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Wandering in a Fundraising DESERT

July 2012
By: Ron Haas
Fundraising is exhausting, especially when you ask and ask and come up empty. As much as you keep smiling in the face of adversity, rejection is hard to take. It's discouraging to scan your database and find a drought of major donors. Raising money becomes even more staggering when you feel like you're the only one in your organization who is working to identify, cultivate, and solicit donors. If your throat is dry from telling your story to people who aren't responding, consider three encouraging truths from Psalm 107..

Some wandered in desert wastes,
Finding no way to a city to dwell in;
Hungry and thirsty,
Their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
And he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
Till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
For his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
And the hungry soul he fills with good things.
Psalm 107:4-9

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

Many Christian ministries view fundraising as a purely secular strategy. We create systems for tracking donors and sifting people through elaborate "propensity to give" grids. We plan events and design promotional materials with just the right hook to land the big fish. Unfortunately, we seem to pray about our financial needs only when our plans aren't working and a crisis is looming. Prayer is often our last ditch attempt to throw out a lifeline hoping that enough donors will respond to our desperate appeals.

Take heart, you aren't the only slow learner. The Psalmist noted, "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble" (Psalm 107:6). How much do you pray about your fundraising efforts? Do you pray only when the budget is tight, or are you totally dependent upon God for your "daily bread?" If we were brutally honest with ourselves, some of us would have to admit that praying about our financial needs is often just an afterthought.

WHEN YOU'RE WANDERING IN A FUNDRAISING DESERT, ASK GOD TO SEND YOU SOMEONE WITH A CUP OF COLD WATER.

Maybe God is leading you through a financial desert so you will quit trusting your own abilities and place your faith in Him. How would your ministry change if your board, your executive team, and your staff prayed and fasted for God to meet your financial challenges? The believers in Jerusalem were prompted to pray for those who had generously responded to their needs (2 Corinthians 9:13-14). What would happen if you prayed for your top 100 donors by name? There's only one way to find out.

God's Timing is Always Perfect

God has a master plan. He allows us to face trials to teach us perseverance. Mountains test our faith and also give God an opportunity to show His strength. The Psalmist reminds us that God rescued the children of Israel "in the nick of time!" (Psalm 107:6). Scripture is filled with testimonies of God showing up at just the right moment to save the day. Moses and the children of Israel found themselves hemmed between Pharaoh and the deep Red Sea, but God provided a way out that no one could have imagined. Things got a little hot for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they stood for God, but He showed up just when they needed Him most. Peter stepped out of the boat in faith, but the storm distracted him and caused him to sink. In desperation he cried out, and the Lord saved him just in the nick of time!

Whatever your financial situation, God can show up and solve your problem. He's brought your organization to this moment to teach you something about yourself and something about Him. Maybe your financial stress will prompt you to manage your resources better. Perhaps these tough times are designed to push you out of the office to go meet with donors. Possibly this moment will rally your board to step up and lead your fundraising effort by giving generously themselves and asking others to give. As a political figure recently said, "Don't let a good crisis go to waste." Don't let your fundraising test pass without learning to trust God in a deeper way.

The whole point of Psalm 107 is to praise God for His miracles, "Thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man" (Psalm 107:8). We sometimes forget that God is still in the miracle business. That's no excuse for being lazy, but it's reassuring to know that after you have done all that you can do, God can do the rest. How big of a miracle do you need? Are you trying to avoid cutting staff? Does your building have deferred maintenance issues that you've put off too long already? Do you need a lead gift to launch a capital campaign that will accomplish your vision? Cry out to God and He will lead you in His way (Psalm 107:7).

Refreshing Water Comes from Unusual Places

God answers prayer "far more abundantly than all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). The Psalmist declared that, "He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things" (Psalm 107:9). Sometimes God supplies through unusual sources. When Moses struck the rock, a river gushed out to satisfy their thirst (Exodus 17).

PRAYING ABOUT OUR FINANCIAL NEEDS IS OFTEN JUST AN AFTERTHOUGHT.

Bill was a retired firefighter who lived in a two-bedroom basement apartment. He was a faithful donor who had given $200 every month for more than ten years. The ministry was launching a capital campaign, so Joe, the executive director, decided to visit Bill. As Joe sat in Bill's modest living room, he thought to himself, "Wow. Bill is probably already giving as sacrificially as he can." But Joe decided to share the opportunity anyway and let Bill decide for himself.

Joe explained how the campaign would help the ministry change lives and asked, "Would you consider a generous gift?" Bill replied, "I'd like to give $500." Joe responded, "Thank you so much. That's wonderful! Do you mean a one-time gift, or do you mean $500 per month?" Bill said, "$500 per month." Joe followed up, "Thank you, Bill. Now the campaign lasts for three years. Are you thinking about giving $500 each month for one year, or for the entire campaign?" Bill answered matter-of-factly, "I'd like to give $500 a month for 3 years." Joe thanked Bill again and ended his visit. When Joe got to his car, he couldn't believe what just happened. Bill appeared to need financial help, but instead he made an incredible $18,000 commitment. Joe was even more amazed when he realized that Bill had just pledged more than several of his board members.

Solomon reminds us, "Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered" (Proverbs 11:25). Bill understood the power of generosity and was ready to refresh Joe and his ministry. When you're , ask God to send you someone with a cup of cold water.

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 rhaas@timothygroup.com.

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