You may know that we at the Vision Group are big on building genuine relationships with funders, relationships in which you seek first to find ways to minister to them.
As you take that focus, what ends up happening is you’re never really short of resource. The resource is always there, and it’s sustainable because you’ve spent the time to build lifelong relationships with those folks. It’s just an issue of looking and finding out what relationships and resources God has brought about and learning how to step up to those.
Why is relationship so important? Just because that is how Christ deals with people. When we read the stories of Jesus in the gospels, it’s all relationships, from the prodigal son to the unjust steward. Whether they’re in the parables or in Jesus’ own ministry, it’s about relationships.
And the quality of that relationship is important. There’s a story in John 5 where Jesus goes to the pool at Bethesda and asks a lame person who’s been there for 30-some years if he wants to get well. The man doesn’t answer his question. Instead he dodges it and says, “No one’s ever around to put me in the water when the angel stirs it.” Jesus was trying to deal with this on a totally different level than the lame man was. And so He had to redirect the relationship by saying, “This is about you being well. This isn’t about the pool. This is about you being well. So pick up your bed and go.”
It’s important for us to understand that that relational model is precisely the one that we need to be engaged in. We are in fact the hands and the voice of Jesus in our communities and in our ministries. We need to follow His example and not some big, starry-eyed fundraising scheme.
The reality is that people will support something that they come to believe in deeply. And they catch that belief, that vision, when they are in relationship with someone who already has it.
Leader, that’s you.
You never know how folks will activate if you take the right approach and build relationships with them—if you take that right approach and say, “We want you to understand what we’re trying to do and how we’re changing the world."
One of our clients was a small camp, a pretty amazing place that worked with at-risk youth. Though the camp was doing great work with these troubled teens, the director was always struggling with funding.
The director regularly attended a men’s Bible study on Wednesday mornings. One of the group members was a man who was worth $100 million. Right in front of him! The director knew it, but he could never figure out how to build that relationship with this man.
The director usually took the sales approach when he would solicit funds for the ministry. I taught him a new approach to sharing his vision, a principle I call “hear it, see it, catch it, own it.” One day as he was leaving the men’s Bible study, he and his wealthy friend were walking to the car together, and he had got a voice mail on his cell phone. It was from a mom who had just been beaten up by her 16-year-old daughter. That’s the kind of ministry he had.
In a stroke of brilliance he rewound the voice mail and handed the phone to his companion. After listening to this distressing message, the wealthy man looked at him and said, “What can I do to help you?”
There was that breakthrough that he needed. And he did the smart thing. At that moment most of us would say, “I could use some money. Why don’t you write me a check?” Instead he said, “Why don’t you come out to the camp and see what we’re doing to help these kids?” He wanted to draw him in a little more naturally.
The man went out to the camp and spent three hours there. Then he invited the camp director to come and present his vision for the camp to his peers. There were about 30 men in a room and he presented the ministry to them, and there were a lot of new relationships that would be built and a lot of resources to come. It was amazing.
These things are happening out there. And if you’re struggling finding funders in your organization, take heart. God has provided them for you. You’d be surprised who’s right there with you. Just start building genuine relationships.
They don’t really have a sense of their constituents’ ability to give, their ability to support the organization, or their ability to volunteer. I’m often dumbfounded by ministries that don’t keep a database, the kind of relational database that would actually help them identify who their supporters are and what they may be able to give.
Just as surprising is this: constituents often don’t really know what the ministry is trying to accomplish. They either haven’t heard the leadership’s vision for the ministry, or they haven’t bought into it.
But ministries and organizations can transform their fundraising efforts by continually working at two things:
My colleague Michael Williams said, “Unless you really engage people at the level of vision, the vision of your ministry or your church or your organization—what great things you hope to accomplish—then you don’t really give them an opportunity to feel like it matters to them enough to give substantially and sacrificially. So it’s a basic that we just keep going back to over and over and over again, because it’s so important. We talk a lot about trying to find people who are going to give us money, but what we forget is that we have an opportunity to give them vision. We have an opportunity to give them a purpose to which they can become committed, and that commitment is then reflected in dollars. And it is an absolutely wonderful thing to see when it takes place. And it produces a great deal of money.”
