Giving USA reported that Americans donated $316 billion to charitable causes in 2012, and nearly a third of that was given to religious groups. That’s a lot of people asking someone else to fund their passion.
But whether the ask is for the church, a parachurch organization, a mission trip, a social cause, the hospital, or the football foundation, that is the value proposition of all not-for-profits. In a nutshell—I have a dream or vision but not enough money to make it happen. Therefore, would you be willing to pledge some of your assets to my vision?
Naturally, those asking for funds usually aren’t that direct. And usually everything is couched and constructed in ways to appeal to certain kinds of donors and certain kinds of vision.
And certainly there is on occasion the asker who doesn’t really need any money and is simply trying to expand the mission of the organization by recruiting others into the fold.
But as a rule, those on the asking side are always thinking of nuanced ways to ask for money (this PBS ad is a recent example).
I have been on the raising funds side with various not-for-profits I have been involved with for years and I’ve seen some large dollars raised. I have been on the giving side to people and causes of all kinds through the years. And I have a number of friends with the particular gift of giving and mature muscles of generosity. So I have had a bit of an education along the way.
From my seat, the concept of fundraising and support raising isn’t shrinking.
There are guidelines and lessons for both sides of the coin…the asker and the giver. Here are five tips for those who are in the asking side of the business.
1. Don’t make assumptions about the giver.
Just because someone has money doesn’t mean they need to part with their money for your cause. And don’t think that the more money they have, the more they should give to your cause. Warren Buffett is accountable to God for how he uses his money, not you.
2. Don’t be narrow-minded or over-focused about your particular cause.
It is amazing how unexposed or myopic we can be regarding our interest over others. Sure, I should be passionate and bought-in to my own cause. But there are others doing amazing work very similar to our work. Show a breadth of exposure when talking to donors.
3. Don’t be a fly-by-night person or a flash-in-the-pan cause.
Are they giving to a person or a cause? I say both. If they really cared about the cause, after all, they’d already be giving to it, but when they see a person of substance cast a powerful vision (and you have to be able cast vision!), they want to jump on board.
4. Don’t ask too far ahead of your relationship.
Your relationship with the donor you are soliciting will set the boundaries for the particular ask. If you’re asking for a large amount of money, make sure you have that level of relationship.
5. Don’t act like you’re doing the giver a favor.
Generosity is a joy. It is a blessing to be part of good work and God’s work. But let’s be honest. You’re not meeting in order to do them a favor. You’re meeting because you need money. The presumption that this is all for the giver is inauthentic and manipulative. Care more for their hearts than their money, and be honest that they should be generous givers, but don’t beat around the bush. Be honest about your need and ask for help when appropriate.
It’s not easy to be a fund-raiser. How do you trust God’s provision but also work hard and proclaim your vision? How do you show gratitude without letting money define the relationship and without treating the big givers differently?
I get that it’s not easy. It’s not easy on the other side of the table either. It’s no fun being approached with “What can you do for me?” (nonprofits never saw an asset they didn’t like).
I’ll close by quoting from a recent book. The Sower is a great book on fundraising and the authors say this: “[Biblical fundraising] replaces manipulative techniques and closing strategies with a dependence on prayer and relationship-building as the essential tools for success.”
Respect givers as people and they’ll respect you as workers.