Raising money


Alright, we all know that this is not a good time to be raising money for anything. And… yet… people are still giving to the things that matter to them.

I’m not a fundraiser, per say. Except in the fact that I am a pastor, and ministers are often worrying about the budget, the income, and the expenses. As a pastor of a small church, I quickly realized that whether we were in the red or the black at the end of the year determined whether I was employed or not by the beginning of next year. So, I learned how to raise money. Now, I’m a Campus Minister, so I realize the ins and outs of raising funds through an institutional setting. I’m also involved with a lot of non-profits, so I see how they work, and I watch how some raise money effectively, and others flounder.

Here are the bits and pieces of wisdom that I have learned throughout the years, whether people are raising money for non-profits or churches, there are certain things that work, and certain things that do not work. As I’m writing this, I realize that a lot of words in here (like “success” and “investment”) are going to make church leaders cringe. So be it. If you are cringing, you are free to complain in the comment section.

First, and most importantly, people like to donate to organizations and ministries that are successful. They may call it “charity” but they still want to see a good return on their investments. Which means that we cannot raise fund by telling people how poor we are, or how badly we are doing, or by how much we need the money. No one wants to throw their money down a toilet that is in mid-flush. If you want to raise sympathy, you can communicate how terrible things are; but if you want to raise money, you can communicate your success.

Along with that, we can remember that money always follows vision, and not the other way around. So often, we think, if only I had some money, then I would do…. And yet, very few people, foundations, or organizations are willing to give to an unproven start-up. If you want to start something, you cannot wait until you have a big pot of money before you start planning on how you are going to spend it. The pot of money will never come, until you step out, with a vision, and a plan.

In a context of success, we communicate our needs. Better yet, explain the needs of the community that you are reaching. I learned this at my last church, when we were trying to figure out how to raise money, one of our members said, “Just tell us what you need.” And so we did, in clear and concise terms, we made up a list of everything that needed to be replaced, mended, and repaired. Within a year or two, the church had come up with the money to fix them all.

If your salary needs to be raised, there is a way to communicate this as well. An HR person told me an easy calculation. To hold on to an employee, organizations need to pay at least 10% above the medium salary for a position in the area. It is often pretty easy to get those numbers. Just chart the salaries, see where you fit, and show the personnel committee the chart. Often this is an insightful exercise to do, especially for women. We need to be aware of how our salaries compare with our colleagues. Ignoring our inequities will not get us on the path of justice.

Find ways to communicate. I often work with people who get frustrated with the fact that the larger denominational body does not give them any time during meetings for them to raise money. We often think that standing in front of our churches for a minute is the only (or the most effective) way to raise awareness about what we are doing. But, in reality, most people tune out those three minutes of canned speeches, and we can find more effective ways to tell people what we are up to.

In this day and age, there are a thousand ways to communicate all the good things that we are doing. Literally, a thousand. Websites, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Email, Vimeo, YouTube, Magazines, Internet Radio, Webinars, MP3 downloads. Just experiment with one, every three months, and keep evaluating what is most effective.

And… when it comes to gaining an audience, we might need to get out of our little niches, to let the world know what we’re up to. For instance, if you’re a campus minister, trying to raise awareness and money among local pastors in order to raise support for the good work that you’re doing at the college, then it probably won’t do much good to hang out with other campus ministers, complaining about how the other pastors don’t give you any respect.

Instead, hang out with some local pastors. Get involved with ministry opportunities that have nothing to do with higher education. Slowly but surely, churches will begin to notice your leadership skills. They will want to support you.

What else have you noticed? What works? What doesn’t?

11 thoughts on “Raising money

  1. Rev. Merritt,
    As a called (some may say “professional”) fundraiser who helps congregations with all their funding needs, I was so excited to read your comments and realize that somebody gets it! Thank you for paying attention to the abundance around you and pointing it out to those in your care: an abundance of opportunity, of ministry success and of resources of all kinds that indicate “we get to do this” rather than “we’ve got to do this.”
    My experience also points to the congregation’s CONFIDENCE in their pastor and ministers as a vital factor in securing generous contributions. Too many pastors communicate their unease with money and asking not knowing that ineffective or unsure leadership is a real barrier to fundraising success. I sense no such barrier in your comments. May your “tribe” increase!!
    Ruben (subscribe to the free monthly Generosity Letter at rubenswint@gmail.com)

  2. Carol — I’m grateful you’re raising the issue of money-raising, which all too often the church doesn’t want to talk about. I have a couple of questions, and have to admit to possibly a cringe or two. First, we need to clearly define what “successful” means in the context of the Gospel. We certainly have a vision that we must communicate — and all too often we don’t communicate that effectively. But does “success” in our context equate with return on investment? I’m not sure it does. And, second, I have some concern with the “tell us what you need” strategy. I think this strategy works if “tell us what you need” means an overall communication of what Christian stewardship demands, and an overall perspective on what is needed financially to ensure a congregation’s continued ministry. But if “tell us what you need” is reduced to, “here are our budget line items,” then it’s all too easy for someone to say, “yes, I like the music program and want to support that, but I have real concerns about whether I want MY money going to More Light Presbyterians.” My real fear is that we — Presbyterian leaders — are so worried over losing members that we are afraid to say, “Christian discipleship demands your money as well as your time.” But that goes back to your essential point that we need leaders who proclaim a vision — in our case, the vision of what the Gospel calls us to be and to do.

