Stop Ministering to Donors
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.