Seeking a godly perspective for fund-raisers

Whose money are we raising? Should Christians raise money differently?

Wesley K. Willmer is vice president for advancement at Biota University, LaMirada, California.

Headlines and air waves in recent months have been filled with concern about religious fundraising. Aggressive fund-raising is increasingly becoming a fact of life for non profit organizations, religious and others, and unfortunately, whatever works has often become acceptable. Even though the majority of organizations desire to be ethical, abuses, misunderstandings, and confusion abound.

Fund-raisers for religious and nonreligious causes alike find themselves reevaluating their practices. Increasingly they are asking what set of values can provide direction for fund-raisers beyond the "If it works, do it" philosophy. Should values, ethics, and concern for the donor be more important than raising more money? Could it be that how money is raised is just as important as, if not more important than, the efficiency of the method? These questions go counter to our success-oriented, growth-oriented, "bigger is better," and "me" society, but they are at the heart of long-term ability to function in philanthropy.

What should motivate fund-raisers? Where do we get the standards and values that shape our practices? The basic tenets of the Judeo-Christian faith and its concern for relationships with people provide principles to assist fund-raisers. The Bible, acknowledged as God's inspired Word, is a source of authority and guidance for answers to these questions. Money and material resources are a common theme in the Bible. In fact, 16 of the 38 parables in the Gospels deal with possessions, and one verse in six discusses the correct way to handle possessions.

God's perspective

What follows is a framework providing guidance to those seeking a godly perspective on fund-raising. Without reliable, well-tested principles, we have nothing by which to judge the advice we receive or to give direction for our plans and actions. These guidelines seek to provide standards that go beyond knee-jerk thinking in which we do the popular thing or whatever the pressure of the moment demands. It is up to individuals to apply these principles to the particular cause they represent.

At the heart of God-pleasing fundraising practices is the ability to view the world, man, and human relationships from His perspective. This perspective is outlined by answering four questions: (1) Whose money are we raising? (2) Whose people are we raising money from? (3) Whose fund-raising is this? and (4) Whose fund-raisers are we?

Whose money are we raising?

At the recent conference "Funding the Christian Challenge," Gordon Mac-Donald, president of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, said that "one of the greatest missing teachings in the American church today is the reminder to men and women that nothing we have be longs to us." Rather, God is the source of all our resources. As Psalm 24:1 tells us, God owns everything, and He is the provider of everything we have.

This is not a comfortable theology in America because of our unquestioned acceptance of the concept of private ownership. Understanding ownership from. God's perspective is a core issue in developing a godly perspective on fundraising. Historically, "ownership" has been claimed on the basis of possession of title, conquest, purchase, or one's own labor, and these concepts are widely endorsed. God's perspective, however, is that we have been given material means to possess and use, but not to own.

This view should affect all fund-raising practices, because it is impossible to ask donors for their money. If the donor's money belongs to God, we can only ask for God's money. The decision becomes the donor's as to whether he or she will distribute that money according to the requests made. As we become aware that all the resources of the world belong to God, we realize our responsibility is to provide opportunities for people to be good stewards in distributing the re sources entrusted to them (see 1 Cor. 4:2). All fund-raising activities then acknowledge divine ownership and human stewardship as a fundamental premise.

Whose people are we raising money from?

In the book of Genesis, we learn that mankind was created by God, and made in His image. Because men and women were created by God, they have value, and God works through them. This needs to be continually kept in mind when raising money people are valued and are important to God for who they are, not just for the resources they may have.

While it is generally assumed that donors respond to noble causes and creative ideas, more often than not, people give because of sentiment, guilt, or social pressure. Many fund-raisers begin with the assumption that people give out of "identifiable self-interest." On the other hand, the godly perspective says donors should give for reasons of love, vision, compassion, and stewardship.

It seems that under no circumstances should the call or gift of God be exploited to achieve a fiscal end, particularly when some personal advantage is to be gained. Organizations seeking a godly perspective have a special obligation to encourage the spiritual motivation of donors. Accepting money from people without caring about their spiritual life and their involvement with the organization runs counter to God's perspective of valuing people.

