A missionary in Central Asia took his family for a hike in the countryside and walked by a rock foundation of an abandoned building. He noticed two 10-year-old boys playing on top of the wall, but there didn't seem to be any easy way to scale the wall. So he asked, "How did you boys get up there?" One of them simply said, "He pushed me and I pulled him." That's a pretty good strategy for rock climbing and it's also a great lesson for fundraising.
Fundraising is a team sport. It might seem that fundraising superstars can single-handedly raise millions of dollars, but most successful fundraising efforts require a team of committed individuals. Fundraising is based on relationships, so everyone in your organization needs to help identify, cultivate, and solicit donors. New major donors get interested in your ministry because they are friends with a trustee, member of your staff, volunteer, or even another donor. Some of the best connections might even come through the individuals you serve.
While it's great to have everyone's radar tuned to major donors, typically, if it's everybody's job — then it's nobody's job. Practically speaking, fundraising falls on the executive director and board members. So like it or not, fundraising is a major part of your job description.
THE POWER OF TWO
Solomon understood the value of teamwork; "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Many executive directors are forced to take on the lion's share of fundraising with little or no support from their board members. Unfortunately that becomes an unsustainable scenario because the burdens of raising money are too heavy for one person to carry alone.
Even if you don't have the luxury of a development staff or engaged board members, you still need to find a fundraising buddy. Moses needed Joshua, Paul needed Barnabas, and Jeremiah needed Ebed-Melech. Not familiar with old E.M.? He played a very important role in Jeremiah's life. The prophet was faithfully warning Israel to turn from their wicked ways. Sadly for Jeremiah, some in his audience got tired of listening to him and threw him down a cistern to rot. He would have died there, but his friend Ebed-Melech came to his rescue. He grabbed a rope and thirty of his closest friends and they hoisted Jeremiah up out of the muck (Jeremiah 38:1-13).
If you've been involved in fundraising for any length of time, you probably have spent some time in the "pit of despair." People don't return your phone calls. When you do catch them on the phone, they politely decline your invitation to meet with them personally. Sometimes even your faithful donors don't seem interested in getting more involved. You need a fundraising friend to lift you up when your spirits sink into the mud. Solomon realized that, "though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Find a fundraising buddy. Better yet, find two.
A LITTLE PUSH
Your fundraising friends can encourage you when you get discouraged, but they also provide the accountability you need to stay on task. Executive directors often succumb to the tyranny of the urgent and can become easily distracted putting out fires. Fundraisers are motivated by one of two realities: you either "have to" or you "want to." Board members usually provide the "have to" kick in the pants, but fundraising buddies can turn raising money into a "want to" activity.
So you're thinking to yourself, "I'd love to have a partner who would help me raise funds, but when I ask for volunteers, I just get blank stares." OK, your bench might be a little weak, but you don't need twenty-five fundraising superstars, you just need two or three who are willing to learn with you. If you don't have anyone who can encourage you, look for someone that you can encourage. Recruit a friend who is passionate about your ministry and will join you on this fundraising journey.
In many ways fundraising is similar to evangelism. Some people have the gift of evangelism and start sharing their faith immediately after they trust Christ. Others find it more difficult, but we are all called to spread the Good News. Whether you're gifted in fundraising or not, you need to learn how to raise more money. How did you learn to share your faith? Perhaps you read a book, or took a class; maybe you even attended a seminar. Those can be helpful, but the best way to learn how to share your faith is to go with someone and experience it with them. That's also the best way to learn fundraising. Go visit a major donor with your fundraising buddy and learn together.
GOD AS YOUR PARTNER
Another key correlation between evangelism and fundraising is that you can't control the results. You can't force anyone to give his or her life to Christ, and you can't twist anyone's arm to give to your ministry. In both cases, the best you can do is share the story and let the Holy Spirit prompt people to respond. Paul recognized the teamwork in evangelism when he wrote, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth" (1 Corinthians 3:6).
This brings us to the greatest fundraising strategy of all time - prayer. Sure, unbelievers raise millions of dollars for all sorts of causes, but you are in spiritual battle. Fundraising is not merely a secular function like using generally accepted accounting principles. It's more than checking off a series of tasks and waiting for the money to come rolling in. Fundraising is ministry, because "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). Because fundraising is a heart matter, you need to apply spiritual weapons.
Some of your fundraising prayer requests might be:
a) that God would lead you to the right people,
b) that God would prepare prospective donors' hearts before you plant the seed, and
c) and that God would use you to help your donors excel in the grace of giving.
A powerful prayer life will help you keep your fundraising efforts balanced. Your success won't depend on your winning personality, your silver tongue, your compelling story, or even your fundraising prowess. You might plant and water the seed, but ultimately God is the one who makes your "ask" grow into a gift.
Fundraising can feel like the loneliest job in the world, but you need to see it as the greatest job in the world, because you have the opportunity to fund ministry that impacts eternity. Keep fundraising in perspective and remember that if God has called you to this task, He will give you the ability to accomplish it. Even the best fundraisers need a little push to get going and a little pull to get out of the mire of discouragement. Don't try to climb the wall by yourself.
Ron Haas is vice president of The Timothy Group in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which advances Christian organizations by implementing fundraising and capacity building strategies through vision, experience, and leadership (TimothyGroup.com). During his career, Haas has gained significant ministry fundraising experience, including serving as vice president for institutional advancement at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.