Want to inspire your donors to generosity? Part 3 of 3

Part 3: Top secrets of $100 million organizations

In my last 2 blog posts, I’ve covered 2 of the top 3 generosity-inspiring secrets I’ve learned from organizations that have broken the $100 million revenue mark.

  • They hold a high view of fundraising.
  • They build integrated and collaborative management teams. 

In today’s post, I’ll explain more about what I mean by Secret #3.

GENEROSITY-INSPIRING SECRET #3: They place a high value on innovation.

The leaders in $100 million organizations invest heavily and continually in innovation. They accept — and expect — that many experiments will fail. But they’re not afraid of failure. Because they know that risk can lead to big rewards, and often failures lead to valuable learning.

And every team member is given the latitude to flop.

The key to everything: Innovation in your DNA.

The most successful organizations I come across today are willing to do something very uncommon in the non-profit world: they are willing to risk money on something new. They have learned that success is the result of hard work and practice. And practice means blowing it. Often.

They realize that big breakthroughs are few and far between. They see the road to success for what it most often is: a tough slog of testing, adjustment, retesting and readjustment.

“I’d rather try 10 new things and fail at every one of them than just settle for the status quo.”

And keep in mind, innovation is not just about good ideas. It’s about execution — testing, implementing and rolling out. You cannot succeed in any enterprise if you cannot execute well. But if you’re innovating, you learn to get past the idea stage to the place where you fully develop your hunches, verify them with careful testing, refine them and then roll them out.

That’s a lot of work, I know. But the successful organizations have learned that taking risks and withstanding the setbacks are what separate the good from the great organizations.

A client CEO who really gets this said to me recently, “I’d rather try 10 new things and fail at every one of them than just settle for the status quo.”

Growing, effective organizations have a history of both failure AND success.

In World Vision’s early days, the primary source of valuable donors were Christians who had seen World Vision films at their churches. Fundraising pioneer Russ Reid, who I had the pleasure of working with during my tenure at World Vision, thought that those films might be adaptable to fundraise on television.

But this was risky. No one else had tried it. Still, World Vision made a substantial investment in a venture that was anything but guaranteed. The rest is history. These television specials became the “rocket” that drove the organization’s growth for 30 years. It’s what pushed them past $100 million in the 1980s.

This willingness to take risks is what fueled the organization’s early growth — and what sets World Vision, and other organizations that reach and surpass $100 million, apart from the others.

Along the way to becoming one of the most-admired non-profit organizations, not to mention one with annual income of $1 billion, World Vision failed many times. For example, in the days when I served there, the organization was constantly starting new fundraising programs, tweaking existing ones, testing everything, always measuring and, yes, frequently failing.

Don’t allow failure to kill innovation.

At World Vision, we tried the 30-Hour Famine two times and failed before it was finally successful. In this case, it helped to hand off the failed venture to a new team for fresh insight. They knew that it had failed twice, but were given wide latitude to make it succeed.

Today the 30-Hour Famine is a popular, faith-building experience that encourages young people to get involved with the organization, take real steps to address the problem of world hunger and raise $10 million annually for the cause. Very few organizations would risk another go at something that had already failed two times.

There’s a lesson here for ministry leaders who want to take their organization to the next level.

The willingness to take a step like this — and risk hard dollars — is a perfect example of what I find in organizations that are driving hard toward $100 million.


If you’re a visionary leader who wants to inspire your donors to generosity and grow your ministry, I urge you to consider the secrets learned from organizations that have already blazed this trail.

FIRST, place a high a value on fundraising, just as high as you do on ministry. In fact, pray for the wisdom to see fundraising AS ministry.

SECOND, build highly functioning teams that are integrated and collaborative.

THIRD, champion an organizational culture that reinforces the value of innovation.

There is nothing magical about reaching the $100 million revenue mark. That might not even be an appropriate goal for your ministry.

But, if you put these generosity-inspiring secrets into practice, you just might find that your organization will break through the barriers that have been holding it back, and expand its Kingdom impact beyond what you ever thought possible.