Why Tournaments & “-a-thons” Are Hurting Partner Development

More and more ministries are joining the tournament/”-a-thon” craze that, like most events, require ridiculous amounts of time and attention in executing while resulting in proportionally smaller returns on the investment. It’s not just that I hate events, and I do despise event fundraising, it’s the fact that ministries engage in them for all the wrong reasons.

Golf-scrambles/-a-thons, bowl-a-thons, walk-a-thons, jump rope-a-thons, bike-a-thons, read-a-thons, skate-a-thons, dance-a-thons, swim-a-thons, and yes, even work-a-thons are all failing miserably to achieve what the tournament/a-thon companies, that keep 40% or more of what donor’s give (which just so happens to violate basic ethics in fundraising) tout as possible benefits of an organization’s fundraising efforts.

The problem is that most ministries use these events as “the medium” for fundraising rather than “a tool” to help bolster it.

I fully acknowledge that these kinds of events are a great way to involve and connect with current ministry partners as well as a donor acquisition tool with an opportunity gain exposure to people who have never heard of the ministry.  Great stuff, for sure. But if that’s where it starts and ends then don’t be surprised if every year these efforts get more taxing on staff & volunteers and the amount of money raised takes a downward spiral.

Events like these are truly all about the money while the mission of the ministry almost always comes secondary. This is where I ask Boards and ministry leaders to tell me again why they are in ministry and convince themselves that these events aren’t all about money?

Inspiritous conducted a survey of 12,700 financial partners to Christ-centered ministries in the US, where more than 54% had participated or sponsored some kind of tournament or a-thon. Here’s what we found:

  • 79% had never been asked to give directly to the ministry hosting the event;
    • among sponsors who were asked to give directly to the ministry sometime after sponsoring, 27% did;
  • 96% had assumed that the company hired to run the event was paid a flat fee and not a percentage of the money raised;
    • 100% of those said that they would not be okay with the company taking a percentage of the money raised;
  • Just 4% said that the ministry followed up with them in a meaningful way that prompted a direct contribution to the ministry.

I don’t’ know when it was that ministries-en-mass bought the lie that enticing people to give through methods that have nothing whatsoever to do with the organizational mission is a great way to enhance partner development.  Ministries wanting to make a real difference in engaging their financial partners should consider instead investing time into those who have demonstrated their love for the mission through giving of their time, talent and/or treasure. Invite them to experience or observe the ministry in action and use their circles of influence to bring in new partners that are there for the right reason.

Giving Tuesday Proving Best Donor Acquisition Tool

While Giving Tuesday has proven to be the best donor acquisition tool for younger donors, ministries are finding that it’s the best tool period, and this year’s event, which is November 27, will be no exception.

Along with the shift in the way people think about their giving, they also view non-profits differently, which is why traditional approaches to donor acquisition have become ineffective.

This is especially the case for direct mail prospecting, which now generates returns of about 0.65%, compared to twenty years ago when the standard was 4% to 6%. The monumental climb in the success of broadcast email solicitation has plummeted almost as fast as it started, which has actually backfired on many organizations that invested big in the trend due to the negative attitudes about spam.  Just because a donor supports one ministry does not mean that they will support another one like it, not to mention the nefarious methods used to acquire email addresses.

Hopefully, no ministry has been stupid enough (yes, I think Jesus would call this “stupid) to join in on the bandwagon of robocalls that target cell phones.

Trying to acquire donors by relentlessly mailing or emailing people with no known connection to the ministry is more than impersonal but passe’ and lacking any real influence.

Giving Tuesday is a much better donor acquisition strategy for these reasons:

1. It is new. Yes, Giving Tuesday is now five years old, but it is still on the upside of the bell curve as more not-for-profits across the country jump on board;

2. It happens across all giving and communications platforms – online, mail, text, social media, even phone in some cases – a diverse execution strategy which can only be called logical in 2018;

3. It attracts young donors, a demographic largely overlooked by more traditional fundraising programs which are slow to accommodate younger donors’ preferred communications methods;

4. It runs on a concentrated timeline – one day – making it easy for the media to get behind it with promotion, sponsorship, and personalities. Whether on purpose or by accident, Giving Tuesday emulates one of the most important design features of the best Capital Campaigns – raising a lot of money in as little time as possible.