And that financial support is the byproduct of the relationship.
It is a powerful thing when people share a common vision. As leaders keep their vision before their constituents, they draw them into commitment to what the organization is there to accomplish.
Share your vision and build genuine relationships with your community. You’ll be amazed at how this can build a base of support for an effective and sustainable ministry.
If you want more happy than your heart will hold . . .
Take whatever you have and give it away.*
Jesus expressed the same principle when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” If you’re a giver, you know this to be true.
So how do organizations get this message across? What’s the best way to persuade people to give generously to your organization?
It’s not by more marketing. Surprised? Think about it.
Marketing is based on a culture of scarcity, a poverty mindset which says we can’t give because we don’t have enough, or we shouldn’t give because we need to hang on to what we have.
We’ve all been the targets of the world’s advertising, marketing that’s based on creating a desire for a product and getting us to buy it and hold onto it. There’s not much encouragement to give in most marketing.
God has given us more than we can possibly ever use.
So we don’t rely on marketing to persuade people to give. We do it by being generous ourselves. We encourage generosity not be marketing, but by ministering. We encourage giving by giving.
When funds are down, the answer is not marketing more to your people, but giving more ministry to them. That ministry needs to happen directly to the people. Love them and encourage them, and begin to change their thinking to the biblical truth that we’re co-heirs in Christ.
Money is a non-issue to God. He is our provider. When we demonstrate by giving ministry to our supporters and funders, it opens up those who have resources. It opens up their thinking. They realize that they don’t need to hang onto it anymore. They come to understand that God gave it them, and God’s asking them to steward it, to give it away.
“Now we can all think of the parables that relate to exactly that subject [of stewardship],” says Art Ritter, “but how many of us actualize those parables when it comes to discussing stewardship or for that matter, pastoring our congregation? Shame on us. We should be thinking about the generosity God has showered on us. And we should be thinking of the fact that we are stewards of stuff we don’t own. It’s all his. And when he asks us to share it, who are we to say no?”
When organizations move toward their funders with a motivation to minister to them, amazing things happen. Those constituents who don’t think they have enough to give, who have that poverty mentality that says, “I just don’t have enough, so I need to hang onto it,” they start to realize that they cannot out-give God. And to him who is faithful with little, much will be given. It’s just an amazing thing that happens.
I love this observation that Art Ritter has made: “Quite frankly, giving is something that we should be doing. It’s good for the giver. When was the last time you thought about approaching a person that had almost nothing and telling them that it would be good for them to give things away?”
We as ministry leaders have to start by setting the example, and by helping them, equipping them, training them, loving them and encouraging them. We have to help them move out of a self-centered, poverty mindset and into a biblical pattern, into the mind of Christ.
There are two kinds of folks—takers and givers
There's gripers and complainers and big-hearted livers;
It depends on how we choose to spend our days,
We can hoard up all we've got, or give it all away
Leaders of businesses and nonprofits alike are familiar with concepts like advertising, marketing, fundraising, stewardship, and development.
Two of those concepts that sometimes exist in tension for nonprofits are marketing and stewardship. They’re not the same, and leaders need to know the difference.
Here’s a pretty hefty definition of marketing by my friend, business consultant Art Ritter:
“Marketing is that function of for-profit business and nonprofit business that first of all establishes the place of the organization in the minds of the larger market. It then goes on to make the larger market aware of its presence, aware of its products and services, and begins building the relationship between the organization and the potential consumers of their product or service.”
I’d sum it up by saying that marketing is what lets the public know that your organization exists, and it tells them what you have to offer.
Some church and parachurch leaders reject marketing, saying that it’s evil and worldly. But it’s just a tool that can be used for evil or for good. Marketing isn’t evil; it’s just not enough. Marketing has its place in getting the word out. But to really grow and strengthen your organization, you need to practice stewardship.
What is stewardship?
