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The spirituality of fund-raising

Advancement Associates extends to the Henri Nouwen Society thanks for allowing us to print excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s thoughtful booklet The Spirituality of Fund-Raising. Visit to order a free copy of The Spirituality of Fund-Raising.

Fund-raising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission. Vision and mission are so central to the life of God’s people that without vision we perish and without mission we lose our way.

Fund-raising is precisely the opposite of begging. We are not saying, Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard. Rather, We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you in this work to which God has called us.

Fund-raising is also always a call to conversion . Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration.

By giving people a spiritual vision, we want them to experience that they will in fact benefit by making their resources available to us.

[I]f fund-raising as ministry invites those with money to a new relationship with their wealth, it also calls us to be converted in relation to our needs.

When those with money and those who need money share a mission, we see a central sign of new life in the Spirit of Christ.

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Staying “on mission” in tough economic times

News flash: We are living in tough economic times.

USA Today (December 2, 2008) reported on a November 2008 study conducted by Barna Group that “more than two in three adults (68%) say they have been affected by the dire economy and 22% said they have been impacted in a ‘major way.’” Not surprisingly, this is impacting how people give. The same study found that “the degree of reduction in giving is significant for churches.” Among people who have decreased giving to churches and religious centers

• 19% dropped their giving by as much as 20%.

• 5% decreased their generosity by 21% to 49%.

• 17% reduced their giving by half.

• 11% sliced their provision by more than half.

In addition, 22% said they had stopped their giving altogether.

Given these statistics, how are faith-based organizations to survive the current economy and position themselves for a bright future? Historically, organizations operating in similar times have tended to do one of three things: 1) go into hiding and ignore reality, 2) believe that their mission is “too important to fail” and fail to act or 3) panic and do things that undermine the future.

Interestingly, the organizations most likely to survive an economic crisis are characterized not by an attitude of “wait it out,” but one of “make it happen.” Further, taking even a few wise steps toward improving your organizational health may bolster the support of your donor base now and put you in a better position to thrive when the economy improves. This occurs because, while some donors are willing to make one-time gifts to support a struggling organization, far more are motivated by an enterprise that remains true to its mission and makes the necessary decisions during difficult times.

Here are some steps you can take as early as this next week to “make it happen.”

1. Get an objective look at your organization from the perspective of your best constituency members/customers. Who are they? Contact them. Find out what you are doing right and what you can do better.

2. Look at your organization from the perspective of the constituency/customers you just lost or are likely to lose. Name them and contact them.

3. Fix what is broken. If your feedback suggests that there are areas of needed improvement, have the courage to do what will make you more effective at serving your mission.

4. State in simple terms why constituency members should support your organization. What is your value proposition that needs to be communicated?

5. Look beyond your traditional constituency for individuals or groups whose needs you may be able to serve.

6. Name and communicate what you are good at that is absolutely critical to serving your mission. Maybe it is the strength of particular staff members or a program that gives your organization special meaning in the community.

7. Cut unnecessary costs. Most organizations create expensive bad habits during the good times; this is the time to return to a frugal organizational lifestyle. But make sure you do not cut costs from areas that undermine your ability to serve your mission. If you do not know what is critical, you just may cut the lifeline to your organization.

8. Promote, promote, promote. Yes, it will cost you some money, but if there is ever a time when you need to get your message out, it is now. Do not cut your newsletter, your website, your email communication, etc. If anything, try to find a way to increase your message. Ironically, communication with the constituency is often one of the first expenses to be cut; this is a big mistake.

9. If you’re planning something BIG for your future, consider acting now. This may sound counter-intuitive. But the history of organizational growth suggests that many of the “leaders” emerged out of bad times when they had the courage to go for something while others were waiting out the economy. For example, some organizations are currently taking advantage of very low construction costs by proceeding with projects. Be assured, AAI is not encouraging unwise debt. But with wise financial management and a compelling mission/vision, this may be the time to move forward.

Have any of the ideas mentioned here piqued your interest? We would be glad to visit further to discuss how they might apply to your unique situation or to answer any questions you may have.

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An enrollment checklist

Is your school meeting its enrollment goals? Are you using strategies that can make the most difference? When AAI Principal Rich Gerig assesses an enrollment program, he looks for these 15 key indicators. How does your school measure up?