Ministries should utilize Giving Tuesday to encourage current financial partners to help promote your ministry to their family and friends, which helps those that have been faithful to the ministry feel part of the strategy and not hit upon to engage in what some see as a gimmick.


Connecting With the Next Generation of Financial Partners

In a survey of more than 16,500 people who had recently donated to 17 of its member ministries, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) finds differences between both millennial givers and those over the age of 35 that helps to create a profile of the millennial Christian giver.

Almost all millennials surveyed gave to their church in the past few years (92%). About a third gave to denominational ministries (35%); slightly more gave to secular charities (39%). However, the reasons for giving and the heart of these financial partners is what’s most important to understand.

ECFA President, Dan Busby noted how the survey reveals that “donors under the age of 35 are passionate about life and connected deeply to causes they care about—an encouraging sign for nonprofit organizations endeavoring to do good work in the world today.”

The findings punctuate Busby’s assertion that millennials are definitely passionate. When they give to a ministry for the first time, they’re more likely than those over 35 to feel hopeful (69% vs. 60%), generous (45% vs. 25%), and spontaneous (18% vs. 11%). In fact, they’re more likely to feel every emotion ECFA asked about.

Millennials show a broader and richer range of emotions than any previous generation.

Perhaps as a result of their “youth,” millennials are less likely than older generations to worry about ministries keeping administrative costs low; assuming that a one-time gift is a promise of future giving, or contacting a donor for more money. They’re also slightly less concerned about ministries using a gift only for what they say they will; not increasing the frequency of donation requests; avoiding political causes; or saying thank you.

“Which of these is most important to you in a ministry?”

"Which of these is most important to you in a ministry?"

When asked about the most important quality of a ministry, more than half of millennials (56%) and nearly half of older givers (48%) named honesty, followed by another form of honesty: using a gift only as specified (21% of millennials vs. 26% of older givers).

All givers felt that charities should uphold specific financial standards, but Millennials were less likely (85% vs. 93%) to list it as “extremely important.”

Younger givers choose Christian organizations because they share Christ and spread the gospel (37% vs. 32% of older givers) and because they serve spiritual and physical needs (21% vs. 13%).

Meanwhile, older givers are choosing Christian charities because they believe they have more integrity and accountability than secular organizations (26% vs. 19% of millennials).

“Why do you suppose a giver might support a Christian ministry instead of a non-religious organization doing similar things?”

"Why do you suppose a giver might support a Christian ministry instead of a non-religious organization doing similar things?"

While older givers are more likely to trust Christian organizations, millennials are significantly more likely to say that someone might give to a secular organization because it’s more effective and efficient (22% vs. 12%). They’re also slightly more likely to see giving to a secular organization out of a mistrust of Christian agencies (11% vs. 8%).

Younger givers are also more likely to suggest that donors might give to a secular charity because they are unaware of Christian options (13% vs. 6%), which may suggest they themselves feel less informed.

“Why do you suppose a giver might support a non-religious organization instead of a Christian ministry doing similar things?”

"Why do you suppose a giver might support a non-religious organization instead of a Christian ministry doing similar things?"

Most givers say they give because they’ve been blessed. Younger donors are slightly less likely to say they give because their gift makes a difference (20% vs. 23%), and slightly more likely to give to a charity that employs someone they know (11% vs. 8%). A similar percent of millennials said they’re more likely to give because of the person asking (12% vs. 7%).

Younger givers were also more interested in hearing from charities than older givers were. More said they’d prefer communication every two to three weeks (9% vs. 4%) or every month (35% vs. 29%), while fewer said they’d only like a message every six months (12% vs. 17%) or a year (11% vs. 19%).

Their actions bear this out. Millennials pay closer attention to every form of communication—except postal mail—that they receive from charities.

