When asked to cite a favorite Bible passage dealing with generosity, many pastors, ministry leaders and development professionals will point to the Apostle Paul’s instruction to the church at Corinth: "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Cor. 9:6-7)
Not only does God love a cheerful giver… so do pastors, ministry leaders and development professionals! But where do we find them? And once found, how do we effectively serve them in order to encourage a committed and long-lasting partnership? Many faith-based ministries, despite having a God-honoring mission, faithful leadership team and board, and proven results, continue to struggle with the acquisition and retention of major donors.
Is this how you see your role in resource development?
My experience has been that the large majority of “cheerful givers” are not born generous – they are discipled to become generous. This is the blessed, albeit often overlooked, opportunity development professionals have as they serve faith-based donors. Is this how you see your role in resource development?
A Resource Development Trend
In serving both resource development professionals and affluent Christians who desire to be more generous over the past 25 years, I’ve observed a trend that, in my opinion, is largely responsible for the challenge many faith-based ministries are experiencing with securing and retaining high-capacity, cheerful givers. The large majority of organizations I’ve interacted with have adopted a secular, sales-based approach to resource development, largely abandoning the relational/transformational approach in favor of a transactional model of fundraising.
Interestingly, most resource development professionals I’ve spoken with are quite uncomfortable with, and often frustrated by, their organization’s decision to employ a fundraising model that emphasizes short-term transactions over long-term relationships. If you are among those development professionals who are experiencing an inward rebellion against a selling-based, transaction-oriented approach to serving ministry partners, you’re in good company… the affluent and super-affluent donors we’ve served over the years often share your frustration!
Contrasting Fundraising Paradigms
The resource development models I’ve observed over the years basically fall into two distinctly different categories, which I refer to as the “Financial Paradigm” and the “Discipleship Paradigm.” As you’ve likely discerned from the titles, one model emphasizes short-term transactions and the other encourages investing in long-term relationships. Let’s begin by comparing and contrasting these two approaches to resource development.
- Focused on donor’s capacity to give
- Discusses ministry needs
- Emphasizes the “ask”
- Success = $ received, pledged
- Focused on donor’s walk with Christ
- Discusses ministry vision
- Emphasizes the partnership
- Success = partner’s spiritual growth, maturity
From the perspective of generous, high-capacity, faith-based givers, the preference is overwhelmingly in favor of the Discipleship Paradigm. Ministry leaders and resource development professionals who’ve embraced this model are not only more successful, but typically find far greater joy and fulfillment in their work than is experienced by their Financial Paradigm peers.
A Closer Look
The Financial Paradigm often views ministry partners more as a number (e.g. net worth, giving capacity) than as a precious brother/sister in Christ whom God has entrusted to the ministry’s care. Most, if not all, written correspondence and personal interaction with ministry representatives recounts the current needs of the ministry and concludes by asking for a gift. Simply stated, no interaction with a ministry partner is considered a success unless a gift or pledge was secured. Relationship-building meetings are largely viewed as a wasted (or failed) opportunity.
For ministries employing the Discipleship Paradigm, the overarching objective in serving the ministry’s financial partners is discipleship...
For ministries employing the Discipleship Paradigm, the overarching objective in serving the ministry’s financial partners is discipleship: encouraging them in their walk with Christ through God’s word, prayer and genuine fellowship. In such organizations, this discipleship theme is consistently communicated from the board, executive team and resource development staff. When the time comes to talk about the ministry, the discussion is an inspirational reinforcement of what God has called the ministry to do (vision), how he is accomplishing his purposes through the ministry (fruit), and heartfelt appreciation for the faithful and encouraging support of ministry partners (gratitude), without whom the ministry’s work could not proceed.
Disciple-making development professionals understand that one of the great blessings God provides in this important work is being used by him to help a ministry partner grow in their faith. They also understand that growth in Christ results, not only in greater peace, joy and contentment, but also in the financial peace-of-mind that manifests itself through increasing generosity. If the ministry partner comes away from a call or meeting encouraged, refreshed and renewed spiritually, the interaction is considered a success.
An excellent example of the impact of the Discipleship Paradigm is Paul’s initial framing of his “cheerful giver” encouragement to the church at Corinth:
And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. (2 Cor. 8:1-5)
Why This Matters
If you’ve been wondering why your ministry seems to keep struggling with donor acquisition and retention while income and wealth in the US continues to increase each year, consider the following:
“The giving to religion slice of Giving USA’s recipient pie chart, which measures the percentage of donations made to nine charitable subsectors, has steadily shrunk for decades.” (Giving USA: 2015 Was America’s Most Generous Year Ever, published by Giving USA, June 13, 2016)
“By multiple accounts, American evangelical donations are on course to drop by almost half in the next fourteen years and by two-thirds in the next thirty years.” (The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson, Baker Books 2013, page 90)
If we can agree that, 1) the Financial Paradigm is the most commonly employed approach to fundraising, even by faith-based ministries, and 2) the decades-long decline in faith-based giving has coincided with the increasing use of the Financial Paradigm, it seems reasonable to begin to question our fundraising practices. We should at least consider the possibility that it’s our approach to resource development – not the unfaithfulness of our ministry partners – that has resulted in waning generosity among God’s people.
Now for the good news: God has entrusted significant financial resources to his people and, like the church in Macedonia, his people long to be inspired toward radical generosity. Effective discipleship is God’s approved process for conforming his people to the image of his Son, and an unmistakable outcome of growing Christlikeness is generosity. Consider blessing your ministry partners – and your resource development team – by embracing and practicing the Discipleship Paradigm and watch your ministry partners come to life.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tim 6:17-19)
Jim Wise is director of ministry services for Ronald Blue Trust. Jim has provided major donor development training for leaders of over eight hundred ministries through his “Expanding the Kingdom Through Donor Discipleship” workshop. If you would like to learn how Jim can help your ministry, you can reach him at 407-618-8629 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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