Friday, June 18, 2010

What I learned at Fundraising Day

What I intended to write about yesterday, before mitregate took up all my brain space, was what I learned at Fundraising Day. I went last year and got all snooty about events as a result.

This year, once again I learned a ton, but here are a few things that really stood out for me.

At the first workshop I went to, "How to deliver superlative donor care," the presenter, Mal Warwick, said as a throw-away line something apparently that's commonly understood in fundraising circles: "If you want advice, ask for money; if you want money, ask for advice." And I thought of how often asking for money in the church is a top-down deal with the plans already in place, presented with a take-it-or-leave-it, support us or disappoint God sort of attitude.

One of the ways to deliver superlative donor care was to provide engagement, and asking for advice--consulting with donors--was one of the ways to do that. I'm not sure that we in the church have made that connection, that financial contributions are in part tied to whether the congregation feels it has been part of setting the course for the church. I think we often do ask for input, but I wonder if being aware of that connection would change how we go about designing pledge campaigns.

The second workshop I attended was called "Fundraising is a Team Sport: Building a Culture of Fundraising in your Organization," and although I got a great deal of useful information about that topic, the thing that stood out to me was something completely different.

The presenter talked about someone who had wanted to quantify what is the exact number of times of asking for money that is too many times. Is it that every month is too much but every other month is OK? Quarterly is too much but three times a year is OK? And what this person found was that the number of times an organization asked for money didn't matter; what mattered was that the organization was able to show the impact of the previous gift.

That made so much sense! I can imagine it as a conversation between two people. "Give me $5," says one. "I gave you $5 last week. What did you do with it?" "I just need $5 more dollars." I've had those kind of conversations and they are a real turn-off. And I can see how we often do that in the church, mindlessly asking for money without reflecting on how it has been used or how it has made an impact.

But their contributions do make an impact! I've always been a bit uncomfortable with the "God wants you to give money" trope. I realize now that this is partly because I was unclear how the church was using the money I gave to God. How much easier would it be to ask for money year after year if we were able to say, "Your money does this and this and this; we want your input other whether those are good things to do, if this is the mission to which we as a group feel God has called us. If you do think these are good things and part of our call as people of faith, we want you to know that your financial contributions will help us to do those good things and more in the future."

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