Millennials are also more interested in getting involved themselves. They’re a little more likely than older givers to donate to ministries or people groups they care about, or that offer a way to volunteer or to join the team. Nearly 1 in 3 looks for volunteer opportunities when considering a donation (29% vs. 20%).

“I am most likely to consider giving to a ministry if they …”

"I am most likely to consider giving to a ministry if they ..."

Volunteer opportunities might be why more than half of millennials said they’re more likely to support ministries that benefit their community (53% vs. 47% of older givers). They’re also interested in providing food, water, shelter, sanitation, and education. And they’re more likely to support caring for the poor and orphans, addressing injustices, or advocating for a cause.

Older givers are more interested in charities that evangelize, translate and distribute Bibles, teach Christians, aid in disaster relief, or strengthen marriages or families.
“How likely are you to support ministries that work to …”

"How likely are you to support ministries that work to ...”

While both older and younger givers were very likely to give to their church (about 95% overall), younger givers are less likely to give to both denominational ministries (35% vs. 52%) and to secular organizations (39% vs. 49%). Of the two, they’re more likely to give to secular than to denominational efforts, unlike their older counterparts.

Nine out of 10 millennials give as they feel the Lord is leading them (92%), considering their budgeting priorities before they do (92%). They’re considerably more likely than older givers to ask others for their thoughts (57% vs. 48%) before giving.

Ninety percent of ministry givers research a ministry on its website before giving a ‘generous’ gift, and millennials are considerably more likely to do research ‘all the time. They are also significantly more likely than their elders to pursue research on a third-party website.

The sites they’re checking? Probably ECFA and the Better Business Bureau’s Give.org. A Donor Confidence Index poll showed that almost 3 in 5 of all millennial givers were familiar with the sites, while 2 in 5 knew about Charity Navigator and GuideStar.

While younger givers are more likely to support their charity on social media (26% vs. 18%), they’re doing it less than researchers thought they would.

Contrary to popular notions, millennials are more unlikely than likely to promote ministries on social media. They participate in social media because of who they are … they give because of who they are … and promoting a ministry is about what the ministry is.

Indeed, more millennials say they give because of who they are (52% vs. 48% of older givers) or who asks (12% vs. 7%); fewer donate because the ministry asks (21% vs. 33%).

“Please select the one item that best matches your habits …”

"Please select the one item that best matches your habits ...”

Ministries might want to consider asking millennials for a “meaningful” gift instead of a “generous” one.

Millennials respond with a 20 percent higher optimal gift if asked for a ‘meaningful amount. In contrast, their older counterparts respond with much higher amounts when they are asked for a ‘generous’ gift than a ‘meaningful’ one.

But millennials will likely give that donation in the same way older givers do—as an occasional or monthly gift.

Want Better Employee Performance? Then Listen!

Many ministries experience high levels of employee dissatisfaction because misperceptions often go unrecognized or unaddressed. Interestingly, the single most common employee complaint, regardless the industry or mission, is not being heard. When employees don’t feel heard, it stands to reason why misperceptions continue to proliferate an organization. It often leads to gossip (someone is finally listening) which can turn a small misperception into a harsh reality.

Reality isn’t the same thing as truth, however. Reality may have more to do with perception than truth, which is why understanding the realities of our environment is so powerful. By recognizing the darkness of misperceptions, one can bring out the light of truth with…truth! Jesus said in John 8: 31-32 that If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

However, even the most disgruntled employee is reluctant to share how they really feel. After all, it’s difficult to confront others. This is why opening the floor during a staff meeting to discuss concerns is often futile, because nothing the leader says can belie the fear of retribution in a person’s heart.

This is why an employee survey that is conducted by a neutral third party where an employees anonymity is guaranteed is an effective tool, because it helps identify where dysfunction exists.

The first employee survey that I conducted was for a Christian school in California where I was the consultant for the school’s capital campaign. The longer I was at the school, the more problems I got wind of from the faculty and staff, problems that were impacting the success of the campaign. Most of the problem’s weren’t big, it was just a matter of wanting the headmaster to hear their concerns. So with the headmaster’s blessing, I conducted a survey that was informed by studies conducted by other research and from some of the issues brought up at the school.

