Balancing Ministry Needs With Donor Wants

Asking for money isn’t easy, whether from the pulpit or in conversation. We may be ecstatic about a new initiative the church is developing, but apprehensive about requesting one more contribution — especially during a pandemic.

Yet the church needs donors. Over the past few months, we have all felt the negative effects of decreased giving as people have lost jobs. Some leaders were in the midst of a fundraising initiative when the pandemic hit and saw their projects come to a halt.

In addition to the cumbersome task of finding donors, there is the issue of expectations. A donor might be willing to give, but not necessarily to the project most in need of funding. How do we balance the needs of our churches with the wants of donors?

Here are three principles to keep in mind:

Giving is Personal

Scripture has a lot to say about the importance of giving. Generosity is at the heart of the church. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul tells the church in Corinth, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (verse 6).

However, giving is also personal. In verse 7, Paul says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Paul’s direction is for those in the Corinth church to give out of the willingness of their hearts and as an expression of thanks to God. We can work hard to encourage someone to give toward a certain project. But in the end, the donor gives to what is close to his or her heart. We have to be OK with that.

As a university president and former pastor, I have walked through this. Often, the donor prefers to invest in people rather than a building project we are campaigning for. Our wants can be different. We can’t always expect a donor to be as thrilled as we are about a new building project.

Asking for a second gift can feel uncomfortable, but if we don’t ask, how can we expect to receive it?

It doesn’t mean we turn away the contribution. Rather, we see it as a step toward a lasting partnership.

Every Donation Counts

I have found that when we steward the gifts God has given us, He continues to bless us abundantly, sometimes in ways we did not anticipate.

In 2018, Southeastern University embarked on a $6 million capital campaign for our new Welcome Center. As we began to pray for what we called Project Gateway, we received a phone call from one of our donors. The donor wanted to make a matching gift contribution of up to $3 million. Our prayers were answered.

The gift we received was the donor’s second contribution to the university. Whether it’s a few dollars or significantly more, every donation is important and may lead to further financial support in the future.

Ask for a Second Gift

We need to develop genuine relationships with our donors. One of the reasons donors don’t give another gift is a breakdown in communication. They may feel as if they are no longer needed. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the average retention rate in 2019 for donors of nonprofit organizations was only 45%.

After sending a personalized thank you card with an update on what the contribution has done for the church, continue to follow up to stay in touch with your donors. Asking for a second gift can feel uncomfortable, but if we don’t ask, how can we expect to receive it? No matter how great the relationship may be, we still have to take the initiative and make the request.

In Luke 11:5-8, Jesus tells a parable about a persistent person who asks a friend for bread in the middle of the night. In the end, the request is granted — not because of the depth of the relationship but because of the person’s persistence.

We shouldn’t limit God’s ability to continue to bless us. As you embark on your next major fundraiser, be open to other opportunities. Continue to work diligently on your campaign, but don’t close the door on donors and gifts that might not seem relevant at the moment.

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