Linda Lysakowski’s Guide To Ministry Fundraising explores fresh ways to solve every faith based organizations biggest challenge…fundraising.
Are you are a leader of a church, synagogue, temple, or any faith-based ministry? What is your biggest challenge? Let me guess. Raising money to keep your institution surviving and even better, thriving. Over my thirty-five-year career I have worked with faith leaders in the Mennonite, Roman Catholic, American Baptist, Episcopal, United Brethren, Jewish, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Non-denominational Christian, Unitarian Universalist, and Muslim institutions. (And I may have missed a few). One thing they all have in common. Their religions, as with almost all religions, are based on common values, and all of them share a value that giving is good for their members and their institutions.
Here is what a few of these faith systems believe:
“Those who in charity spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: in them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” Quran 2:274
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10
“Giving, or generosity, is one of the perfections (paramitas) of Buddhism, but to be ‘perfect’ it must be selfless, without expectation of reward or praise.”
“In Native American culture, giving is not only understood to be reciprocal, but is also an honor; as much as it is an honor to give, it is equally an honor to receive.”
Hebrew Bible: “The Israelites were commanded by the Lord to give the first of their crops to the Lord out of gratitude for his bountiful provisions” (Deuteronomy 26:1–3, 9–11). “They were also commanded to tithe: to give a tenth of their wealth to the Lord” (Numbers 18:21–24).
These are just a few quotes from our upcoming book, Reimagining Ministry: Fundraising is Not a Dirty Word. During our research we have found that the outlook on Charity or Philanthropy is similar in almost all religions. While most faiths share similar philosophies of giving, the practical aspect of fundraising is difficult for most faith leaders.
In speaking to leaders of these various institutions, I also found some common threads among these leaders—most of them are uncomfortable with asking for money, have had virtually no training in the importance of philanthropy and fundraising, and most have so many demands of their time, they don’t have time to do fundraising.
So, who does it? In some larger institutions, there is a development staff, or at least one person responsible for raising money for operating costs, capital needs, and endowment. In smaller organizations, this work falls to the unprepared leader of the institution, or volunteers who also have no training, although they are well-meaning.
So how do you get started in fundraising without making it seem like a dirty word? First, get rid of the misinterpretation of the Scripture reference to money as the root of all evil. The exact words from Saint Paul’s letter to Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…” It is when a religious institution is so obsessed with money that it takes precedence over the mission and vision of the faith-based institution. And when its members are obsessed with money, they fail to see the importance of good stewardship.
Let’s get practical. All faith-based institutions need money—it is the oxygen that fuels the lifeblood of your ministry. First, determine what you need money for and how much you need. Typically, you will need operating money to pay salaries, utilities, and expenses of running your program—things like music ministry and technology, or programs you may run if you are a faith-based nonprofit organization. You will also likely have capital expenses—construction of new buildings, major capital expenses such as additions to your building, major landscaping, solar panels to cut the cost of your utility bills, etc. And all nonprofits need to have foresight. Building an endowment is important for all nonprofits. Just look at the numbers of institutions that closed during COVID, because they did not have a “rainy day” fund.
Once you have all your needs together, you will need to put them into a written case for support with budgets, and stories about your programs and service, including pictures that draw people into your story.
So now, who is going to ask your members, friends, and current and future donors to contribute? If you are lucky enough to have a Development Office, they will plan and execute all the fundraising efforts. But the leader of your institution has a huge role to play in this effort. Major donors especially tend to respond to being approached by the CEO (pastor, rabbi, monk, sister, Imam, Executive Director, or whoever leads your faith-based institution.) However, lay people can and should play a huge role in your fundraising efforts. If you don’t have staff assigned to lead the fundraising effort, you will want to appoint a Stewardship Committee or Development Committee, consisting of volunteer members of your institution. They can, if they have the skills, help write your case, develop communications to your membership, and recruit other volunteers to help ask for donations. If you don’t have these skills within your institution, you will want to engage an outside consultant to coordinate this effort. You may want to plan an annual stewardship appeal, or, if you have large capital needs, do a one-time campaign, and then follow up in a few years when your needs might change.
One trap to avoid is thinking you can raise the needed money through a series of fundraising events. Spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts, fairs and festivals, and other fundraising events, are great social activities for your members, and will help in building relationships, but you will quickly wear out staff and volunteers if you depend solely on events to raise money. Also, a small number faith-based institutions can raise money from grants if they are running community services such as housing, food pantries, and soup kitchens, but in general most foundations are not very responsive to faith-based institutions asking for operating expenses, capital needs, and endowments, outside of these specific programs.
Watch for our upcoming book to learn more about reimagining what your ministry can accomplish if you have the oxygen—money—to fuel your work.
Linda Lysakowski’s Guide To Ministry Fundraising was first posted at PAX Global
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