When I sat down with the headmaster to go through the unvarnished results, which included more than two thousand individual comments to help support the data, it was a turning-point, both for the headmaster and for the school. Not only was the headmaster able to address concerns and answer questions, but he was also able to correct unfounded but highly destructive misperceptions. His standing among the faculty and staff improved significantly (as we were able to quantify in an end-of-year follow-up survey).

Most surprising for me was that very little changed as far as the organizational structure. No faculty or teachers were fired, schedules went unchanged, salaries stayed the same and work-hours were not reduced. What did change, and what had the greatest impact on the staff, was the way the headmaster listened and communicated. Where faculty or staff needed to be made aware of negative feedback, like I did with the headmaster, he addressed those issues directly with that staff member…often a department head. It also paved the way to strategically tackle those cultural mindsets that needed to change.

While ignorance can become Satan’s foothold in a ministry organization, a ministry whose leaders take their heads out of the sand by tackling the sometimes difficult reality of dysfunction within their organization allow truth to be their compass.

Buy truth, and do not sell it,
Get wisdom and instruction and understanding.

Proverbs 23:23

The Corrosive Mindset Of Organizational Dysfunction

The loyalty and dedication of those that work inside a ministry is unlike most not-for-profits or businesses. They often work long hours and for little money and often work inside even the most dysfunctional organizations, because the eternal reward is their real payoff.

Most ministries begin on shoestring budgets, understaffed with everyone doing a little bit of everything. From these experiences, founders and long-time leaders learn that to survive in ministry, they must manage every decision. As the ministry grows and staff is added, a culture evolves about how decisions are made, by whom, and how that information is to be shared. Older ministries are unique in that, like an old married couple, team members can finish one another’s sentences and everyone knows who and when to trust about what.

However, the benefits and optimism that comes out of this camaraderie often carries an unhealthy mindset that can be hard to overcome. Like rust that has set into a bolt and nut over time, the longer a mindset is left unaddressed the more difficult it is to change.

Expectations become culturally engrained where new-hires can end up feeling frustrated and discouraged as they are constantly made aware of the myriad of unpublished social mores that they have violated. Resentment and bitterness can grow from among the veterans who interpret a new employee’s ignorance of the “way things are done” as disrespectful; demonstrating a lack of loyalty and commitment to the ministry. After all, the veterans can remember that proverbial walk in the snow, uphill, both ways, and a new-hire just cannot appreciate the sacrifice that those before them have made to make the ministry what it is today.

This cultural mindset is why a receptionist who has been with the organization since its early days can have more power than a new division president.

Compounding all of these issues are the leaders who have gone from managing out of the ministry’s necessity to micromanaging out of the leader’s need to feel secure, the ever- changing ministry landscape where the things that used to create incredible results now have mediocre impact, the growing list of “competing” ministries, and dwindling donor funding, can exacerbate dysfunction.

When things go wrong, newcomers become easy scapegoats. Even those with the most potential to help the organization are targeted because that have invested far less than others in the organization and relationships from within the organizations are still immature. Agents of change are especially ripe for picking out because their changes are seen as an affront to the culture. Letting them go becomes the most satisfying solution because it involves the least (immediate) pain.

There is certainly no such thing as a perfect organization and where people are involved, dysfunction is guaranteed. Leaders, however, should take steps to open communication channels within their staff so that rust doesn’t set in and corrode a vibrant team.

If you only do what worked in the past, you will wake up one day and find that you’ve been passed by. -Clayton Christensen (from the book, Disruptive Innovation)

4 Fundamentals of Partner Development

Developing major partners is about building relationships.  From the online giver who makes a $15 gift to your organization, to the partner who gives $1 million to your capital campaign – in some way, you have built a relationship with each, which was key to their gift.

