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.

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