As I teach my 2-day People Raising Conference, I open by saying, “I am going to be very transparent. I am going to tell you the successes and, yes, the failures.” Here are the first 4 of 12 confessions I can make as a seasoned fund raiser. I share them with the hope and prayer that you will be able to avoid the mistakes I made as a young fundraiser.
When I first began the ministry of Inner City Impact in Chicago, I woke up one day to realize that if my ministry was to successfully function with proper funding, I would have to be the raise these funds. What a rude awakening and a scary thought! But through 40+ years of fundraising I have learned some valuable lessons, created a workable philosophy, and identified some practical principles that have enhanced my ministry as a fundraiser, which I have learned is really more about the people than the money. But let me share some of the misconceptions, and the right perspectives I learned, that plagued my initial well-intended efforts.
1. Do not take the giving decision away from your prospects and donors. In my early practice, I made decisions for prospects and donors. In some cases I never gave them a chance to know of my vision because I failed to add them to my prospect list of people I wanted to approach. In other cases, they made the list but I decided that they could not afford to give that much so I simply asked low. And in doing so, I took the decision away from them for how they wanted to give. At first, I was very disappointed because those who I thought would come alongside chose not to, while those who I had put out of my mind as potential donors came through.
2. Persistence makes a difference. I tended to give up on people too easily. I learned that just because a donor’s initial response produced a small gift didn’t mean there wasn’t hope that future gifts could produce larger gifts. After numerous follow-up phone calls to a potential donor, one day my secretary came in and announced that this couple was there to see me. I was shocked! The husband had told his wife that he was either going to come down and see my ministry for himself, or tell me to stop calling him. He toured our facility, looked into the eyes of our missionary staff, and was sold. He made a significant gift! Time and time again I have seen that persistence pays off.
3. Challenge people, ask high, and expand their vision. I often asked far too low. And if you do not ASK at all, the answer will always be NO. As I work with major donors, I have discovered that their first gift is often very small. They want to see if you appreciate the gift and if their gift made a difference. Just because they give at a lower level does not mean they cannot be challenged to give more later!
4. Focus on vision, not need. Often I was so concerned about all my financial needs that this became my focus as I asked for funds. I soon realized that people were motivated more by my vision for the ministry than how they could help financially achieve that vision. It’s so easy for missionaries and church planters to focus on their need for children’s education, the latest and greatest technology, funds for a new car, retirement, and so many other things. I’ve got to be honest with you. None of those things turn most people on. People want to know specifically what your vision is and how their money will advance the Lord’s work.