Partners at every level value relationships and none more so than high-capacity individuals.  Because they can make a significant investment to your organization, major donor prospects want to feel that they have a strong relationship with your ministry prior to making a financial commitment.  Following are four fundamental’s to building a strong and sustainable relationship with prospective major donor:

  1. Stand Out

High-net-worth individuals usually have lots of people clamoring for their attention, regardless if they have a propensity for giving.  Family, business, and church relationships alone are enough to fill every waking hour.  Add to that the not-for-profit organizations (faith based or not) seeking support, and the noise to gain attention can seem insurmountable.  But without their attention, your ministry will have a hard time building any kind of relationship.

That’s why you find an advocate from within your ministry organization (board or other partner) to make the introduction and spearhead the relationship cultivation.

You can try and entice him or her to attend an event, releasing a major report or holding a note-worthy seminar or hosting an important speaker, launching a campaign in a program area that matches the prospect’s heart for giving… the possibilities are (nearly) endless, but no matter what you choose to do, you have to get the their attention before he or she will be able to focus on your ministry.

  1. It’s ALWAYS About Relationship, NOT Money

Once you get the donor’s attention, you need to cultivate the prospect and build the relationship between him/her and your organization, before you make any kind of opportunity available to them.  Rush this process and you will have little hope of gaining a donor, much less a partner.

Ask them for advice and suggestions and try to involve him or her in volunteer work or allow them to see the work of the ministry first-hane.  Make them a part of your team.

  1. Explain the Investment

Prior to making an opportunity available to give be sure to explain the investment you are asking them to make.  They want to invest in Kingdom work that will deliver the best outcomes for the largest number of people in areas that match their heart for giving.

Through your cultivation process, you should know their heart for giving and what opportunities will be most important to them.  Explain to him or her exactly what your plans for the future are, what you are hoping to raise, and why you need the money.  What outcomes are you predicting and how you measure results?  How many people will you serve?  What is the return on this major Kingdom investment?

  1. People Give from their Heart

No matter how great an investment your ministry opportunity may seem, major partners still give primarily to organizations they feel an emotional connection with.  Thus, the best way to raise large-dollar gifts is to present your organization as both an emotionally compelling, mission-driven, and Kingdom focused organization as well as a wise investment.  A heart connection is essential, all others being equal.

Tell stories.  Get him or her to come out to your program sites.  Make the prospect feel emotionally connected to your work.  If you can do that, you are well on your way to developing them as long-term partners of your ministry.

EMAF (Every Man A Fundraiser)

More than twenty-one years ago I married a Kansas State Wildcat, which has made for some fun in-home rivalry, especially before my beloved Texas Aggies joined the SEC. One of the things that I love about the Kansas State Wildcats (they were originally the Kansas State Aggies) is something you’ll see virtually everywhere in & around the college town of Manhattan (AKA, the “little apple”), the expression “EMAW,” which stands for “Every Man a Wildcat.”

It’s a mindset that the university has driven to help galvanize the Wildcat community as a “family,” which is punctuated by a football stadium that honors both the coach that transformed their school into a highly rated and respected football program, and this core value, the Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Many of the most successful ministry organizations have a similar core value that relates to fundraising, because for them, raising funds is never about money, but the heart.

No matter a person’s role, these organizations understand the fundamental principal that everyone is involved in developing ministry partners, which is inexorably linked to fundraising.

I have found that ministries struggling most in the area of fundraising are those that limit the development process to executive, or designated development staff. When organizational boundaries like these are established, overtly or not, there’s little pushback since people are naturally afraid of fundraising

Notably, I have found that many executive directors, executive leaders, and even boards embrace the perspective that they do not need to get involved in fundraising. These are usually the organizations that are continually looking for the fundraising rainmaker who can come in to save the day.

However, without the support of your rank-and-file staff and board, no development effort can reach its full potential.

Partners at every level need to be able to connect with what is actually happening at an organization. Key partners need to be able to meet the senior leadership and talk with the staff running programs. Senior leadership needs to have an understanding of how money comes into their organization and what matters to the key supporters and community members.

While every staff member doesn’t necessarily need be engaged in the process of asking partners for a financial contribution everyone should be prepared to talk about how they contribute the fulfilling the ministry’s mission with any partner that walks through the doors.