Fund-raisers should never get trapped into thinking that people are a means to an end—that they are there because they happen to have money, but wouldn't get noticed otherwise. We deal with God's money and God's people—handle with care.

Whose fund-raising is this?

The third principle for godly fundraising is that this is God's work, and God has provided all that is necessary to accomplish His work (Ex. 25:2). It is He who works in people's hearts and motivates them to give. Ora et labora, to pray and work, reflects the necessary balance between dependence on God's blessing and the fund-raiser's responsibility for his own efforts.

This was graphically illustrated in Nehemiah's rebuilding the Jerusalem wall (Neh. 4). Nehemiah was confident that his God would deliver the people (verse 20), yet he instructed half of his servants to carry on the work while the other half served as guards.

As was the case with Nehemiah, faith, prayer, and dependence on God are needed, but they are no substitutes for effort, sweat, caution, or reason. On the contrary, a rightful dependence on God demands that we engage in certain necessary human efforts.

Fund-raisers who seek God's perspective are responsible to pray faithfully for one another and for God's blessing on their activities. At the same time, skills and learning must be used to apply principles that have proved to be effective. Failing to implement these principles, claiming that God is capable of accomplishing His purposes without them or that we are able to accomplish them without Him, is to ignore them. If we acknowledge that our work is God's work, we are responsible to have a balance between prayer and work in our activities.

Whose fund-raisers are we?

Exactly whose are we? If this is God's world and He owns everything including the money, then we are "workers in His vineyard." We are stewards to care for the resources lent to us.

Surely with this perspective in mind, the fund-raiser should not say "We can do it," but rather "God, show us the way." The error of the fund-raiser can be retreating to a position that says "We're doomed," when widely held convictions indicate that the work was God's in the first place. He must not sit on his hands when God has called him to move. Surely the rallying call should be " 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty" (Zech. 4:6, NIV).

Fund-raisers and other leaders in the effort should be encouraged to set the pace. The commitment of the people will usually rise no higher than that of the leadership (see 1 Chron. 29:3, 6).

Is it possible that carefully planned fund-raising schemes are hindering God's work? Could pleas for money actually block God's channels of support?

How often do you hear fund-raisers talk about prayer as a resource? Many have more faith in the mailing list than in the prayers of their constituents. If our organizations are God's, shouldn't we be trying to develop an attitude of daily prayer in the homes of constituents? We must remember that priorities should be governed first by whose we are, not by the particular profession we find our selves in.

Fund-raiser's challenge

Within the context of viewing the world, man, and relationships as described above, the Bible suggests numerous principles by which to develop a customized fund-raising philosophy and practice.

Work within existing relationships.

Accounts of fund-raising in the Bible most often occur in the context of existing ministry relationships that of "partnership" (Phil. 1:5, NIV) or "fellow workers" (Phil. 4:3, NIV). Commonsense marketing focuses on those who have an interest in the cause and are most likely to develop a relationship.

Our first priority is communicating with those who are already in the fold—loyal friends with a relationship to the organization. A good relationship re quires effective communication, which involves the total person the emotions, the intellect, and the will (see Matt. 6:19-21).

The New Testament again and again talks about relationships. The money people bring to an organization is ex changed for a "relationship" a valued personal link with what God is doing in the world through the fund-raiser, through the person who is head of the organization, through its employees, and through its constituents.

Emphasize opportunity, not just need.

The fund-raiser's focus should be on providing prospective donors opportunities to show concern and support for the ministry or organization, and not on the sole basis of begging for support because there is need ( Phil. 4:10-13). The apostle Paul's attitude was not "We can't get along without you and your support," but rather "Here is an opportunity for you to join in partnership to see the work advanced."

Tying this in with the view of divine ownership and human stewardship, the fund-raiser should present opportunities for prospects to distribute their resources, not convince them of a need. It is never a question of figuring out how to get at them, or figuring out how to get their money.

Seek involvement and commitment.

The next principle is to seek more than token giving—rather, a person's involvement and commitment (Phil. 4:14-16). The reference is assistance "again and again," and speaks to developing re peat donors, loyal and faithful supporters lifelong friends. Programs and efforts should focus on developing long-term relationships with supporters who are involved and committed to what the organization is doing. Communication should encourage people to respond out of their total being, because giving involves both the mind and the heart.

