"The holy passion of Friendship
is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature
that it will last through a whole lifetime,
if not asked to lend money."
Mark Twain in Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar
Mark Twain captured the inner fear of almost every non-profit board member. "I know our ministry needs money, but I can't ask my friends because it might harm our friendship." The risk is real. We are all sinners, and money has strained more than one friendship. Board members tend to take three approaches toward friends with money. Some are fearless and will ask anybody for anything, anytime. Others are willing to share names anonymously, but refuse to ask. The rest either don't know anybody with money, or are afraid to identify them.
may get you in the door,
but asking gets a gift.
The parable of The Friend at Midnight teaches us to be persistent in prayer. God wants us to boldly ask and promises to hear our cry. This parable also offers seven practical applications about asking our friends for help.
Then he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'" and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Luke 11:5-10)
1. The Man Faced A Desperate Need
Why couldn't this man wait until morning? What was the compelling reason he needed three loaves of bread right then? Was his request so he could save face with his guest? That seems a little shallow. Perhaps the traveler had just arrived from a long journey and hadn't eaten in days. Perhaps he had small children who were crying from hunger, or an elderly family member who was weak or sick. Whatever the situation, this man asked his friend because he couldn't solve the problem by himself. You probably can't write a personal check to accomplish all your ministry goals. What problems could you solve if you only had more resources? Who won't be reached if you can't move forward with your plans? What essential programs won't be accomplished without help? Why should a donor make a significant gift? How desperate are you?
2. The Hour Was Late
It was midnight — not an ideal time to make a donor call. Rudeness and obnoxiousness are not usually desirable character traits for development professionals. However, some board members are so fearful about offending a friend that they never bring up the subject of money, even in broad daylight! By going at midnight this man proved how motivated he was to provide for his guest. This was urgent. Successful fundraisers have passion to do whatever it takes to meet the need. If you're a board member who is not passionate enough about your cause to ask your friends for money, then maybe you should question whether or not you should serve on the board. Effective board members are willing to give and to get others to give, even if it's inconvenient.
3. The Man Was Asking to Benefit Someone Else
Some executive directors struggle with asking because a portion of the gift covers their salary. They stumble over a mental block because it feels like they are asking for their own benefit. It's proper for non-profit organizations to pay their staff members, "The laborer is worthy of his hire." Assuming that your salary isn't exorbitant, it's completely legitimate to ask for a gift. The man in this parable probably enjoyed a piece of bread with his guest, but the reason he asked for the bread was to benefit his guest, not himself. The same goes for every ministry fundraiser. The prime directive for why you ask for money is so that your ministry has enough resources to provide the programs that change lives. Keep yourself focused on the people who would be lost were it not for your ministry's impact. As a fundraiser, you must avoid the love of money at all costs, because "It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs" (1 Timothy 6:10).
4. The Man Turned to His Friend for Help
If you were raising personal support to go to the mission field, who would be on your donor list? The man in this parable asked his friend for help. He didn't approach a total stranger; he went to the person with whom he had cultivated a close relationship. Many executive directors have reality show fantasies of an anonymous mega-donor who knocks on the door with a big smile and a big cardboard check. Keep dreaming. People give to people they know and trust. A generous donor in Texas has a vision to build 500 orphanages in Africa. His strategy is, "I don't have enough money to build all of these by myself, so I have to get my friends to help me." A true friend will answer a midnight phone call.
5. The Man Wouldn't Listen to Excuses
People make lots of excuses for not being generous. Some reasons are legitimate, most are not. The friend in this parable was no exception. He had a laundry list of reasons why he couldn't give: "'The door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.'" Today's donors also have a list of ready excuses of why they can't give you anything: It's an inconvenient time; I'm focused on other things; I've got my money locked up in something else. Countless things stand in the way of generosity. The bottom line for the man in our story was simply, "I can't." Notice that he didn't say, "I don't have anything to give you." This man had the capacity to give, he just wasn't motivated. It wasn't a matter of "I can't," but "I don't want to," but that didn't slow down our friend and it shouldn't slow down you, either. You can't make anyone give, but you can pray boldly that God would compel them.
6. His Friend Gave Because The Man Kept Asking
The interesting fundraising application of this parable is that the friend didn't give because he was a friend, even though I just got done praising friendship fundraising. The Contemporary English Version says, "He may not get up and give you the bread, just because you are his friend. But he will get up and give you as much as you need, simply because you are not ashamed to keep on asking." Asking is the key. Friendship may get you in the door, but asking gets a gift. How many times should you call? A donor representative recently made six attempts to catch a prospect on the phone. On the seventh time, the donor answered and they had a wonderful two-hour phone call. Most people give up too early. Persistence pays.
7. Asking Impacts the Donor's Entire Family
The friend gave a plausible excuse for not giving. He had tucked everyone into bed and didn't want to bother. To give the bread, he would have to get up, light a lamp, rustle around, and there was a good chance that he would wake the baby. This was not a quick transaction and jump back into bed. It could take a couple of hours to calm everybody down. In the same way, some gifts can create a ruckus with a donor's family. Asking for a six or seven-figure gift impacts the whole family. Mom or Dad might be giving away a part of their children's inheritance, and someone might cry foul. Should that prevent you from asking? It didn't stop our friend at midnight and it shouldn't stop you.
8. Fine Tuning Your Boldness Meter
All this talk about boldness may cause some people to crank up the volume a little too much. A very prominent female major donor has noted that in the past few years she has been getting phone calls, letters, and personal visits from ministry directors and development staff who literally demand that she give a gift to their organization. They don't ask, "Would consider a gift of $50,000?" nor "Would you pray about giving a gift of $100,000?" Their actual words are, "You must give a gift of $250,000 to this project." That's not biblical boldness, it's just plain rude.
Another very generous major donor experienced a similar brash attitude from a development director who said, "God has blessed you with this big house and you've got lots money, you ought to give to our ministry." How presumptuous and arrogant. Hopefully, these bad examples are the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of Christian fundraisers will swing toward the "Minnesota nice" side of the pendulum and approach donors in a courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered way. We must be Christ-like and treat donors with a love that is patient and kind, not proud or self-seeking.
9. Everyone Who Asks Receives
Jesus concludes His parable of the friend at midnight with three commands: keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. By relentlessly pursuing your needs you will receive, you will find, and the door will be opened to you.
These principles reinforce a key fundraising principle: you must ask boldly. Does shameless audacity describe your approach to fundraising? Your friends might not give because they are your friends, but they might give "simply because you are not ashamed to keep on asking."
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 email@example.com.