I define stewardship as a sustainable, intentional, relational process of serving those that God brings into your circle as a result of whatever marketing you’ve done. Stewardship dovetails with marketing, because it is effective marketing that brings the people to us. But it’s stewardship—the building of relationships with these people—that grows and sustains the organization.
The problem—and here’s where the tension lies— is that so often we start to fall back on what we see as an easier and more comfortable way to find sustainability: do more marketing.
To put it very simply, marketing lets folks know you’re there. Stewardship lets them know you care—and that’s what grows your organization.
One of the most fruitful areas your ministry can invest time and energy in is philanthropy development—building relationships with major donors in your community. The effort that you put into these influential and affluent individuals will make a huge difference to your organization. Being intentional about developing those relationships is a key piece to your capacity building activities.
Marketplace leaders and philanthropists are involved in giving significant funding to ministries and to nonprofits. Their lives are rooted in the business and professional realms, so they usually have broad reach into the community. They can bring a lot of resources to your organization, which can ultimately play a big role in building capacity for your enterprise.
Now, I’m not in any way suggesting that we go and develop major donors just for the sake of getting big checks. But the depth and breadth of those relationships that they bring to the table can help you, from fundraising events to developing your board to helping you get in contact with media outlets to tell your story.
A church in Pennsylvania spent $3000 to air a year’s worth of professionally produced TV spots on their county’s cable network. During that entire year, the church only got two phone calls in response to the ads—one to complain about the content and the other to ask what Bible translation they used.
Why did this well-produced marketing effort fail? Geography was a big part of it. Even though the spots aired throughout the county, the vast majority of the population lived much too far away to consider attending the church—a detail that was overlooked in the excitement of planning.
Marketing efforts often are begun with hopeful anticipation of great results. Then later, when the results are measured, there’s disappointment and frustration at the meager return on the organization’s marketing investment.
What goes wrong? Why does the marketing of a business or nonprofit so often fall short? Here are three possibilities:
Business consultant Art Ritter has said, “Different groups in our general population respond differently to TV advertising, radio advertising, or newspaper advertising. Generational marketing has shown that if you put an ad in the newspaper, one sort of demographic will respond to it. If you send a text to a large number of people with cell phones, a different part of the population will respond to it. If you use the wrong media channel for your message, you’re going to miss the kind of people you’re trying to talk to. Failure to understand this leads to disappointment. Disappointment leads to either trying to do it again harder or just giving up and not doing it at all. Neither one of those is the right outcome.”
Match your media to your intended audience.
Your expectations may be unrealistic
Like that church in Pennsylvania, ministries can often have unrealistic expectations about what their marketing efforts will accomplish. “I find that organizations have some unrealistic expectations of any kind of communication with the general public,” says Art Ritter. “With direct mail, if you get a 1% response, and by that I mean just a ‘Huh, what’s this?’ kind of response that you can measure out of a direct mail campaign, you’re doing really good. If you get a 2% response, you are king of the hill. So you’re going send out an awful lot of postcards to get one person to come through your door.”
It’s worth taking the time to research the effectiveness of various types of marketing. That will help you to not set your expectations too high.
You may be neglecting to build relationships
Though leaders may sense that it’s important to make relationship-building a priority, the tendency when it comes to building a ministry or nonprofit is to either do marketing or build relationships. And what we tend to do, quite frankly, is to fall back onto marketing when we haven’t done the relational piece. And it isn’t going to work. When we haven’t done that stewardship-of-relationships piece, it isn’t going to work.
I’ve heard it many times. The board looks at the director or the pastor and says, “Our giving is down.” He or she responds, “I know; I have to get the newsletter out.” What they’re saying is, “I have to get the advertising out”—I have to do some more marketing—instead of realizing that they have not put their attention toward the stewardship of relationships.
The natural process of stewardship is one-on-one, building relationships and growing those relationships over time, and growing relationships upon relationships over time, so that there’s such a trust level that folks are giving naturally, they are volunteering naturally, and they want to support the effort or the vision naturally.