Capturing Hearts and Minds
Many years ago, a mentor convinced me that fundraising is ministry. That changed everything.
I no longer viewed asking for money as uncomfortable, awkward, or saw development work as “a necessary evil,” as some would term it. His view of donors as those who need ministry transformed how I approached this work. It has forever impacted the donors and ministries I have worked with over the years.
Donors Need Our Ministry
While it seems like a “secret sauce,” it should make logical sense to us as Christians that donor relations is providing ministry. In his transformational work, A Spirituality of Fundraising, (The Upper Room, 2011) theologian Henri Nouwen wrote, “Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration.” He insisted that donors need community - our ministry - far more than we need their money.
After the many years I have had the privilege of raising funds for ministries and charitable causes, I have found that Nouwen’s assertion always rings true.
This sacred space is what Nouwen named “conversion” – where funders and those who need funds meet together to achieve God’s work. We’re casting a vision for advancing God’s kingdom and inviting people to join us in resourcing those ideas and projects. That begins by treating donors not as objects to be conquered, but as those who get to participate in our ministry and its cause. It means building authentic relationships and trust with givers at every level. Believe me that there isn’t a (sustainable!) shortcut to growing your donor base: it takes investments of time and relationship.
Ministering to Donors
What does ministering to donors look like?
What does ministering to donors look like? Here are some concrete ways to minister to donors and reach their hearts for the long-term.
Make it Personal
Every giver deserves a timely and thoughtful thank you. Anytime you can, add a layer of personal touch demonstrating your care for donors as individuals, and communicating your gratitude for their generosity. This can be carving out time for handwritten thank you notes each quarter to a subset of your donor base. It could mean a special calling night where staff simply call donors just to say thank you. It might look like a handwritten note on each month’s giving receipts. Consider all the ways you have automated your donor relationships – especially at the lowest level of giving. Look for creative ways to reach out on a personal level and give donors a sense that their giving is being “seen” and appreciated.
Gets Hands On
For mid-level or major donors especially, a chance to get their hands dirty or get behind-the-scenes in your ministry is a way to deepen their connection and passion for what you do. Volunteers become the best and most generous and consistent givers, so look for ways to share your ministry’s frontline impact with those funding its work. Your donors-turned-volunteers will feel closer to your cause and they will become your best advocates in raising more money.
Invest the Time
Faithful givers deserve your time and attention. Be sure to invite them into your ministry and to carve out time to get to know them better in personal, individual meetings. These should not always be asks or solicitations, but most of the time a chance to say thank you and better understand their story. There is no better ministry to the donor and no better investment of time for your ministry.
Tell Great Stories
Through all of this, be sure you and all of your ministry’s staff are armed with moving stories about what your ministry is doing to accomplish God’s mission in our world. Staff who have access to stories are quick to share them with other friends, volunteers and donors. Your major donors should be able to share stories of your ministry’s impact with their circles of influence, so share those every chance you get. Do that in your personal meetings, donor communications, and digital/print media updates. Your donors need to understand the impact of their giving in a tangible way.
Love Them Deeply
“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.”
A healthy fundraising program does just that: it treats donors as those who need ministry and invites them into authentic relationships. That unique partnership between our ministry and our donors is what can fulfill God’s calling.
Mike Meyers is the Chief Development Officer at CRISTA Ministries. Previously Mike served in the roles of Chief Development Officer for two other large nonprofits, and as CEO of Food for the Hungry. Mike is co-author of Maximize the Middle (BookBaby, 2019), which focuses on building a midlevel donor program. CRISTA is a family of five ministries uniquely ranging from education to poverty alleviation to senior care to media. Its ministries are empowered to serve the needs of the world, and united by a shared vision to see lives transformed by the gospel.
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