Fundraising Wisdom from Ecclesiastes
I have always been drawn to the book of Ecclesiastes. For me, it has always carried with it the smell of the grease covered men in overalls with orange rags hanging out of their pockets at the corner gas station. When read aloud, the words of this book carry the muted sound of the baled baffles of a feed store with wholesome aromas of hay and oats, comforting my soul.
I have always been drawn to the book of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes has always felt like an “old soul” kind of writing. It is the warmth of grandma’s quilt that smells like grandpa’s pipe. The words of the author, “Preacher” as he calls himself, help me feel grounded in my kinship with all other mortal and flawed, yet still inquiring, human beings.
I love when I get to the end of the book and the author says, “The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.” (Ecc. 12:10). Then, after all the earthly insights preceding it come the words in verse 13, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments…”
This is when my soul says, “That’s it? That’s the bottom line? After everything, it comes down to this? For crying out loud! My mother could have told me this! And what’s more, she did!” You see, my mom was an old soul, too . . .
Wisdom for a Fundraising Career
I took these words of wisdom from Ecclesiastes, and from my mom, into the world to begin my illustrious career as a fundraiser.
There are a-million-and-one words of advice an experienced fundraiser can offer. However, it might serve us all a bit better if we just stick to the bottom line: “Fear God and keep his commandments.”
What does that look like for us as fundraisers?
I can see how one might ask, “How is this, specifically, going to help me engage with my donors and build them into faithful supporters of my ministry?” Well, I found that almost everybody likes it when you tell them the truth; that’s pretty specific and biblical, too. In addition, most donors don’t really care for ministries that exaggerate the impact of their organization. We all know the feeding of the 5,000 has more sizzle than say, “the feeding of the five.” Both are still good and right, but if you’re only feeding five, perhaps you might want to seek funding for something that will be more likely to motivate your donors. We fundraisers call this “offer development.” If you would like to know more about this, any good direct-response fundraiser should be able to help you.
Since we’re not supposed to steal, we would be wise to make certain to properly account for every dollar we raise. We must apply those funds to the very thing for which we asked donors to give. This may sound a bit obvious, but I have been in the room when Christian leaders were struggling with this principle. It usually becomes an issue when the general fund begins to run dry and a particularly popular part of your ministry becomes over-funded. I have personally made phone calls to donors asking them if we could redirect their gift in order to keep the overall ministry healthy. Not one of them was ever upset or declined.
Don’t Idolize Money
We must use wisdom to avoid idolizing money, media attention, or mega-donors.
We must use wisdom to avoid idolizing money, media attention, or mega-donors. Notice I didn’t say, “Avoid money, media attention, or mega-donors.” All can be good, as long as they are part of God’s provision for your ministry. It’s the “idolizing” part that can put us at odds with God’s blessing.
An Inheritance of Wisdom
Perhaps my attraction to Ecclesiastes is, in part, an answer to my many prayers for wisdom throughout my life. I can hear the feet of the elders scuffing the floorboards of my favorite church as a new believer, more than 50 years ago, when they rose to read:
“Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it.” (Ecc. 7:11-12)
Douglas Shaw is the Chairman/CEO of Douglas Shaw & Associates and provides vision, leadership, and strategic thinking to a talented group of fundraising professionals. During his career, he has been involved in raising hundreds of millions of dollars for more than 300 nonprofit organizations and ministries.
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