So when you expect a visit from a partner, make sure that the staff knows they are coming. Instead of making introductions as they do a walk around in your offices, think about the impression that your partner leaves-with after your staff knows their name and introduces themselves and what they do! Think about how valued they feel when every staff member, from the front desk to your program directors, says something specific about the impact of their partnership to the ministry.

“Your name comes up often when we are working on….”

“It’s great to finally match a face with a name…”

“You’ve been such a faithful partner all of these years…”

“I remember praying for you about…”

“I know that you love [FILL IN THE BLANK] about our ministry…”

“When I heard you were coming in I wanted to be sure you saw…”

Remember, developing partners isn’t about money, but the heart. Don’t overlook your ministry’s most valuable development asset, your staff and board.

Perhaps it’s time to cultivate a new ministry mindset; EMAF (Every Man A Fundraiser)!

Pushed Toward Extinction: The Handwritten Note

I was intending to write about how large an impact that a simple handwritten note can be to ministry partners when I got inspired.  Every year certain neighborhoods in Dallas are victim to some species of migrating birds that can overwhelm a community with their incredibly loud squawks and unbelievably voluminous and noxious projectile excriment.  Neighbors want to be able to take action and scare the birds away but an advocacy group protested downtown City Hall because the birds are facing extinction.

The protest and campaign that insued left me to think about how the press might write about the weirdo’s, like me, that advocate for the protction of a dying art, handwritten notes.  Following is how I imagine that story might read:

More than 100,000 scientists have protested to the Government over fears for the future of an endangered native species, the Handwritten Note.

An open letter from 10,507 conservationists and scientists from universities and institutes around the country was released to the Minister of Conversation Conservation today, mid-way through the 25th International Congress for Conservation for Meaningful Communication [ICCMC] being held in Washington, D.C. this week.

They say the loss of meaningful relationships over the next six months will damage ICCMC’s efforts in meaningful communication management and planning, as this essential species, vital for meaningful relational ecosystems, are now on the edge of extinction.

“We have the expertise to prevent this from happening but handwritten notes require time, patience, and love,” said the hand-written letter.

Signatories, including financial partners from more than a thousand ministry organizations, are upset that communication from ministries that they support has dwindled to newsletters, form letters, and what they term as the bane of communication, broadcast e-mail.

Since the invention of computerized mail-merge, non-profit leaders everywhere have opposed sanctions against direct marketing because personal communications with donors distracts from what they call, “real ministry.”

The reduction in support and investment of time for handwritten-notes is actually undermining the work of passionate staff who have helped save species such as the volunteer, prayer-partner, planned giver and the elusive long-time financial partner from extinction.

“The loss of dedicated staff coupled with non-governing boards who rubber stamp any new ministry initiative while ignoring the growing discontent of their financial partners has resulted under-resourced and under-funded organizations,” said the letter.

Instead of doubling efforts to reconnect more meaningfully with partners who have demonstrated long-time dedication, struggling organizations favor the convenience of direct-marketing strategies that prospect for new donors.

Prevent Extinction and Save The Species! 

The letter concluded with hopeful steps that they believe can help to save handwritten notes from extinction.  They include

  • Write one handwritten note per day to a different long-term ministry partner.
  • Keep a box of note cards, envelopes and stamps in your automobile so that every time you meet with someone, you can sit in your car, write a note and drop it off in the nearest postal box, en route to your next appointment.
  • Handwrite a personal sentence or two of gratitude on every donation receipt.
  • At every board meeting, give each board member the names and addresses of five different ministry partners along with a small note card, envelope and live stamp.  Take fifteen to twenty minutes of the meeting for each member to handwrite a note of thanks to each partner.  Hand in the cards before the meeting adjourns (make copies of each for the donor-file) and mail them all that very night.
  • At every staff meeting, do the same thing as above with your staff, but assign just one ministry partner to each staff member(especially if staff meetings are weekly).

Though more can certainly be done, few believe that meaningful change will happen within organizations whose culture depends on direct marketing.  New ministries lead by the Facebook generation are also unlikely to demonstrate concern over the loss of the handwritten note.  Only time will tell.

