The crow’s nest from which I have viewed religious giving and fundraising for the past forty years has been that of a pastor and an academic practitioner. Following more than thirty years as a pastor, I was privileged to serve as the founding director of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, part of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. During those twelve years, my colleagues and I worked with several thousand congregations and faith-based nonprofits. In addition, I monitored more than two hundred research projects for individuals – most of them clergy – pursuing a professional certificate in religious fundraising.
What did I learn and observe from this life-altering perch that would be beneficial to pastors and church leaders need to know? In a sentence, religious fundraising is more about ministry than it is about money.
As ministry, fundraising is essentially relational. It begins with listening; listening to how the people God has entrusted to our care and keeping talk about their hopes and dreams. Listening to the words they use as they talk about the human condition and describe their longings and losses. Listening for the emotions they portray as they tell their stories and talk about faith, money and giving. Listening to discern the issues and questions that matter to them.
Most of us will not be privileged to actually sit at our donor’s kitchen tables where many giving decisions are made. However, when leaders in a congregation begin to listen, something revelatory happens. First, we begin to set the table for the conversations our partners will have with themselves. Second, our ministry takes a new turn as we find ourselves looking at the congregation we serve through the eyes of their giving partners.
As I listened to donors talk about their giving, I discovered that five table-setting issues touch their hearts and shape their giving decision.
1. Leadership matters! Donors are influenced by the manner in which their pastors and leaders embody the mission of the congregation they serve. They are drawn to leaders who are innovative and institution-serving, not self-serving.
2. Congregational clarity as to mission matters! Donors want to know what God has called their congregation to do and be. They also want to know why and how a congregation does what it does.
3. Organizational readiness matters! Donors watch and listen. They are quick to perceive whether or not everyone is on board, with the key players ready to lead the fundraising charge. Donors are reticent to give to programs with marginal support.
4. Belief/Theology matters! People of faith ask this question: “How do I give money to God and say thank you?” They want to know what the Bible has to say about faith, money and giving.
5. Fundraising practices matter! How does your congregation view fundraising; as a tiresome dirge or a joyful celebration? Donors sense whether your annual fundraising program is budget driven or vision and mission driven.
In my book Kitchen Table Giving I flip the traditional fundraising focus from the pulpit to the pew, from the front porch where the church makes the ask to the kitchen table where donors make their giving decisions. I write as a pastor for pastors, to provide church leaders with a roadmap leading to their donor’s giving tables. Congregation-based fundraising is a calling and a ministry. When donors see their giving as part of Christian discipleship something life-changing happens; their giving table becomes a sacred place of joyous generosity.
Bill Enright is the author of Kitchen Table Giving: Reimagining How Congregations Connect with their Donors. A retired Presbyterian minister, he is the Emeritus Founding Executive Director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University (2004-2015.) A Director of the Lilly Endowment, he has served on the board of numerous nonprofits and faith-based organizations.