You know the old adage: There are three topics to avoid in polite company:
The fact that the M-word appears right there at the top of the list doesn’t bode well for fundraising professionals, now does it?
But there are fundraising professionals all over the Christian world: in our ministries and charities, in our churches and parachurch organizations.
Usually they’re called “development” officers or “development” staff, serving in “development” departments. But you walk down the corridor past that door, and you know what it really means.
It means fundraising.
So how do you really feel about it, deep down inside?
- For many folks, the idea that your favorite charity has a “development” department is a little … well … uncomfortable. In fact, for those of us who work in nonprofit organizations or charitable institutions, the very idea of needing a fundraising operation creates a little tension … or more than a little.
- Some think of “development people” as stereotypical used-car salesmen — smooth-talking glad-handers hustling people to spend money they don’t really want to spend.
- Others think of fundraising as a necessary evil — distasteful, even shameful, but sadly essential to survival. If people only knew the truth about our cause, and how beautifully we’re pursuing it, they would give spontaneously! We wouldn’t NEED “fundraising”!
Maybe you’re already squirming, just reading these words. I wouldn’t be surprised. Lots of people get uncomfortable with the topic of money — especially the topic of raising money. Call it “Ask Anxiety.” The notion of asking someone to give is abhorrent.
But here’s the curious reality about Ask Anxiety:
The same person who has a problem with the idea of fundraising is typically totally okay with asking for help in any other way.
- My car’s been in the shop; could you run me over there to pick it up?
- Would you help me set up the Girl Scouts’ tent for the festival?
- You’re more mechanical than me; how about helping me put up shelves in my garage?
Asking someone to volunteer time or talent, skill or specialty, doesn’t feel objectionable. But the moment the subject of money is broached, apprehension overwhelms! What’s the matter? Money is the matter.
I’ve been teaching fundraising principles across America for decades, and I’ve seen Ask Anxiety all over the place.
Bring up money — suggest that someone in ministry needs to ask someone else for money to support that work — and wham. The face turns grim. The eyes glass over.
Asking someone to consider parting with a portion of their financial resources, even for this good cause, is strangely troubling.
And I’m not finished making you sweat. Let’s go one big, awkward step further. If talk of raising money already makes someone uncomfortable, they’ll probably be even more uneasy when I suggest giving intentional, special treatment to major donors — those who have the capacity to give larger sums of money than others to a nonprofit or charity.
But now let’s take a deep breath … back up … get the big picture … and figure out how — or whether we really want to — go forward.
Ministry needs money in order to minister. This is a practical reality of life. And money doesn’t fall from the sky. People have it, and they have to give it, in order for that work to happen. So someone has to talk with people about their money … about giving it … about keeping a nonprofit going.
And this process can indeed happen — naturally, comfortably. It doesn’t have to be imposing, or overbearing, or awkward.
In fact, tackling the giving question with potential donors, and building relationships with major donors, can be a pleasing experience … productive and satisfying to both parties, the “asker” and the “answerer.”
But this exchange has to embody four very important qualities:
- The leader and his development team need to be so passionate about their cause that they are willing to ask without apology.
- They need to lead by example — they must give before they ask.
- They need to exude authentic joy not only in their work, but in their giving.
- They must treat money as a God-given resource not to be craved and hoarded, but to be managed, stewarded wisely, and given freely, as a spiritual exercise (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
What will come of such qualities on the part of a nonprofit leader and his professional fundraising team?
When a donor or prospective donor encounters a fundraising professional or organization leader who is so deeply committed to a cause that he or she is bold in calling on others to rally around …
When the donor recognizes a staffer or leader’s own personal financial commitment to the cause …
When they witness firsthand true joy in giving as well as in the work of the organization …
When they see money as something God gives us so that we can in turn give it away …
That donor or prospect begins to see how fulfilling it could be to participate, by contributing in a way that God has uniquely equipped them to contribute.
And then — money is no longer the “elephant in the room.”
As a result, talking about money is like speaking in your native tongue! It’s natural. It’s comfortable.
In fact, it’s something you both want to do.
Yes, you can ask donors for money for your cause.
I’d be happy to share more. Maybe you’d like to check out my book, Donors Are People Too. Let me know what you think.