1. A quality, distinctive program – Are mission and vision consistent? Understood? Appealing? Being achieved? This is crucial.

2. Retention and recruitment – Enrollment includes keeping current students as well as recruiting new students. Are you attentive to both?

3. Enrollment goals – Who sets them? Are they realistic? Are they being reached?

4. Enrollment plan – Do you have a written enrollment plan that includes measurable goals, objectives and activities?

5. Understanding and applying marketing principles – The goal is finding, attracting and keeping families your school best serves. Can you identify your primary and secondary markets?

6. Prospect segmentation – Among your prospective students, which are the most likely to enroll? Are you giving them greatest attention?

7. Visitation program – Do you have enough visit events? Are they of high quality? Do they include parents as well as students? Are they offered at the right time of year?

8. Recruiting parents – Realizing that parents make most of the final enrollment decisions, how do you recruit parents?

9. Communication plan – Do your newsletters, website and news releases complement the enrollment program?

10. Pro-active retention – What is your retention rate and patterns overall and among grade levels? What kinds of students are most likely to struggle and leave your school?

11. Application process – Is it smooth, clear, timely, prompt, friendly?

12. Financial assistance – Do policies reflect your mission? Is application process simple and understandable? Are awards made promptly?

13. Data collection, reporting – What enrollment information do you collect? When do you prepare reports? Who receives them?

14. Involving others in enrollment – Staff, students, parents, alumni, pastors, donors, board members—are these groups involved in enrollment at your school?

15. Professional development – Are those with enrollment responsibilities given a chance to learn and grow in their work?

Use these indicators as a mirror for your enrollment program and a template for improvement. It will make a difference!

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Finding the best funders

From pop-ups on your web browser to glossy brochures that arrive in the mail, grant offers seem to be everywhere. Supporters pass on bits and pieces about specific grants they’re familiar with, or stories of other organizations that have benefited from grant money.

Grants can indeed be an important ingredient in a successful fundraising project or capital campaign. But actually tracking down a funder whose philanthropic interests are compatible with your needs can be a bit more difficult. Investing in dedicated research may be well worth your time and money.

Casting the net

A good place to begin your research is the Foundation Directory, which allows one to search grantmakers by a wide range of criteria, including:

• geographic focus

• fields of interest

• size of gift

• types of support (general/operating support, donated products, scholarships and program development to name just a few)

Once the search criteria are entered, the directory generates a list of potential funders and allows one to view a profile of each. In addition to the items listed above, this profile provides contact information, names of officers and board members, deadlines and, often, a sampling of past recipients.

One drawback to the Foundation Directory is that it requires an annual subscription of anywhere from $195 to $1295, depending on your membership plan. This can be cost prohibitive for organizations operating on a tight budget or planning to make only a minimal investment in the grant process. A second disadvantage is that it only includes grantmakers who are registered with the Foundation Center; some private family foundations are not. Even so, the database contains over 96,000 foundations, corporate giving programs and public charities, and makes an excellent starting point for grant research.

Other free sources provide some of the same search options, though are not as comprehensive as the Foundation Directory. One is, which sorts available grants by subject area, population group, and a general category “Regional Grants and Resource Sites,” that includes grant opportunities in each of the 50 states. State libraries also commonly maintain an online grant directory and/or links to other grant resources.

Identifying the best prospects

Once you’ve compiled an initial list, it’s time to go over the resulting grantmakers with the fine-toothed comb to yield the best matches for your organization. In many cases this process whittles a few hundred possibilities down to just 10 or 15 best prospects.

An obvious first step is visiting each foundation’s website and/or requesting any publications they have. In addition to more complete application guidelines, these materials often reveal whether or not the Foundation Directory profile is up to date. For example, perhaps the foundation is no longer accepting unsolicited applications; perhaps it has decided to add or drop one of its giving programs; perhaps it has a new program officer or contact person.

