrong. Turns out, she had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which I did not know. I called her and was able to begin end of life ministry, which could have been delayed had I not known her giving habits.”

To be sure, donor confidentiality is important, and steps should be taken at a church to make sure that the fewest people possible have access to the giving records of the membership.  Pastors, though, need to be one of those few people. It is not an invasion of privacy for pastors to know the giving habits of their members–rather, it is ministerial acquiescence not to know those giving habits. If this is the case in your congregation, it is time to have a serious meeting with the council to begin the process to change policy.

3 Tips For Fundraising From a Small Shop

Let’s face it, in recent years few development programs have increased staff. More often, fundraising officers are asked to do more with less, leaving them burned out or too stressed to know where to begin. Here are three tips to maximize your time and optimize your efforts:

1) Prioritize. You can’t personally get to everyone in your donor pool, nor should you. Consider how much time you will devote to stewarding long-term relationships, recapturing lapsed donors and acquiring new financial partners.

  • We know keeping a donor engaged is less costly than acquiring a new one. Maintaining those long-term relationships can result in greater support, both now and later.
  • Devote time to re-engaging former donors who have stopped giving. They know your organization and have emotional reasons to reconnect. Start with those who were strong supporters.
  • Have at least one strategy to attract new donors to your cause. While you should encourage your current supporters to introduce you to potential donors, be specific: Host an event where long-term donors bring a potential new donor, ask faithful supporters to write five letters to friends in their network who would resonate with the mission of your organization.
  • Don’t forget the self-identifiers. People who volunteer, who send a gift before you asked for it—or for more than you anticipated, who demonstrate an interest and loyalty to your organization seemingly “out of the blue” are people you should get to know.

2) Plan. Map out a year-long strategy for whom, how and when donors will hear from you. What do you want them to know? When do you want them to know it? How will you communicate and how will they respond?

  • Donor communication isn’t limited to mailings and donor visits. Also consider events, press releases, non-donor directed material, thank you notes and church announcements.
  • Consider the receiver’s perspective. Too often we communicate in ways that donors find incomplete or ill-timed. Just as in storytelling, donor cultivation requires a thoughtful process of bringing the person along to an engagement with the organization. How do the messages a donor receives from your organization tell the story in a thoughtful and logical manner?

3) Systematize. Critical for small fundraising shops, but incredibly valuable for larger ones, developing systems for donor cultivation will streamline the office work and keep moving donors along in engagement with the organization.

  • Automate your steps. Establish timelines for each step of the process from donor identification to calls and follow-up, from gift received to acknowledgement and receipt, and annual fund contribution to conversation about estate gifts. Wherever a donor is at in the process, you can move them to the next step based on your automation.
  • There are a number of tools available to help you automate. Online calendar reminders are a great way to track next steps. Consider outsourcing a step or two, such as arranging annual delivery of birthday flowers to a major donor with a local florist, or use an online vendor like www.sendoutcards.com to pre-arrange birthday and holiday cards.

When you prioritize, plan and systematize, you can allocate more time executing the task at hand, finding more time for donor cultivation and minimize missed opportunities for communication and strengthening donor engagement.

Questions Welcome

I’m amazed at how offended people can get when their fundraising plans are questioned. I’m not talking about the person who questions everything you have ever done and never gives more than $30 per year to the church. Questions don’t mean someone isn’t supportive. In fact, questions can be a sign that they are interested and are just making sure your project is worthy of a gift.

I just worked with a congregation that raised more than $3 million. This was more than the base goal we established. One of the $500,000 gifts came from someone who asked a lot of questions. Some of the leadership wasn’t sure about these questions and got frustrated by them. One person in leadership wanted to dismiss the questions and not answer them.

We did answer them. Each question. I bet there were 12-15 of them. Some were hard questions about missteps that happened a few years ago. Others were about when the project would take place. There was a question about how sustainable the project would be. I remember many questions about quantifying the impact the project would have on the community.

Each question helped assure this member that the project was worthy of a major gift. Each question assured him that leadership had a good plan. Each question helped him know that God was guiding the project and it would be a blessing. His questions helped him know where to invest.

Would you buy a car from a salesman who didn’t answer your questions? Would you invest in a mutual fund without having your questions answered? Why would donors invest in your project if all their questions don’t get answered?

I have found that people who aren’t asking questions aren’t considering a major investment. We need to encourage questions. If people aren’t asking questions, we likely have a bigger problem: we likely haven’t engaged our audience!