Todd Isberner “Turning Your “Connections” into Fulfilling Donor Relationships”

todd_isbernerA couple of years ago, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion to provide non-profit media ministries “Techniques to Increase Donor Participation.”

There are wonderfully effective techniques that have been tested and proven to engage donors but it occurred to me that there’s no point in teaching or learning “techniques” until something more basic is in place.

Does everyone who works within your organization have a complete understanding of why and how and when you ask for money?

During my many years of fundraising I’ve often heard something like this: “I’m glad you do the fundraising ‘cuz I could never ask people to give their money.”

The prevailing attitude seems to be that fundraising is a negative experience, but it doesn’t need to be.

As I addressed the group of non-profit ministry leaders I started a conversation:

I asked for a show of hands from those who had a Mission Statement. Almost all hands went up. Then I asked if they had a Vision Statement. Again most hands went up. How about a Doctrinal Statement? Yep.

“And how many of you have a Fundraising Mission Statement … a published document for your ministry’s biblically based rationale and governing principles for raising money? One that you can post on the wall, or hand out to donors … who want to know what governs the way you ask for money?”

No hands went up. Would yours? Any why not?

How can we ask for money until we first know what our governing principles are for asking?

How can we expect staff to embrace fundraising strategies or techniques that turn listener “connections” into fulfilling donor relationships unless they first have a clear understanding and belief in your fundraising?

How do you build or document your fundraising foundation?
(There’s no need to do this alone. It’s a team exercise that you should do with your leadership, management and key staff.)

Start with a preliminary assignment that will make the process a lot easier. Pick-up three books for everyone on the team:

  1. A Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri Nouwen
    2. The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn
    3. If God Will Provide, Why Do We Have to Ask for Money? by Rick Dunham

After reading these books, gather the team together for a few hours and get to work.

Here are five simple steps to help you put together your funding foundation principles and create your Fundraising Mission Statement.

  1. Start with the “why”?
    Not the “why” of needing money, but the “why” of your ministry’s existence. Tip: Don’t start discussing or writing about the “why” until you each go around the room and read some excerpts from letters and emails you get from the listeners you’ve impacted. This will set the “atmosphere” by letting your donors remind you of why you are doing what you do.
  2. What does the Bible say?
    Go around the room and ask each person what they think the biblical basis is for how you are funded and the ways in which you ask people for money. In fact, take turns role-playing – How would you explain it to one of your potential donors if they asked you to tell them your biblical rationale for asking them for money? Don’t be too general as you reference what God says about asking for support. Be specific with key Biblical passages, stories and illustrations. Need some extra help? Start here:
  • Exodus 35 & 36
    • 1 Chronicles 29
    • 2 Corinthians 8 & 9

  1. Make it relevant.
    As you begin writing out your fundraising mission statement, don’t get too “cerebral” by using your intellectual interpretation of your biblical rationale. People give from their heart. What is your “heart” message? Give specifics of what that means in governing your fundraising activities. It also means connecting emotionally and that’s where your donor testimonials prove the validity of your ministry.
  2. Test it out.
    Challenge your team to take the “finished” document to spouse, bible study friends and trusted neighbors. Does it make sense to them? Get their feedback and take note of suggested changes. Then, meet again as a team and incorporate the useful and truthful feedback you received.

  3. Convert your staff.
    Rather than being a one-person fundraising and donor relationship department, convert every single person on your staff, board and core volunteer group to believe, own and understand their unique part. When you do, you’ll have just added a whole bunch of eager and empowered fundraisers. Done with passion, these folks will become more than “fundraisers” they will be your “stewardship coaches.”

Because you’ve just immersed your staff in a process to change their mindset from “having” to raise money to the high-calling of becoming a “stewardship coach” … your staff “gets to” invite people to give. And in turn, they become good stewards of their resources as they partner with what God is doing through you.

To keep the fire of encouragement burning you’ll need to meet often, not to strategize but to share stories from new givers and how they are being impacted by the ministry.

Going through the process of building your fundraising foundation and creating a Fundraising Mission Statement should be the prerequisite for turning listener connections into meaningful donor relationships.

Once that foundation is firmly in place then strategies will emerge for raising, not just money … but raising up people who want to join you in the mission.

And the first strategy is to simply say thanks … again and again and again.

Todd Isberner is president of ShareMedia Services, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in fund raising for listener supported Christian radio and faith-based ministries.  Since 1975, ShareMedia has produced and hosted over 3,500 fund raising broadcasts, raising over $1 billion for radio and ministry. www.sharemediaservices.com

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