At this point, the Directory offers another helpful tool: a grants database that profiles additional past recipients, often providing links to their respective websites. As an example of how this can be useful, a church camp and Advancement Associates client was looking for money for a capital campaign. Two organizations with “Camp” in their names showed up as past grant recipients from a specific foundation, whose stated areas of interest included children/youth services, environment, and medical research. Judging from the names alone, the first two interest areas made our client seem like a good candidate for grant money. A visit to one recipient’s website, however, produced an important realization: this “Camp” also engaged the foundation’s third area of interest, as its patrons were children with cancer.

As a second example, suppose an organization similar to yours—maybe even in your geographic area—has received grant funding, but you don’t know from whom, for what or how much. If the funder is registered with the Foundation Center, you can learn all of that information and more by entering the organization’s name in the “Recipient Name” field.

One word of caution at this point in your research process: be realistic. Your passion for your organization can tempt you into thinking that by wording things just right or by enthusiastically conveying the uniqueness of your ministry, that you’ll find favor with a grantmaker, even when its profile suggests otherwise. If a foundation specifies a geographic location, respect it. If it indicates there is no funding for specific kinds of projects, believe it. Don’t expect to be the exception. A foundation’s past giving record is the best evidence of whether or not your project is likely to catch its interest.

Getting your hands dirty

The research steps described thus far can be accomplished anonymously. Not so from here on out: it’s time to make some phone calls, arrange some meetings and send some emails before submitting your request. The more you know about a potential funder, the better your chances of preparing a winning grant proposal. Here are a few pointers:

1. Capitalize on personal connections. Take a list of a foundation’s key personnel to your next board and staff meetings. Especially at the local level you or someone connected to your organization—staff, board, loyal donors, campaign cabinet members—may be personally acquainted with a board member or CEO of a foundation or corporate giving program. If you’re fortunate to find a connection, ask that person to arrange an introductory meeting for you or to put in a good word for your organization.

2. Learn as much as you can about each grantmaker. If you’re unclear about whether you’re eligible to apply or if your project fits the grantmaker’s guidelines, call the program officer and ask. Pay attention to what you hear; even if the project you have in mind doesn’t seem to fit the foundation’s priorities, maybe a different need would. As long as your project is mission driven, be open to other possibilities. If you’re comfortable doing so, call past recipients to ask if they’d mind sharing their experience working with a given foundation and what advice they would offer you.

3. Keep track of what you learn. Even if a particular giving program doesn’t seem to be a fit right now, it might in the future. While some foundations limit the amount an organization can receive within a certain amount of time, others fund repeatedly the same places. Documenting your previous contacts can help you save time later in identifying the relationships from which you are most likely to benefit in the future.

Final thoughts

Remember, the ideas presented here pertain only to the first step of the grant cycle–research. Once you’ve identified the most promising grantmakers and have your foot is in the door, more work remains:

• Preparing and submitting the grant proposal;

• Exercising good grant stewardship (allocating funds correctly, filing program and financial reports on time, etc.);

• Maintaining an ongoing positive relationship with the foundation and program officer.

As with research, each of these steps requires careful diligence and attention to detail from those involved.

How AAI can help

Organizations with little or no previous grant experience or limited staff time should consider enlisting outside help for grant research. Advancement Associates, Inc. subscribes to the Foundation Directory and offers grant research services that ensure efficiency and care in identifying best prospects for our clients and the wisest use of organizational resources for pursuing grants. To inquire about these services, email us.

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Congregational fundraising

When working with a congregation, AAI first provides an overview of the capital campaign and introduces key campaign principles in the context of fundraising as ministry. Next, we assess the congregation’s readiness for such a highly organized fundraising effort. Based on this assessment, AAI can enter the process at one of several points, described below.

Visioning. Often, AAI’s first official role is to engage leaders of the congregation in visioning. This kind of exercise typically takes place during a weekend retreat and asks participants to reflect on the following questions:

  1. In light of our mission, what are the opportunities and challenges presented by our surrounding environment?
  2. In light of our mission, opportunities and challenges
    • What program priorities should we establish and pursue at this time?
    • What priorities should we establish for our facilities?
    • What financial resources are required to meet our priorities for program and facilities?

Campaign feasibility study. A feasibility study helps determine the level of support for the goals identified during the visioning process and, therefore, the probability of success for a proposed capital campaign and building program. The feasibility study includes a series of both personal and mail interviews conducted by AAI staff; interviewees are shown a case summary of the project at hand and a gift table. AAI compiles results into a report and makes a recommendation regarding the campaign goal to congregational leaders and/or the congregation as a whole. A feasibility study takes approximately two months to complete.

Campaign. Congregations can also enlist AAI’s help with the campaign itself. Campaigns are typically completed within four months, during which campaign leaders receive regular consultation and unlimited access to the consultant(s). Depending on the needs and desires of the congregation, AAI’s involvement can also include:

  • creating an action plan that lists specific responsibilities for the various persons involved in campaign leadership; outlines how these persons report to and interact with one another; and sets a timeline for implementation of various campaign steps
  • developing any necessary communications materials
  • training of key personnel
  • attendance and leadership at campaign meetings

While many professional firms offer campaign services similar to the four just mentioned, AAI encourages five additional practices that distinguish our approach from others’:

  1. Our philosophy of “fundraising as ministry” seeks to incorporate the capital campaign into the life and worship of congregation.
  2. We provide actual templates of the communication materials the congregation will use during the campaign.
  3. We emphasize personal solicitation and direct requests for campaign commitments.
  4. We utilize mail and telephone solicitation for distant members and friends.
  5. Three-year pledge commitments give donors the flexibility they may need to make the most faithful gift possible.
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What motivates donors?

In his book, Relationship Fundraising (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2002), Author Ken Burnett describes an approach that centers on the unique and individual connection an organization has with each of its donors. It should be an “overriding consideration,” says AAI Principal Rich Gerig, “to care for and develop that bond.”

According to Gerig, donors—those people who actively support the work of an organization through their sustained financial contributions—should each “know that they are important, valued and considered.”

One of the crucial results of a strong affinity with a donor is that the organization can learn about, respectfully respond to, and sometimes help to shape a donor’s motivations.

So what exactly does motivate donors? From professional reading, his own experiences, and an informal survey of development directors with whom he has worked, Gerig offers, in no significant order, this listing of primary donor motivations:

  1. Tax planning
  2. Ego, self-esteem, status
  3. Quest for immortality
  4. Desire for emotional response
  5. Wish for self-preservation
  6. Vested interests
  7. In memoriam
  8. Gratitude
  9. Identification with the cause
  10. Guilt
  11. Altruism
  12. Religious heritage
  13. Compassion
  14. Answering a voice of authority
  15. Social ambition
  16. Getting value for money
  17. In response to being asked
  18. Feels good
  19. Family history

Gerig notes that several motivations often operate together in spurring a donor’s support. Motivations have changed little over the years and are likely not to change in the future. However, he argues that organizations can contribute significantly to the development of donor motivations. “Appeals for financial support should be consonant with a nonprofit’s mission and values,” Gerig said. “Representatives of church-related organizations can help donors see that Christian faith and the practice of stewardship go hand in hand.”

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Mission, vision and strategic planning

Peter Drucker, a leading expert in management theory says that there are two questions that every organization must answer.

1. What is our business?

2. What will our business be?

The first question has to do with mission (i.e. what we do and why); the second, with vision (i.e. the aspiration to grow, improve or advance in some meaningful way).

It is common for an organization to come to AAI and say that they are interested in raising funds. Exactly what the funds are to be raised for is often more obscure. While mission may be clear and there may be a notion of a building or program to be funded, the desired outcome is not clearly linked to a vision of what the organization can accomplish if the new project becomes reality.

Visioning is a critical first step of a strategic planning process, helping an organization revisit whom and how it has served, refine its mission in the context of the current environment and reveal what it hopes to become in the next stage of its existence.

What then is strategic planning? A strategic plan is the road map of actions necessary to move the organization toward its vision.

To illustrate, when planning a vacation, we picture in our minds a particular experience at a specific destination. If it stops there, it is nothing more than wishful thinking. To make it happen, we need a plan that includes goals and action steps: What date will we leave? What route will we take? What vehicle will we need and who will drive? If we work the plan, we’re much more likely to end up having the desired experience at the chosen destination.

A strategic plan may be divided into a series of one-year plans, each of which outlines the steps to be taken that year. Plans will need to be evaluated and adapted to emerging realities in order for an organization to achieve its vision.