Fundraising 101: Lead By Example

Often when I am meeting with a church’s leadership for the first time to discuss a fund-raising campaign I am asked the following questions, “Our congregation has not been able to meet the budget for several years now. If we could get our members to give more, we could meet our budget. How can we get them to give more?” or “We really need our members to give much more generously if we are to raise the funds that are necessary to renovate our facilities. How can we persuade them to give more?” I am always alerted when I hear the word “them” because it means that the church leaders don’t see themselves as part of the problem. The questions are usually asked with a tone that suggests that if those other members would do their part the congregation could reach its fund-raising goal.

In reality a congregation or non-profit organization will not dramatically increase its giving unless its leadership is willing to lead by example, by increasing its own giving. If those who are in leadership do not give generously in proportion to their blessings, there is no example of sacrificial giving, and the general membership will reflect the level of commitment of the leaders. We really can’t ask others to do something that we are not willing to do ourselves. But often Church or Board leaders seem to mentally set themselves apart from the rest of the congregation or organization, and feel that it’s the “others” who are not doing their part. “If we could get them to take their responsibility and to do their part, we could reach our goal.” This kind of thinking reflects an attitude that giving is a duty, and if the members would give dutifully their organization would reach its goal.

But the fact is that “dutiful giving” is seldom “cheerful giving” and consequently it is not generous giving. In these times we have many options about where to spend our money or to give our money. The church no longer has the corner on the market for members to feel obliged to give dutifully. In these times, members generally do not respond because they are told to give, or are pressured to give more. If individuals give because they want to, rather than because they are pressured to give, they always give more, and often they will give wholeheartedly, joyfully, and generously, sometimes much more than they have ever given before.

So how do you get members to give more wholeheartedly, if you don’t want to try to persuade them or pressure them to give dutifully? A faith-raising perspective generates a straightforward answer. If we want to get our congregations or non-profit organizations to give up to their potential, we must inspire the members to be more generous. Remember that the word in-spire means to be filled with the spirit. It means that we are inspired by what God is doing through us, rather than taking credit for what we are doing. When leaders lead by example and exhibit joy in generosity, it is inspiring and it can be contagious. Others will pick up our spirit and will be inspired to give more generously.

How do leaders overcome their own fears about dramatically increasing their own giving, so that they can lead by example? The first step is to put our faith in God’s abundant providing in front of our fear, and step out with courage. Change how we think about and relate to giving. Start out by deciding to give first, as a pacesetter. In other words think in terms of “first fruits,” and make a commitment to decide how much you are going to give. Then budget accordingly. Many people give from what they have left over after all the things they spend on, which is often token giving. When we buy a new car or home, we find ways to make those monthly payments. Giving works the same way. When we change our habits, by giving first as a your top priority, we discover that God provides abundantly of everything we really need.

The second thing we can do if we want to overcome fears about giving is to surround ourselves with generous people. If our friends and associates are not generous it will be hard for us to maintain a generous spirit. Find ways to interact with those who are most generous in your church or community. Ask them how they think about giving, how they have the faith to step out with courage, and how they manage to give both sacrificially and generously. They often will tell us that generosity provides great benefits to the giver, and that it is a privilege to give, to be able to make a significant difference in the world.

Lastly, make it a habit to give generously every month. The more regularly we give, the more comfortable we are with generosity, the more we will find that giving does indeed bless the giver. We experience the joy and satisfaction that comes when we are regularly making a lasting, important improvement in the lives of others.

When church leaders or organizational leaders are inspired to give more generously than ever before, because they see that their giving can make an important difference in the world and help more people, they are inspired to give more and they often express that inspiration with enthusiasm, and that enthusiasm can be contagious. So rather than trying to push or persuade or pressure members to give more, focus on inspiring them to give more by leading by example. Before focusing on what others ought to do, think first about how much more we can give if we truly give in proportion to our gifts.

When church or organizational leaders decide to dramatically increase their giving in proportion to their blessings, others are inspired to do likewise. In fact this is the most powerful way to motivate others to increase their giving, by first leading by example, putting first things first, giving joyfully and generously in true proportion to our blessings. When members know that their leaders have stepped up to the challenge of greatly increased giving, invariably the congregation or organization will follow the example of that inspired giving. When congregations or organizations get in touch with cheerful giving, rather than dutiful giving, they will indeed find the wonderful “Joy of Generosity.”


There’s No Shortage of Money

“That’s the whole meaning of life, trying to find a place for your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. That’s all your house is, it’s a place to keep your stuff, while you go out and get more stuff! Sometimes you gotta get a bigger house. Why? Too much stuff!” ~ George Carlin

“We are living from pay check to pay check. We have so many bills, and expenses, we just never seem to get caught up. Money is a major source of anxiety in our family. We have more than our parents did, but we have so many more expenses. We would think that we should have enough, especially when we work so hard to make money to support our family.” 

