When It Comes to the Foundation of your Fundraising Program, Rely Completely on the Generosity of the Poor.

Great email this week from Judi Nation at Tulsa’s Destiny Center. She wrote:

Hi Pastor Foley,

My name is Judi Nation in Tulsa, OK, and I am on the staff of a church that is just over one year old–Destiny Center.  After seeing your website a few moments ago, I certainly plan to get your book, Whole Life Offering.  I do agree with your view on Christianity as philanthropy, and can’t wait to read it.  I also noticed that you have helped many churches to build giving programs.  I must say that I am new to fundraising as it relates to supporting our outreach programs and international missions and I am looking for any possible advice to starting an effective giving program for our church.  Many of the families that we serve that are becoming members of our church are currently of very low income and we are feel called to this population.  We’re excited about what God can do and for the vision that He’s given our staff and leadership.

Where would you suggest that I start with gathering support to serve this community and our church as we move forward?  How can I coach our other leaders to do this as well?  I’m certainly going to be following your articles online, but do you know of any other resource that would be helpful?

Thanks so much and please keep doing what you do–we certainly need this teaching.

Good to hear from you, Judi—and good to hear about the heart and vision of the Destiny Center.

Let me share some fundraising advice with you that will infuriate professional fundraisers, who will quickly dismiss it with eye roll,  dramatic sigh, and vigorous head shake:

When it comes to the foundation of your fundraising program, rely completely on the generosity of the poor.

A cardinal fundraising truth that churches and Christian nonprofits often miss: Excusing the poor from giving is profoundly insulting to both the Lord and the poor.

A second cardinal fundraising truth that is like unto the first: Receiving token gifts from the poor but counting on the rich to bail us out is even more profoundly insulting to the Lord and the poor.

Scripturally, from one end of the Bible to the other, God’s best work is built on the generosity of the poor. Whether Elijah and the widow, the widow and her mite, or the boy and his modest quantity of loaves and fishes, God always views the poor as subjects and co-partners of his work, never objects of his pity nor recipients of the largesse of the upper crust.

The church or nonprofit that devotes its best fundraising resources and time and energy and attention to the poorest potential givers—treating them as philanthropists and not charity cases—will always thrive in ways that cannot be attributed to technique and can only be attributed to God.

This is no mere theological platitude but one of my core convictions after more than twenty years of fundraising. Further, as we’ve noted in previous blog posts, the phenomenon is borne out statistically: (1) Generosity and income level are inversely proportional in the U.S., and (2) Financially, you’re better off equipping a poor but enthusiastic champion to spread your cause in their sphere of influence than you are prospecting for a rich person to write you a single check.

But there’s a deeper appeal we can make here than to statistics. We can appeal to God’s consistent character. When we treat as major those whom the Lord treats as major, and when we treat as subjects those the Lord treats as subjects, the Lord sees…and responds. And his response can never be reduced to some kind of formula, like, “Judi, if you focus on the poor, God will send you rich people.” Sometimes he will, sometimes he won’t. But he’ll always provide. And he’ll do so in ways that are ultimately more reliable than any tool, technique, or strategy.

That’s the message of both my books, Coach Your Champions (which is the one oriented toward nonprofit fundraising) and The Whole Life Offering (which is oriented toward individual givers): Put your faith and trust in God. Learn his ways, not the fundraising strategies of any purported master. Not only will your organization accomplish the purpose for which he called it (his promise, not mine), but you yourself will enjoy fundraising more, since it will be the way that you and everyone with whom you spend time grows to greater fullness in Christ.

Regard the poor as your major donors, basing your giving program around them, and God will regard yours as a major ministry and base his giving program around you.

Warmly in Christ,
Pastor Foley

P.S. I’m teaching a two day workshop for the Memphis Leadership Foundation on 8/4-5 on the Whole Life Offering/Transformational Giving principles. MLF focuses on urban ministries, so it could be a good fit for you. If you’re interested in coming, you can email Larry Lloyd at [email protected], and he can share more details with you. In the meantime, please give my best to the brothers and sisters at the Destiny Center.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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