When I first told my family and friends I was taking a role as a fundraiser, some clutched their wallets and tilted their heads. It wasn’t an obvious career move. I’d spent the previous 20 years as a pastor and missionary. My experience in raising funds for my family and for the university I led was more out of necessity than calling.
For many, the idea of a professional fundraiser stirs up the same feelings they have about a used-car salesman: Is this a deal, or a hustle?
But after 20 years of strategic plans, capital campaigns, and needs outweighing funds, I’d come to see that fundraising was not something I had to do begrudgingly. Fundraising is no different than adding fuel to a car. It is the activity that gives ministries permission to start programs, construct churches and buildings, and make commitments to the communities they serve.
How can pastors, missionaries, and nonprofit leaders raise funds to fulfill the vision and mission God has given us—without compromising and forfeiting our integrity?
1. Give Realistic Projections
Storytelling is a crucial element in fundraising, but we must tell true stories. In fundraising videos, pitches, and communications, it’s important to tell the story of what your organization does and paint a picture of what your organization will do when it’s fully funded. This story must use the broad strokes of strategy and work plans reviewed by leadership teams and approved by boards. The story cannot simply be the aggressive dreams of a young leader with visions of future success.
I’ll never forget my first presentation. I didn’t know that there was a man in the audience who had recently sold his company for nine figures. After my bumbling PowerPoint show featuring pictures, architectural drawings, and large round numbers, he asked, “How will you accomplish all this?”
My answer amounted to nothing more than “I’ll try hard and won’t give up.” He didn’t write me a check that day, but he gave me a greater gift: his time and advice for the next five years. He taught me the difference between a wish and a plan. He taught me the practical steps of counting the cost before building the tower (Luke 14:28).
Projections come from plans, debates, and prayers by a team committed to fulfilling a pledge to donors.
2. Give Accurate Accounts
After making your projections, it’s time to give account for the funds you raised and the goals you met or missed. We all love to see graphs that project steady growth, but ministry is much more hills and valleys across many years. Some valleys result from pride, poor preparation, or weak leadership. In any fundraising report, it’s important to show the triumphs and the trials, along with an accurate accounting of a team’s successes and failures.
Donors don’t trust you because you always succeed. They trust you because you are honest and transparent about each success and failure.
Donors trust you because you are honest and transparent about each success and failure.
If you’ve been asked how many people were in the audience after you spoke, you know how easy it is to exaggerate. Rather than rushing to estimate a number, it’s best to defer to an usher who counted the audience one person at a time. In the same way, churches and nonprofits should establish internal controls for accurate accounting and outside sources to verify numbers.
3. Give Credit and Thanks
“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9). We can have all the best strategies, work plans, and key results, but ultimately God determines success. Whether you grew or declined by 10 percent, it’s important to begin, sustain, and end each planning session with prayer, and the knowledge that the work is in his hands.
When we fundraise knowing God provides, it keeps us from placing our faith in people. Many fundraisers turn to donors in desperation as the timeline winds down for a target or goal. This can lead donors to give from compulsion or guilt rather than generosity and calling. As fundraisers in the church and nonprofit world, we cannot take our eyes off of our ultimate provider.
When we fundraise knowing God provides, it keeps us from placing our faith in people.
For our partners, donating is an exercise in generosity. Just as we thank someone for serving in children’s ministry or teaching in Sunday school, we should thank believers with the gift of generosity.
During my childhood, my grandfather had a simple rule with gifts: if we did not write a card expressing our gratitude, we should not expect another gift. A dreaded post-birthday ritual has become a practice I love as an adult. As it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35), so it should give the fundraiser great joy to thank donors for the ministry their generosity makes possible.
Ultimately, fundraising is an exercise in integrity. Do your projections match your results? Did the funds support the programs you promoted? If your financial books were open for the world to see, would you be proud of the salaries, programs, and equipment you funded?
Serving at TGC, I experience the joy of encouraging partners who have a passion to see gospel-centered resources strengthening the global church. They love TGC, not only for the articles they read, podcasts they hear, and conferences they attend, but because they know our material provides timely and trusted answers to questions facing the church. When I hear their testimonies and passion for the gospel, it stirs my heart and motivates me to continue spurring others to generous giving.
Fundraising should never be a burden. Rather, it is a spiritual exercise of inviting others into the work God is already doing.
Written by: JEFF ATHERSTONE
First published 23.02.21: 3 Rules for Fundraising with Integrity (thegospelcoalition.org)