“Our church has been struggling financially for several decades. Every year it seems to get worse. Our members are good people. But our members say they can’t give more. Of course they have to take care of their own expenses first. So there’s not much money left over for the church after they pay for all of the things that they need. There’s just not enough money to support the church’s ministries.” 

In my 22 years of assisting churches with their fund-raising needs, I have heard the above lamentations many times. Millions of individuals continually struggle to pay their bills, and millions of churches struggle to fund their ministries and programs.

But there’s really no shortage of money. Even with the financial losses of 2008, Americans are over 500% wealthier (adjusted for taxes and inflation) than we were 50 years ago. Americans’ homes are twice as big and we have twice as many cars. We go out to eat 3 times as often as we did 50 years ago, and we take more expensive vacations. Many Americans now have garages that are as big as middle-class homes were in the 1950s, and we own more extravagances, have more expensive pastimes, and have more possessions. Due to the spread of capitalism in developing countries like China, Brazil, and India, millions more around the world have the opportunity to have more possessions and far more wealth than previous generations, and many are aspiring to have the “American lifestyle” to own more possessions and to have nicer homes and other conveniences that Americans have.

To fight the Global Recession, governments around the world have poured trillions more dollars into the world economy through “stimulus packages.” And more billions of dollars are “sitting on the sidelines” un-invested by those individuals who are waiting for a clear sign that the present stock market increases are dependable, and by those who will “never invest their money in the stock market again.”

There’s really no shortage of money; there is rather a glut of misperceptions and misplaced priorities about money. Consequently, millions have unfulfilling lives and churches struggle to fund the programs and ministries that are vital to our communities. During these same past 50 years, as Americans have become more and more wealthy compared to previous generations, giving to churches has been a steadily declining percentage of incomes. Yet many Americans are unhappy despite our significant wealth.

The Great Recession of 2008 occurred because as millions around the world collected more “stuff” they had to build bigger and bigger homes to house their “stuff.” Governments deregulated financing requirements, banks offered adjustable rates mortgages and developed intricate forms of leveraging, and credit card companies increased borrowing limits to enable more individuals to own homes and buy other possessions that they really couldn’t afford.In the 1950s Americans had minimal amounts of personal debt, but just before the beginning of the Great Recession of 2008 personal debt had reached 102%, and nations and corporations also had taken on huge amounts of debt. And then the debts came due!

Now millions are trying to recover what they lost, others are struggling to make ends meet, and others have lost their jobs, homes, and hope. Yet there is no shortage of money. Rather there is a great inequity and inequality of distribution of resources. The gap between the very wealthy and everyone else has also grown dramatically in the last decade. Yet many of those who are very wealthy are unhappy, unsatisfied, and consumed with having more.

So even though millions of individuals have more abundant lives than previous generations, they are unhappy. Having more money than their ancestors has become more of a burden than a blessing for millions of individuals. They have become seduced by the belief that having “stuff” can bring happiness. We are constantly bombarded by infomercials that tell us that we need to buy this “stuff,” or the “stuff” we have isn’t good enough, so we need the “new and improved stuff.”

Churches can play a key role in helping to overcome this malady, by reminding our members of Jesus’ teachings about money and possessions, and the blessings of giving for the giver. Yet many pastors hesitate to talk about money for fear of upsetting some members. But to censure a topic that is such a source of fear, upset, discouragement, and worry to so many, is to neglect their physical and more importantly their spiritual well-being. The Christian faith has a message of wisdom and hope for times like these. The Bible is replete with stories of communities who endured tough times, who did with less, and yet who shared more generously with each other and with others in need. I cannot think of a better time to ask members to give more generously to their churches, so that our churches can provide the vital ministries and the programs for those who are truly struggling in our communities and in the world.

Moreover, in asking members to give, we are providing hope and guidance to those who are being seduced by possessions. You help them to re-examine their priorities, and to realize that God does provide abundantly of what is really necessary for healthy, happy, whole, fulfilling lives. Asking members to join together in giving generously to make a difference in the world helps them to realize that they have more than most and that they are truly blessed. Asking them to give for good causes brings meaning to their lives, builds self-worth, and enables them to be role models for their communities. In this process churches will also find that they can raise the funds they need to provide their essential ministries to members and their communities.

God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may be able to share abundantly in every good work. II Corinthians 9:8


For more inspiration on giving please click here.

Fundraising 101: Love Them First

Recently I was approached by a new pastor who was going to her first church. She had heard that the giving of the congregation was abysmal, not coming close to the potential of the membership, so she asked me, “What technique should I use to get them to give more?”

“Start out by loving them,” was my response.

Perhaps she was expecting a secret strategy that would get people to give more. But I simply remembered what occurred when I became a Pastor at my first church. I was inspired to be a Pastor, and I found the congregation to be a wonderful, warm, energetic, welcoming, affirming group. I had heard stories that some of my predecessors had had some challenging experiences, but my experience was different.