  3. Ruben,

    Thanks. I appreciate it.


    Yes, you’re definitely right. There’s no doubt about it.

    Yet, I think we’re pretty good at talking about stewardship in terms of the whole gospel. At least most pastors know the lines well! We know that giving is part of the Christian life.

    But we don’t talk about our successes a whole lot. We focus on the shrinking numbers, but we don’t talk about the lives that are changed when people are a part of a spiritual community.

    For instance, one woman in our church, an absolute saint who keeps the place running on a daily basis, told us that she used to not attend church much at all before a few of years ago. Then, her daughter started attending a Presbyterian church in a different town.

    Her daughter lost two children in childbirth, and the church got her through it. They showered her with food, offered her money, and they had someone taking care of her other child around the clock during the whole thing. The woman was so overwhelmed by the love, that she started going to church herself.

    This is the sort of thing that congregations do. On a regular basis. But I’m not sure that we communicate that much.

    I learned the “investment” language from the amazing non-profit fundraisers in our church (see Calvary Women’s Services. They say it. “Supporting Calvary is a good investment”).

    Of course, the whole budget needs to be approved, without people funding their pet projects and favorite line items.

    I was thinking more of capital campaigns, when we needed to raise money outside of our regular expenditures. Or non-profits often list out the services $100 can pay for (see Miriam’s Kitchen, they have a list of what particular dollar amounts will go to). In this time when the markets are tanking, giving to a charitable cause seems like a better investment than giving to Wall Street!

    When I worked for Jack Stotts, I used to listen in on his asks. I was amazed at how simple it was. He would have some of the wealthiest people in the US stop by his office, and he would say, “We have a growing student population. We train some of the finest pastors in the US. We need a dining room that will seat all of our students. Will you give a million dollars to help us with that?”

  4. Great entry.

    I learned in business college–and from my mother–an important rule. Dress for success. I’ve found that this simple, well-used axion definiately works in fundraising also.

    You don’t have to own a lot of clothes but the ones you have should LOOK expensive and clean. I’ve seen women who wore scanty clothes that are fashionable but NOT appropriate. Men sometimes dress for their peers, not for the men and women they will need to impress. Older men dress like bikers and young men dress like the latest YTube craze. Being over dressed is not nearly as deadly as being under dressed.

  5. I think return on investment is positive not just because it shows givers that they are getting something in return for their gift (what is unreasonable about expecting that our giving makes a difference?). It also holds us as decisionmakers accountable. As a decisionmaker, I should be forced to verify that the dollars entrusted to the church are being used wisely, effectively and faithfully. If the money we spend as a church doesn’t create a bang for the buck, then we are doing something wrong and need to change strategies.
    I know all of this business terminology makes some folks in the church nervous. But well run businesses get some things very right. And one of them is demanding that expenditures produce the desired results. I think our members have the right to, and increasingly do, demand that there is a faithful return on their giving. Isn’t this the ultimate meaning of the parable of the pounds/talents?

  6. Forgot to say that the link I shared was on giving circles – what seems to be a generational approach to fundraising. It’s something that I think is worth considering for churches, perhaps in a modified approach.

  7. Dear Carol,
    Thanks for material on fundraising. Our congregation is attempting to raising fund for our Call Committee to call a pastor. Money is for interviews, letters, phone calls, and moving expenses. Have you got some ideas. Thanks.

  8. John — Business terminology doesn’t make me nervous at all. But I don’t think return on investment always works for the church, at least in the same way that return on investment is viewed by a business. At some point, the church has to be willing to spend money, like costly perfume, without regard for return on investment (and I specifically do not intend this to refer to spending money on camp and retreat centers — I totally agree that return on investment in that case is appropriate).

  9. Thank you Carol for addressing this issue. While you say you are not a “fund raiser per se,” you demonstrate nevertheless that you are quite effective in that role. I believe it is long past time for religious leaders to acknowledge and accept fund raising as another of our responsibilities. We have been trained as pastoral counselors, spiritual directors, liturgical leaders, preachers and teachers. Our roles as generalists include skills in organizational development, group dynamics, and conflict resolution. Why then if our churches and ministries lack adequate funding, do we avoid or down play the role of being directors of development in our organizations?

    It is time for religious leaders to stop blaming boards and stewardship committees, and to ask whether our skills in this critical area are lacking. Virtually every ministry we perform depends upon money and if we don’t know how to raise it, our families, our people, our churches, and our denominations suffer. Thank you for acknowledging our role and responsibility in funding mission and ministry. We are fund raisers in fact, whether we recognize it or not.

  10. CIndy, as usual, I agree with you about the need to drop return from investment as a requirement. I simply want folks to realize that the church usually drops it period. Thanks for the nuancing my comments.

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