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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Christian Fundraiser Gives Sound Financial Advice to Ministries and their Donors regarding Giving during Recession

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

CHICAGO, IL (ANS) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently told Congress: "From a technical perspective, the recession is very likely over at this point."

According to The Associated Press (AP), Bernanke noted that that the economy will remain weak, and hinted at continued job losses.

The Federal Reserve provided its most positive assessment of the economy to date, suggesting the recession is over and growth could be more robust than it previously anticipated.

The central bank maintains the economy is still relatively weak and plans to keep short-term interest rates near zero for the foreseeable future. It also says it will extended its financial support for the housing market until the end of the first quarter.

Although the economy may be showing a "technical" recovery, it may not yet have "trickled down" to Main Street -- and 'the Man in the Street.'

Christian fundraising expert, Doug Shaw

ASSIST News sought out Doug Shaw, Chairman and CEO of Douglas Shaw & Associates (DSA), a fund raising consulting company founded by Shaw and his wife Stevey 15 years ago, for answers on how and in what ways Christians can still give in a tough economy, and how Christian ministries should go about fundraising.

Doug is a graduate of Simpson University and Fuller Theological Seminary. Stevey graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas, and is currently completing her Master of Arts in Global Leadership (MAGL) from Fuller Seminary.

DSA is a full service fund raising firm serving international ministries, rescue missions, broadcast ministries and many others. DSA is a company of 65 talented people committed to serving Christ through multiplying the gifts of donors to serve the Kingdom. DSA is known for its unique philosophy called Donor-Focused Strategic MarketingTM. Douglas Shaw & Associates is located in West Chicago, Illinois www.douglasshaw.com

I asked Shaw: "In these 'tough economic times' what approaches to fundraising should Christian ministries take? How and in what ways do these differ from fundraising in 'normal' times?

Shaw replied: " 'Vigilance' is the operative word in fundraising these days. It is critical that ministries monitor and measure everything they are doing to generate income. Excellent analytics capabilities are essential. There's a great fundraising axiom, 'Bad data makes poor decisions' that not only has stewardship implications but also respects the wishes of those who trust ministries with their gifts to the Lordís work.

"In addition to vigilance, ministries need to know how to interpret data and then apply what they are seeing to make the most of their fundraising dollar. Most ministries have some room to grow in this area and should seek counsel when they need it.

"Last fall there was wide-spread panic in the faith-based marketplace. Jobs were cut, salaries were frozen and many critical programs were either eliminated or put on hold. In my opinion this was a serious mistake. Cutting budgets and ministry capabilities are often linked closely to fear and elements of disbelief that the Lord is the Provider. If we truly believe the Lord is indeed the Provider, then our behavior needs to bear testimony to this belief. Here at Douglas Shaw & Associates we have seen the vast majority of the ministries we serve continue to prosper in this recession. I have great admiration and love for ministries that respond to recession by saying, 'We're going to grow our way out of this!'

"Growing in the midst of recession means that we must know what reality is. Reality is elusive if we choose to listen to the fear and alarm offered up by media that is motivated by ratings more than reality. Ministries must choose carefully who they are going to listen to. First they need to listen to the Lord and His promises of provision. Second, ministries need to turn to trusted counsel. Fear is NOT from the Lord. Most of these principles apply to good economic times as well as bad. The primary difference now is to not give into fear.

What principles and guidelines should govern Christian fundraising?

Shaw provided the following suggestions:

"Stay in close communication with the Provider. He is a loving and generous Father who loves His children and has promised to provide for them.

"Use every gift the Provider has given you! Treat what He has placed in your hands as though it were your very own.

"Be willing to work longer, harder and smarter every day. Never settle for OK, He is calling us to excellence in order to bring glory to Him.

"Challenge all of your assumptions. Iíve heard it said that 'Sacred cows make the best hamburgers.'

"Find out what's working well for you and do more of it.

"Determine what's NOT working and revise your strategies or reallocate your spending to areas that will work.

"Don't kill the goose that's laying the golden egg. Be willing to spend more on effective strategies that raise money.

"Donors are moved to give by the Holy Spirit and He chooses to work through you to touch donor's hearts.

"Stay donor-focused, asking 'what do donors like most about my ministry?' Your fundraising results will guide you in this.

"You don't have to twist or modify the truth to raise money.

"Donors are intelligent, but most giving isn't motivated by the brain, it is motivated when a donor's heart is touched by a compelling opportunity to save and change lives.

"'Money follows ministry'Öto your donors! Love them, communicate respectfully with them, and do not treat them as a means to an end.

"Take the time to develop a compelling 'offer.' An offer is that special 'nugget that states clearly: What is the opportunity facing you (notice I didnít say 'need'). How will your ministry seize the opportunity you are facing? How much money will it take to seize this opportunity? How will the donor's gift help to make this opportunity become a reality? Why is it important for the donor to give today to seize this opportunity?

How and in what ways is Christian fundraising different from raising funds by other organizations needing donations in order to operate?

"People ask and give according to what they believe. Their values dictate the things that interest or move them. This is true in all forms of fundraising be it faith-based or non-faith-based. For people of faith, however the role of the Spirit should not be underestimated. The latest statistics Iíve read indicate that 80 percent of all giving in the U.S. is directed to religious causes (this includes giving to your local church). The Provider chooses to work through His people. He could do it all without donors, but He chooses to work through them to benefit them. The greatest benefit, according to Scripture, goes to the giver."

I also asked Shaw how and in what ways should Christian ministries seek to communicate their financial needs to their constituents and supporters? What about so-called 'faith ministries' that do not ask for money but trust God to provide for their financial needs? Is this still a viable model in today's culture and economy?

"Ministries need to be aware of this simple fact: People are going to give. If you are not allowing your donors the opportunity to give they'll give to someone else. One of our Vice Presidents here at Douglas Shaw & Associates states it like this:'Giving is not like going to the well, fearing ministries will do it too often and the well will run dry. Giving is more like a river. It flows by continuously and those who are fishing will likely catch something. If your line is not in the water, you canít expect to catch fish!'

"Even in our vastly growing multi-channel world, direct mail is still the foundation most successful ministries build upon. In most cases we recommend monthly direct-mail appeals (using the 5 principles of offer construction listed above). We also recommend quarterly newsletters written and designed to generate significant income.

"Every gift, of ANY size should receive an immediate thank-you letter/receipt which contains another opportunity to give. Many ministries realize up to one-third of their income this way! Itís essential that these letter/receipts be sent to donors within 24-48 hours of receipt of their gift (before they receive another appeal)."

Building on this foundation, Shaw said there are many other channels for communication and fundraising that cannot be ignored:

1. The web (website, landing pages, banner ads, e-mail blasts all with click-on giving opportunities)

2. Media (radio programs and spots, direct-response TV)

3. Social networking (blogs with click-on giving opportunities, Face Book, Twitter et. al.)

4. Strategically placed space ads (audience, offer, size, and placement are critical) driving people to the website

5. Annual Reports that raise money (must be written and designed for response)

6. Major Donor proposals

7. Foundation proposals

8. Telephone solicitation of both active as well as lapsed donors

9. And the list goes onÖ

Shaw continued: "Now, regarding 'faith ministries,' here I would like to challenge one of the 'sacred cows.' As I understand Scripture, there is no basis, whatsoever, for praying only and not asking."

I suggested that I have heard that ministries that "actually do things for people" are fairing better than those such as "teaching" and/or "informational" ministries. How and in what ways can these latter organizations continue seeking operational funding in this scenario?

Shaw responded: "We, at Douglas Shaw & Associates currently serve about 36 ministries. Many of these have a 'social services' component, but about half of those we serve do not. Of the 36 ministries, all but 3 are meeting their income needs by using proven strategies that are donor-focused. The challenges are indeed greater for those who do not have a social services component, but there are ways to acquire new donors and cultivate relationships with existing donors that continue to propel them forward so they can accomplish their mission and vision.

"Most ministries are approaching their donors from an 'institutional' perspective rather than a 'donor-focused' approach. Their fundraising and communications talk more about the ministry rather than to the donor. The donor needs to hear how the Lord is using them and their gifts to change and save lives.

I asked Shaw why should believers give to Christian ministries specifically and not just to humanitarian/relief /development work, NGO's, and charities in general?

"Here again, people give to causes that reflect their values. If there is not a Christian ministry doing work that reflects their values then they should give to an organization that does. Just because an organization is Christian does not make giving to it a wise investment. Sadly, we all know Christian organizations that do not have either the capacity to handle what has been entrusted to them, or are poorly managed. