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Centerboard: Stepping Up to the Challenge

October 2011
By: Tom Lothamer


My column last summer reflected on the worrisome economic conditions of those days. Sadly, not much has changed between then and now. I continue to hear from friends about the struggles their ministries are facing. One told me that income in 2009 and 2010 had not been sufficient to meet their financial needs. The situation is worse this year. I've heard of ministries that have been forced to close their doors.

An article by Annie Gowen in the June 20 Washington Post noted that "charitable giving in the United States grew nearly 4 percent last year after two years of steep declines." However, according to Giving USA Foundation, "individuals and corporations donated an estimated $290 billion in 2010, an increase of $10 billion" over 2009.

Reading this made me feel both encouraged and a little confused. Why do we and so many others continue to struggle? Later in the article, Annie explained that the increase had been driven by donations to disaster relief. Religious giving, "by far the largest share of all giving at 35 percent of the total . . . stayed essentially flat," validating what we're experiencing.

The need for pregnancy care centers remains as acute as ever, and opportunities for ministry keep expanding all the time. Meanwhile, resources dwindle and giving dries up. How should the boards of non-profit ministries respond?

In "Trusting During Tough Times" (ATC Summer 2010), I advised leaders to take a fresh look at their ministry's mission and vision and assess whether they're on target or experiencing "mission drift." Is it time to refocus or change direction, tighten the belt, or do away with programs that no longer fit?

That's still good advice, but what more can be done to meet the challenge?

Men and women who serve on boards of Christian ministries know their governance role includes consultation, policy approval, and budget setting; however, they also should all be involved in another vital responsibility — taking a lead in assisting the ministry in meeting its fundraising goals. Here are some ways board members can fulfill that role:

The Lord is the Owner of the ministry, and its leaders are His stewards. Therefore, they must first go to the Throne of God in prayer, asking Him to reveal His plan for meeting the ministry's financial needs. They must then trust Him to provide wisdom in developing a fundraising plan!

A proper fundraising plan is a year-long strategy that embraces mailings, events, personal contacts, foundation and business grant writing, and much more. An organization will likely fail in its fundraising efforts if the board and its members believe the fundraising season happens only in November and December while the balance of the year is spent in programming and ministry development.

Promotional materials are essential to fundraising efforts. They must be colorful, attractive, and professional looking while clearly explaining the ministry's mission and vision. They should be easy to read, have a brief storyline, and clearly express major points. Likewise, the center's website for donors and friends (separate from the site for clients) should be easy to navigate and allow online giving.

Board members must support the ministry financially and introduce it to friends who could join in that support. This doesn't have to involve pressure but an invitation to prayerfully consider what the Lord might enable them to do.

As you build relationships and demonstrate that your ministry is worthy of gift investments, you'll have the pleasure of seeing your donor family grow. 

This responsibility should be on the minds of board members throughout the year. As you participate, bring your friends along to:

• Banquets
• Walks/Runs
• Golf outings
• Auctions
• Dessert fellowships
in your home where the director can introduce the ministry to new friends
• Concerts
• Women's teas
• Open houses
and tours of the facility


Some board members cringe at the thought of asking friends or acquaintances for donations; however, suggesting names of potential donors to the development director, or sharing the ministry with friends, needn't induce fear nor should participating in special events or making donor thank-you calls. You're engaging your friends in something that's important to you, and you're enlisting their help on behalf of women and children in need.

It is easier to keep a donor than to raise one; therefore, it's important to strengthen the relationships you already have. Here are some strategies your staff, volunteers, and board members can use to improve donor relations: 

Regularly call donors to thank them for their support. Briefly, share some recent news and ask how the ministry team can pray for them. You'll find that donors enjoy non-fundraising calls.

Visit with donors in their homes, over lunch, or at events.

Request opportunities to present ministry updates in supporting churches, service clubs, or other community groups.

Learn how to clearly articulate the organization's ministry plan and financial needs.

Send monthly email blasts to update donors. Keep it brief. Take advantage of the advice in Jerry Thacker's article, "Effective Use of Email."

Write short personalized notes on donors' receipts.

Ask current donors to introduce you to their friends.

If a center director has not recently discussed a strategy for fundraising and friend development with staff or board members, it could be high time. Fundraising is an essential aspect of ministry, not just a necessary evil at the bottom of a "to do" list. It can and should be at the very core of the ministry, is the means of building relationships, and goes far beyond asking for money. 

Tom Lothamer
is President of Life Matters Worldwide in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, go to The Standards for Excellence manual includes a section on financial integrity, which covers fundraising principles, the development mindset, communication with donors, and much more.

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