By Tom MacAdam, Senior Consultant
Nearly 20 years ago, some of my closest friends thought I was crazy.
With a strong sense of conviction, I left behind my former profession, and accepted a position as the head of advancement for an international mission organization. It wasn’t just my decision to leave behind a lucrative career that made them question my judgment; it was their realization that “advancement” involved fundraising.
I heard comments like, “Are you sure you’ll be comfortable doing that?” and “Good luck. I could never ask people for money!”
Some of them had worked with investors, and others had experience in sales, but none of them had ever asked someone for funds without giving the other person something of value in exchange. A few confessed that fundraising would feel like they were begging for money, but I’m convinced that what they were really imagining was a sense of vulnerability – even fear.
For many people serving at impactful organizations – schools, ministries and other non-profits that they feel passionate about – the work can be easy to do. The mission is exciting to share, but the idea of fundraising is really intimidating. These people have no doubt they are called to their work, and they know that their work needs resources, but asking for them seems impossibly hard.
Over the years, I’ve learned that there are lots of reasons that we don’t need to fear fundraising. I’ve used several of them to coach friends and clients past their anxieties – and even to a place of real joy in the process of inviting donations from others.
Here are five that I find most encouraging to keep in mind:
1. First, and most importantly – God is the ultimate fundraiser.
In the end, it’s really not about you. Sure, you need to be prepared, knowledgeable, relational, engaging, earnest, and bold. Since we have grown up in a merit-reward culture, there can be a perception that your fundraising results depend completely on your efforts. However, as a Christian, I have to continually remind myself that God is sovereignly and intimately involved in all things. Fundraising is no exception.
You can trust that in every meeting, God goes before you – working and preparing hearts in advance. We know that what God intends, He provides for and accomplishes. When I read the Bible, I don’t have to look very far to see examples of this: Abraham being protected, provided for, and richly rewarded as he followed God to a new land. Moses and the people of Israel being provided with food, water, and protection for 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus and His disciples traveling, teaching, and preaching with no provisions – and even being blessed to feed 5,000 others.
Saint Augustine, and Saint Ignatius, was quoted as saying, “Work as if it all depends on you; pray and know it all depends on God”. This should be the mindset of the fundraiser, and it should release you to do your best, being able to trust God with the results.
2. Second – Fundraising is like matchmaking.
It’s really a matter of your perspective. The work of a fundraiser is not extracting dollars, like my friends thought of it. Instead, fundraising is a process of simply making thoughtful connections, and introducing meaningful opportunities.
The work of a development officer is simply engaging faithful and generous people with resources, and then pointing them to opportunities where their resources can meet real needs.
Anyone can make an introduction!
3. Third – Fundraising should happen by invitation.
It should be a comfort to know that it’s possible to get permission in advance. In fact, one of the main fundraising principles we teach our clients at The FOCUS Group is to never ask a donor for a gift without them knowing you’re about to ask.
More specifically, you can and should ask a prospective donor for permission to ask them. That way, you can know your request is already welcome. Ask them to open the door first, and it will seem much more natural to both of you when you walk through it.
4. Fourth – “No” isn’t a scary word.
For many, the fear of rejection is one of the biggest barriers to asking. The thought of someone saying no can seem like a dead end to a conversation, and maybe a relationship.
Sure, our parents may have told us, “no means no”. However, that’s not always the case with a potential donor – when they say no, there’s often a reason. It might be the wrong time, the wrong project or the wrong amount but it might not be a closed door.
You know, I like to golf, but I have a bad habit. When I hit a bad shot, I often look down or look away in frustration. Guess what? I don’t see clearly where the ball went. So even if you get a negative response, keep your eye on the ball, pay attention, and listen for why. There may very well be another opportunity ahead.
5. And finally, remember – Fundraising is not transactional, it’s relational.
The relationships you are building take time, they take understanding, and they can be for a lifetime. So don’t stress over the gift you hope to get at this moment.
Invest in people. Get to know them, understand them, care for them, and encourage them. Share your heart and your passions for your important work. If you can see these relationships as more than a giver-receiver transaction, all fear will fade and you will find joy in the ministry of fundraising.
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