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You have to ask

By Tom Livers

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
--Matthew 6:21, NRSV

SUMMARY:A wise person once said, "Plenty of people are willing to give God credit; yet a few are willing to give God cash."

These are unpredictable economic times—as unemployment increases and businesses close—and dark clouds loom on the horizon for the predicted "perfect economic storm.” Congregations feel the pinch too. Supplies at food pantries and used clothing closets are stretched to the limit.

Daily the number of requests for financial assistance grows. You witness stress as people worry about possible job loss, housing foreclosures, heating bills, gasoline costs, health insurance and a score of other major problems, both at home and at work. The church is where they can find the hope of Jesus Christ and God’s everlasting love, and where they can realize they are not alone in the struggle. As the pews fill during each service, however, do you find the amount in the collection plate decreasing?

Philanthropy is not about gloom and darkness. Solid research recently published by expert institutions (Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, Giving USA Foundation and Empty Tomb Inc.) points out that over the past 27 years, total philanthropy did not mirror declines in the stock market or the economy. Total philanthropy generally increased. Contributions to religion experienced slight dips in charitable giving during some recessions since 1968; yet in other years, donations actually increased. It takes the darkness for people to see the stars. There is never a good time—or a bad time—to raise money.

Someone else said, "God loves a cheerful giver. God also accepts from the grouch.”

When the economy turns sour, the donors’ focus generally changes to supporting the local community more than national and international causes. How more local can you be than the church? Look inside and outside your congregation to identify donor prospects that can help your ministry. Charity looks at the need, not the cause.

Remember this basic tenet
The basic tenet of fund raising is you have to ask. I know most people would rather have a root canal without anesthesia than ask for money. To ask is no sin. So why are you reluctant to ask for donations? Do you, perhaps, fear the donor will assume you will return to ask for another donation? Do you worry the prospective donor may be insulted if you ask for a gift that exceeds the donor’s capability? In my 20-plus years of fund-raising, no donor ever has been insulted if I considered him or her capable of a large gift. To be refused is no calamity. A refusal by a prospective donor is an invitation to educate the prospect about the need and to get a clearer understanding of the prospect’s intentions and financial capabilities. The prospective donor may want to help, but you must find the hot button that ignites the donor’s passion for the ministry.

Giving is a matter of money and emotion. Donors want to be involved. The best donor prospect is a volunteer. If you tell me about a need, I will forget. If you show me, I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand. Donors who want to grow in their faith believe one path to growth is to give. People who give to others generally have a better feeling about themselves and are happier.

Show the need
If the ministry shows a definite need that an influx of cash might solve, donors will help you to achieve that goal. If you go to a prospective donor with a "clouds” vision or a 30,000-foot view with no realistic plans to solve the need, do not expect any gifts. Donors are investors. Donors like to solve problems. Donors want to see they can make a difference. Donors want you to show their hard-earned money helps to transform for good.

Before you ask for donations, place yourself in the role of the donor. First, be a donor. Then you personally can tell the prospective donor why you are passionate about the ministry and the need. Second, be realistic about how much you plan to ask for a donation. Too often, people who could give generously do not because someone lacked background information about prospective donors’ giving history or philanthropic interests.

Philanthropy is embedded in the American way of life. Givers make a difference. Fund raising is simply having the right person ask for the right amount at the right time.

--Livers, a certified fund-raising executive, is director of development, Foundation for United Methodist Communications.