Realize the giver is more important than the gift

As we recognize God's regard for people (see Gen. 1:27), our concern for the gift will become secondary to our concern for the individual. This means that fund-raising activities should never manipulate a person. Manipulation must be out and service in. Giving must be combined with a relationship in which the donor and donee grow together. Never should a potential donor be viewed as a "disposable name" on a list or someone to be pushed for gifts until he or she succumbs to the pressure.

Recognize that there will be spiritual blessing.

Giving is an activity that is pleasing to God and results in spiritual blessing to the donor (Phil. 4:17-19). Fund-raising activity, then, has a higher calling, a perspective beyond just "collecting the dollars and running." The donor receives a benefit and reaps spiritual blessing as a result of the interactions. When people are helped to give worthily, spiritual blessing follows (see 1 Chron. 29:9). The fund-raiser, then, provides opportunities for people to participate in what God is doing in the world. Through the use of the principles of 1 Corinthians 12, communication should help people exercise their gifts. The issue is not what we can take, but how we can facilitate the efforts of the donor.

Realize that donors are giving up a piece of their treasure.

As Matthew 6:21 tells us, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." The story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18 is a good example of money being a heart issue that involves the whole person. When money is mentioned in the Scriptures, it involves the response of the total person.

The most important single barrier to communication toward building a relationship is the problem of getting a first gift. Once we receive it, we can begin a closer relationship with the people from whom we ask. Once a gift is given, it should be treated as if it were a piece of a person's heart so proper acknowledgment of the gift, disclosure of its use, and reports of future plans are essential.

Know why the donor gives.

Proverbs 24:3, 4 says: "Any enterprise is built with wise planning, becomes stronger through common sense, and profits wonderfully by keeping abreast of the facts" (TLB). Fund-raisers should know their constituents empirically, who they are, why they give, etc. A healthy relationship requires communication, which involves listening as much as sending messages. A consistent method of researching and knowing your donors is essential. This may be a basic mailed survey, a simple phone sample, or focus groups. Whatever the method, the data is essential.

Never exploit sacred trust, manipulate a person, hide costs, or avoid reporting failures.

As Mark 12:38-40 instructs: "Beware of the scribes. . . which devour widows' houses, . . . these shall receive greater damnation."

Appeals should never exploit our sacred trust relationship with our constituents. A letter that begins "God told me to write to you," or an appeal that concludes "Unless you give today, our ministry will end," is no better than the long robes, long walks, and long prayers of the scribes. The responsibility of fund-raisers is to present the case accurately and enthusiastically, not manipulatively, and to leave the results to God.

Fund-raising management should not hide costs or avoid reporting failures. Every potential donor deserves to know how much of his or her gift goes directly to ministry and how much goes to administrative costs. Donors have a right to know how their gifts relate to the goals for which the money is raised. Full disclosure is essential to honest communication and to building long-term relations.

Faith, relationships, service

As a Christian in fund-raising, I try to integrate these principles into my every day work by applying them to three concepts: faith, relationships, and service. Presuming the assumptions of divine ownership and human stewardship, I initiate an annual plan and daily activities that reflect this perspective, and prayer becomes an important component of my work. In recognizing that it is God who works in people's hearts, motivating them to give, I find it my responsibility to pray for them and ask God to work in their hearts.

My primary focus as a fund-raiser is to develop lifelong relationships between the constituency and the organization. All communication (publications, phone, mail, personal calls) become an effort to build relationships of honesty and integrity. Manipulative techniques are avoided, despite pressures to reach a particular goal. This endeavor is a sacred trust that must be taken seriously.

My role, then, is one of service to facilitate these relationships to provide giving opportunities, to assist people in wise estate planning, and to provide counsel on total giving. In so doing, the balance between the asker and giver is maintained in a healthy relationship. Through these services, God's people are enabled to accomplish His work in their lives.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Wesley K. Willmer is vice president for advancement at Biota University, LaMirada, California.

May 1990

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