Stop Ministering to Donors

 In Business, Community, Conference, Culture, Faith, Family, Foundations, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, Mental Health, Philanthropy, Vocation

I believe there has been a good deal of misinformation floating around for years about the idea of ministering to donors. I am not arguing with the overall concept of caring for people – just with a couple of assumptions about what ministry is to donors.

First it assumes donors (especially major ones) need a particular kind of attention due to their circumstances. Those donors are typically described as being isolated, lonely, spiritually dry, weighed down with family problems that include shaky marriages, troubled kids and misplaced priorities. There are more, but these seem to be the most common. I have heard these circumstances described in generous detail in fundraising seminars, books, websites and numerous articles in journals. In so many words, “Donors are needy people and your ministering to them will create a bond that will result in a productive relationship for the organization. Get out there and start ministering to them.”

When I think about my own experience over the course of 30 years with donors and their families, long ago I came to the conclusion that, more often than not, major donors are at least as well-balanced as those asking for support. And their lives are often more healthy. The stress and pressure for performance on the development professional is extraordinary – and increasing. The life of a fundraiser for an international ministry requires constant travel and separation. I have seen firsthand what that can do to a marriage and family. The constant pressure of taking vision trips, prospecting for and cultivating donors creates fissures in even the strongest relationships.

The average tenure of a development person is 18 months. The average tenure of a donor is decades.

Other than the pressure of making judgments about the merits of grants and having to say no to some, the stress of being a donor is relatively low. The life of a major donor is filled with options to spend time with their family and friends and, in most cases, they are in control of their schedule and commitments.

While major donors are generally active in their local church, development professionals are often required to be gone on weekends and find it difficult to make commitments to the local congregation. Again, the work demands of a development professional makes it difficult to commit to a regular fellowship. In other words, whose life needs more ministry? Whose life is more out of balance?

It’s regrettable that more development people – and those who write the books and teach the seminars – cannot turn the tables and ask themselves what they can learn from major donors, especially those who earned their wealth and have accumulated far more than money in doing it. They have broad experience and not only in the fields that made them successful. I can assure you they are open to teaching if asked.

Maybe the question should be “What can I learn from them?” and not “What can I do to minister to them?” Are they all healthy and balanced?  No. Some are proud, overbearing, patronizing and self-centered but when you find one like I have described I would encourage development people to listen well. While they may be rightfully wary of people wanting to befriend them or being flattered, they are often examples of healthy lives.

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Showing 16 comments
  • Dave
    Reply

    “major donors are at least as well-balanced as those asking for support. And their lives are often more healthy.” – That’s about says it all right there…

    • Fred Smith
      Reply

      Not everyone would agree…but it’s open for discussion.

  • Luder Whitlock
    Reply

    Well said! I couldn’t agree more.

    • Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Luder. You’ve been on both sides. We probably shouldn’t say “sides” should we?

  • John
    Reply

    As a nonprofit director, I agree that it is presumptuous to think that I can have a significant impact on donors’ lives, especially on a mass scale, through our work.

    When I hear fundraising as ministry, I go back to some of the best “giving” sermons I’ve ever heard. They always focus on how giving of MY resources is a critical part of ME working out MY faith and growing to be more and more like Jesus. As the nonprofit receiving donations of money and/or time from someone else, then we take it as our charge, by God, to do our best to be a part of that blessing exchange for the donor/volunteer. If we drop the ball and don’t 1.) acknowledge the gift in a way that helps the donor feel the impact and joy from their decision to give and 2.) communicate regularly with them so that they can be reminded of some of the needs in their community to help pull them out of an insular world that can sometimes develop around us then we are failing the donor/volunteer and not doing what God would have us do.

    • Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thanks, John. Yes, we do tend to get very, very me-centric on these topics!

  • John Thomas
    Reply

    Great wisdom here especially for development people about their own lives! God has blessed you with loads of wisdom!

    • Fred Smith
      Reply

      John – Loads of something for sure! I just hope some of it is wisdom.

  • Jeff Haanen
    Reply

    Spot on. “What can I learn from them” rather than “What can I do to minister to them.” Good word, Fred.

  • Fred Smith
    Reply

    Thank you, Jeff. It would be interesting to read of list of what people have learned from donors.

  • Peter Joseph Kubasek
    Reply

    Wow – thank you – so well framed – i will be borrowing liberally of your statements
    peace

    • Fred Smith
      Reply

      Dear Peter – Liberal borrowing permitted and even encouraged.

  • David Cooke
    Reply

    This was excellent. I’m glad you gave us permission to borrow it. I plan to send it out to a few people. However, I am ambivalent on the topic. I find myself cringing when a donor development person wants to get together with me. On the other hand, some of my closest, longest-lasting, and best relationships are with missionaries/CEO-types of ministry organizations.

  • Sasha vukelja
    Reply

    I feel they are great people who want to be liked for who they are and what they have!!

  • Mallory
    Reply

    This is such a great piece, Fred. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  • Tim Hoiland
    Reply

    Thought-provoking stuff, Fred. Thanks!

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