Everybody knows that congregations require money, and most leaders know that to receive gifts, you usually have to ask for them. But sometimes donors offer gifts without being asked. This is a good thing—usually! But unasked-for gifts often have strings attached. Accepting them blindly risks letting donors choose the congregation’s course. Paradoxically, one of the most effective ways to encourage gifts is to adopt clear policies about when you will say no to them.
I don’t know why it took so long, but finally the U.S. wealth gap has become a topic of political discussion. The conversation is not easy, in part because most of us rarely talk with people outside our economic group. Churches and synagogues—though most draw only from a small slice of the total spectrum—are still potentially places where richer and poorer people meet as equals. By handling these meetings well, we can help create support for public policies and private actions that promote equality.
As fundraising fashions come and go, which elements are vital and which can be varied or skipped from year to year? Congregations have successfully flouted techniques once thought essential—in-home canvassing, a published budget, the kickoff dinner, even the hallowed pledge card. Replacement approaches rise and fall: Consecration Sunday, crowdfunding, targeted giving. Has human nature changed so much, or do fundamental principles apply?
An entire philanthropic industry, complete with journals, associations, specialized vendors, academic research, and special reports, exists to support nonprofit fundraising. I know because in my day job as a nonprofit executive, I’m bombarded with articles, tools and reports designed to help me raise the $3.5 million that I need annually to feed 15,000 people a month. Ministers can learn a lot from this industry.
by Dan Hotchkiss
“Fundraising is the board’s main job.” I was stunned by this blunt advice from the executive director of a respected arts nonprofit. “I tell every new board member,” she continued, “give, get—or get out.” We expect each member to produce at least $5,000, either out of their own pockets or by asking others.”