Essential “Touch-Points” for Effective Donor Development

While it’s inherently true that most people do not like being asked to give money, I have found that the reason why most bristle when the opportunity to invest in a ministry’s Kingdom works is simple, there’s no real relationship.

Many ministry organizations don’t talk to their financial partners at all or the only time they talk with them is when their hands are out, asking for the next donation.

This kind of action is what makes people dislike fundraisers.

Develop a plan, which includes a literal schedule for when and how to talk with your financial partners throughout the year outside of asking for money. This is particularly important if you have major gifts financial partners who like to give at a specific time each year.

Schedule a number of touch points throughout the year where you are updating your financial partners about the work of your ministry. Take time to thank them for their relationship with you. Send them a note from someone whose life has been transformed through your ministry.

Then when it comes time to talk with them about a gift they will be ready to have that conversation with you. With a good development program, by the time you ask a financial partner to join with you in another opportunity to give, you will experience their eager anticipation, rather than reluctant anxiety.

Everybody wants to know that they are valued, especially when they give your ministry a part of their heart, which is what they are doing every time they contribute.

When you do major gifts fundraising you have an opportunity to work 1-on-1 with people about their giving priorities. Make sure to take the time to allow a relationship to grow. Some financial partners will want more of a relationship than others. You will be way more successful growing your major gifts program if you have regular soft touches with your financial partners than if you ask only once a year.

Here are some practical examples of the kinds of touch points that you can use as a great way to build relationships.

  • Send a card on your financial partner’s birthday and have everyone on staff, who are within reach, sign it. Staff members who know the financial partner should include a personal sentence or two on the card.
  • Make a thank you phone call within a couple of days of receiving their gift.
  • Send an update on what your organization has done the year before. This update can be specific to a programmatic or regional area of interest and should include some insider information from a program manager or director.
  • Invite them to sit at your table at an annual event.
  • Offer them a tour your organization. This is a great way to help someone connect in a deeper way with the work that you are doing.
  • Arrange a meeting with the financial partner, one of your program staff members, and yourself to provide an in-person update.
  • Send them a handwritten note with a few words about a special interest they have.
  • Buy them a cup of coffee and tell them a story of something that happened because of their support.
  • ALWAYS- write a handwritten note on EVERY receipt that goes out from the ministry!!! Even after he retired, Garth Hunt, founder of WorldServe Ministries, personally wrote a note on every receipt, which I argue is the only valid excuse to delay getting receipts out the door within 48 hours after they come in!

The Deafening Silence of Ministry Boards

The Federal government requires all 501(c)[3] organizations be established by at least three directors.  The reason behind the law is to prevent a not-for-profit organization from being controlled by a single individual.

Governance is synonymous with accountability.  It reflects biblical community, where we build up one another by holding one another to a higher standard.  Accountability protects us from ourselves and keeps us from being led astray.

He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom. A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.   –Proverbs 18:1& 2

However, while the government encourages the directors (or the organization’s board) to govern, it is not required.  Ironically, most not-for-profit organizations, especially ministries, end up being controlled by one person.

Most ministry board members serve because they genuinely love the mission, vision, and application of the ministry, not to mention the Kingdom impact.  Additionally, members are often identified and recruited by the ministry’s leader so many join a board to help support, but not govern, the organization.  They can see their primary duty as supporting the leader, rather than governing the organization.

Most ministry boards go through the motions of governance, but in practice they look to the ministry’s leader (often the founder) to both lead and “govern” the organization.  These boards depend on the organization’s leader to set the agenda for board meetings and board chair’s often look to the leader to help inform and direct the discussion at meetings.

Despite their member’s best intentions, when boards abdicate governance to the ministry leader they leave both the leader and the organization vulnerable.  Left unaccountable, leaders make mistakes and are more apt to fall prey to temptation.  Unaccountable leaders exacerbate the perception that ministries are often mismanaged, because they often are.

Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another. -Proverbs 27:17

Board members should consider that the best way to support the ministry leader, and the organization for which they serve, is to take governance seriously.  It will make you sharper and more effective!