I looked for the hidden talents of the members, and expressed my appreciation when members stepped up to share their abilities. I felt that the future of the church would be dependent on how many people got involved in leadership positions. I knew my abilities would not be adequate to provide all of the services that we would need to provide. The church had been functioning with an assumed Mythology of Scarcity when I arrived. I simply pretended this wasn’t the case.

I was innocent, having never been a Pastor before. I just presumed that God would provide, and that we wouldn’t have trouble raising money. And we didn’t. About a year and a half after I arrived, the Trustees said that we needed to do some much delayed maintenance and renovations to the Church School and Fellowship areas of our facilities, and that we should see if we could raise the funds necessary to do these important projects. I stated that I was sure that we could raise the funds, and that we should organize a Capital Fund Campaign to do so.

The Capital Fund Campaign exceeded its goal and we were able to do the needed improvement projects. But what I realized about this experience, which helped me to answer this new pastor’s question, was that I started out by loving the congregation, and waited until they raised the topic of raising a significant amount of money.

So my answer to the question of what you must do before you talk with individuals about giving more generously, is to truly love them before you ask them to give, and to wait until they invite you to talk about raising large amounts of money.

I remember a story that a colleague told me. He was in the midst of a multi-million dollar campaign. He knew that they would need a lead gift of at least a half million dollars if they were to reach their goal, and the members responded that there was a widow who had lots of money who could do it. But they cautioned him that she had never given close to her capacity to the church, and that many individuals in the community had also approached her to make a large gift to support various causes, and she had always declined to give. He was told, “Yes she has the money, but it would be a waste of time to go to see her.”

Well my colleague figured he had nothing to lose. He felt it would be best to visit the widow in her home where she would feel most comfortable. So he called the woman and asked if he could come to see her. She said she’d be happy to have him come to her home, but that she wanted to warn him ahead of time that she wasn’t going to give a large gift. He said that was fine, he was just happy to come out to her home to get to know her.

He took a bouquet of flowers as a symbol of his appreciation for her willingness to see him. She was very appreciative and gave him a tour of her lovely home. He was fascinated by how beautifully she had decorated every room, and all the souvenirs she had accumulated in her travels throughout the home.

He asked detailed questions about the items and expressed genuine interest. After the tour, they adjourned to the living room. She offered him some wine and cheese and he accepted it graciously. He then began to ask her about her family, her life, and her occupations, hobbies, and interests, and he listened intently as she shared the important events of her life. This went on for a couple hours, as he continued to ask meaningful questions and to listen intently. This was not a phony act of being interested. He just naturally cares about people and is interested in people’s lives and the things they are interested in.

Finally the woman asked, “Okay what do you want?” He reminded her that the church really needed to raise the funds for the new facilities, since there were so many who were in need in her community. He stated that the only way the church could raise those funds was if someone would make a lead gift of at least $500,000. He told the woman that he was convinced that she was the only one who could make such a gift. He suggested that this was rare, once in a lifetime, opportunity to make a gift that could really make a difference, and that he believed that she would be happy if she used her resources to make such a gift.

She said, “You know I’ve never had anyone spend so much time, expressing such genuine interest in my home and my life. I kept waiting for you to ask me for money. Most people come here to ask me for money. They’re here a few minutes, and as soon as we sit down and make some small talk, they then ask me to make a big gift. They just assume that since I have more money than most, that I have plenty of money to give to their cause, and that I ought to give to their cause.

But you are different. I believe that you are truly interested in my welfare, and that you are sincere when you say I’ll be happy to make such a gift to make a difference in the world. There’s only one question I have – is $500,000 enough? I haven’t ever made a big gift in my life. I have everything I could possibly want, and I now realize that I can make a difference in the world, and I would like to do that. So tell me how much is really needed and how I can go about making such a gift.”

My colleague told this story to illustrate his belief about what you must do before you talk with individuals about giving large amounts of money. He told me, “I’ve learned that you’ve got to make a friend, before you talk about funds.”

So once again you can see that you have to start by loving and appreciating people before you ask them to increase their giving, and that it is best if possible, to wait until they invite you to talk about giving. You can’t really start talking about giving more generously until you have established trust and affirmation with a congregation.

People are always looking for phoniness when it comes to fund-raising. They put up their guards, for fear that you might persuade or pressure them into giving more. So before you even raise the issue of giving more money, you must first show people that you care about them deeply, and genuinely share their struggles and joys. Look for the the best in them. Appeal to their nobler intentions. Expect them to do well, and state your confidence in them and in God’s abundant providing.

If you do so, you will find that most people aspire to make a difference in the world, and that when they believe in their ability to do so, and realize that the improvement will only occur if they are more generous, they will rise to the occasion. This is the first basic principle in conducting effective fund-raising, start out by loving your prospective donors. Don’t focus on money, but rather focus on their unique talents and aspirations. Appreciate their interests and desires, and express your belief in them and in God’s abundant providing, and you and they will find the Joy of Generosity.


For more information on how to manage a successful Church Capital Fundraising Campaign please visit our website at VanderWyden Consultants.