Marketing & Ministry

The apostle Paul – a model for fundraising communications.

Article by Steve Woodworth, featured in the Winter 2011 Outcomes Magazine.

Article written by Steve Woodworth of Masterworks. Featured in Winter 2011 Outcomes MagazineControversy and criticism often swirl around fundraising in Christian organizations. As a Christian responsible for raising funds for nearly 30 years and for at least 50 causes, I have heard more criticism than perhaps even the average pastor. Most of the criticism is pointed at what is deemed to be worldly marketing.

I doubt George Mueller, the 17th century British Christian humanitarian who championed the philosophy of never asking for money, had any idea how much trouble he would cause so many of us over 200 years later. Some today still hold to his approach of not asking as the only “godly” way to fund Christian organizations. William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army in 1852, only 30 years after Mueller’s declaration on Christian fundraising, believed in openly asking for money to support the ministry.  Who was right?

Today, the Salvation Army serves more than 30 million people in America alone with a budget of $3 billion. Worldwide, it serves in 115 countries with over 25,000 officers, 1.2 million soldiers and 15,000 ministry outposts. Mueller’s foundation in Great Britain spends less than $4 million annually for ministry, with most of that spent within that one country.    

I don’t mean to put down faith-only organizations like Mueller’s. And funding levels are not necessarily a barometer of success. Actually, I believe God called George Mueller to practice that discipline of faith to teach Mueller to trust Him. God honored Mueller’s faith in incredible ways.  But I don’t believe the “Mueller model” is the norm for all Christian organizations.

The Bible gives us a stunning example of how to compose a fundraising appeal in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Those chapters contain more powerful persuasion and arm-twisting than we at Masterworks, a full-service marketing and development agency serving Christian organizations, would ever use for one of our clients. Review these two chapters before you compose or approve your next fundraising appeal. Consider the following principles from that text. Then, anytime someone criticizes your appeals, tell them to read the direct-mail appeal in the Bible, and honestly evaluate whether you are asking as intensely as the Apostle Paul.

These are some of the things I see in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9:

Ask for more than “Abundance Giving.” (2 Corinthians 8: 1-5)

The Macedonian church was not giving out of abundance, but rather out of extreme poverty. According to Paul, they gave beyond their ability. They did the unexpected – giving themselves to the Lord first, and then to others in keeping with God’s will.  Paul challenged the Corinthian church to do the same. No guilt here about taking the widow’s mite or jeopardizing a retiree’s golden years of carefree leisure living.

Much of America’s well-documented generosity is based on giving that has little to no impact on our lifestyles. Plus, we receive generous tax breaks for our giving. Biblical generosity is a leap of faith that costs us something significant. Most of all, it drives us to put our trust, confidence and security in the hands of God.

Speak the truth about generosity and a rich spiritual life. (2 Corinthians 8: 7-12)

Generous giving is foundational for a rich spiritual life. Paul proclaims, “just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, complete earnestness and in your love for us — see that you excel in this grace of giving.”

How do we excel in giving? Our example, of course, is Jesus who “though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Things weren’t important to our Lord. Security wasn’t found in housing or stockpiles of food or bank accounts. He trusted his Father for His present and future needs. We share the same Father who deserves the same level of trust and confidence. Our culture advises us to be self-sufficient. Our faith points in a different direction – toward trust and security found in God rather than our ability to plan, predict and store up treasures on earth.

Follow up with donors — develop personal relationships. (2 Corinthians 9:5)

Paul wasn’t afraid to remind people of their promises and send “brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for a generous gift you had promised.” Today we call that “follow- up” and donor cultivation.

If God has indeed motivated donors to give, then helping them follow through on that divine direction is a spiritual ministry. Face-to-face solicitation is usually best. But phone calls, letters and even emails can be personal, if you have the data to know what your donors respond to (which we can assume is what God is prompting them to be involved in).  Today’s technology allows us to speak appropriately to those who partner with us in ministry. Using technology to its full potential not only honors our donors by acknowledging their interests and concerns, it also saves resources that are sometimes squandered in mass communication.

Allow God to open the floodgates of His unlimited resources. (2 Corinthians 9:6-9)

Heart giving isn’t always rational. Financial advisors have a plan for maximizing charitable giving, so you get the most benefit from every dollar you give. God’s strategy for maximized giving involves an entirely different set of principles. Sow sparingly and you’ll reap sparingly.  Sow generously and that’s how you’ll reap. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart [not his head or mind] to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion . . .”

Giving to God’s causes is emotional. He usually speaks to our hearts first, then our minds. We need to develop the ability to respond spontaneously, extravagantly and joyfully. Our thankfulness comes from what we have to give – not what we have left over for ourselves after we give.

Enjoy God’s “multiplying power!” (2 Corinthians 8: 20-21)

As we respond to God’s direction in how we use what we have, we’re privileged to stand back and watch God’s power demonstrated in multiplying what we give. Like the little boy who gave his entire lunch to Jesus, with no prospects of eating that day once he handed over the five loaves and two fishes, our joy comes from the expectation of God’s miraculous, multiplying power. He uses our giving to demonstrate the extravagant generosity of Jesus Christ. Giving with joy, not with painful calculation, is noticed by the world. Ignoring the “what’s in it for me” or “how will it affect my bottom line” mentality is revolutionary, especially in today’s difficult economic environment. Giving that comes from a heart of joy and positive expectation points people to our loving and generous God.

Trust God’s promises for your security. (2 Corinthians 8: 13-15)

Over and over in Scripture, God promises that He will reward those who feed the hungry, heal the sick and welcome the aliens. We generally shy away from featuring that truth in fundraising because blatant abuses by some televangelists and other prominent religious figures have brought scorn on the name of Christ.

Yet, the principle is true. God promises He will take care of his children if they follow his commands. Paul also highlights that those you help now might help you later in your time of need. That’s called community. And there should be no more generous community on earth than the body of Christ.

Revel in the privilege of communicating what God is doing.

Fundraising can either be viewed as a necessary evil to getting ministry done or the extraordinary privilege of sharing with God’s people what He is doing. I choose the latter. It makes every day an adventure in partnering with our Lord in ministry. It also makes every project our staff works on a Divine assignment from the only boss who ultimately counts.

We rest in the confidence that God uses our weakness to demonstrate His glory. Is that the dream supervisor we would all like to work for, or what?

So, instead of Mueller or Booth, I’ll choose the Apostle Paul as my model for fundraising communications. And thank the Lord for the generous, committed and selfless Christians, here in North America and around the world, who listen and respond as God directs in all areas of life, including the spiritual gift of giving.