You’re hard at work planning your next big fundraising event. You and your staff are scrambling to attend to endless details. You need to recruit and train volunteers. You need to publicize your event. You’re devising a strategy for follow-up of each person who attends.
Where is your leadership board in all of this? Are they involved? They need to be.
The fact is your leadership board comprises some of your organization’s most effective ambassadors.
Why is that?
How will you go inspire and encourage your leadership board to “come on board” for your next fundraising event?
I remember where I was when I first saw the images on the TV screen. The news was just reporting that planes had been flown into the World Trade Center. I was at a coffee bar in Grand Cayman. No, really! I was getting some coffee to take back to my wife, who was beginning a lazy day of vacation.
Who doesn't remember where they were on that tragic, unforgettable day?
In the aftermath of 9/11, my team was called to consult about certain ministries’ financial devastation. Some ministries survived; many didn't. All organizations need to be prepared for unforeseen financial problems. In a SWOT analysis, the "T" stands for THREATS. Threats come from the outside—things you can't see and can't control. But you’d better plan for them, or they will sneak up and take you out.
One thing that’s really surprising to me is how few ministries and organizations have a clearly defined, compelling vision that they can offer to one another and to other people in the community.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the most important part of fundraising is not raising the money. It’s engaging your audience with the vision of what your organization exists to accomplish. Without doing that work to make that kind of clarity available to people, it becomes very difficult to engage them in what you are doing.Now, it’s true that a nonprofit or ministry that lacks a clear and compelling vision can still succeed in raising a few dollars at an event. But an event that doesn’t connect people with a compelling vision won’t draw people into deeper levels of engagement. To be sustainable, your organization needs to engage people at deeper and deeper levels of commitment and participation.
Planning a fundraising event without clarifying and sharing your vision can lead to some undesirable results:
The purpose of your event is more important than the event itself. A successful fundraising event takes a great deal of planning. But the most important step of all is to clarify your vision for yourself and your audience.
What creative ways have you found to share your vision at your events?
Every organization needs support if it’s going to last, and they commonly rely on marketing to drum it up.
Marketing is important in getting the word out, letting folks know who we are and what we do. But we have to let go of the idea that we’ll just keep telling people about the needs we have in our organization and they’re going to keep responding and volunteering and supporting, because they’re not. Studies are showing that.
The real key to building a sustainable nonprofit is stewardship of your relationships, whether with individuals, foundations, or corporations. Stewardship is not just raising funds. It’s really an opportunity to build a sustainable nonprofit by ministering to a population of your ministry.
God brings community to your ministry. He works through the community of relationships. He wants to bring people together to work together in a caring community to see things accomplished. That’s how God works.
And when God brings people together, it’s our responsibility as leaders to steward those relationships. Whether they’re affluent people to a homeless mission, homeless to a homeless mission, government agencies, or foundations, God’s brought them together for a particular vision or cause. And when He brings that community together, it’s our responsibility to come along and minister to those folks as the broken, servant-leaders that God has called us to be.
We no longer can look at funders as if they’re in a silo and separate from all the other things that we’re doing. They’re not there just to bring us money, and then we get busy about doing the ministry. Those funders are part of our ministry. God brought them to us for a reason—so that we will minister to them, encourage them, and help them grow.
Every one of us who leads an organization is a pastor, in effect, not just a preacher but a pastor, not just an administrator but a pastor, not just a grant writer but a pastor, not just a volunteer but a pastor whose job is to minister to the full spectrum of individuals and organizations that God has brought into our circle.
Our job is to be good stewards of these relationships, and to identify not just the obvious ones, but also the ones may still be on the fringe. We can reach out and draw them in as well.
What you’ll find when you take this approach to stewardship is that it becomes healthy, and it becomes fun. I know many people who don’t like to raise money, because they look at it as begging. If that’s you, you’re doing it wrong. Your approach is incorrect.
Instead, go out and begin to build relationships and minister to these individuals God has brought into the circle, into your vision’s support system. And as you minister to them, the byproducts will be their time, talent, treasure, intellectual properties, and relationships. They’ll start to bring to the cause the things that God has given them to steward.
Your marketing efforts matter, but nothing takes the place of relationships in making your ministry sustainable.
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.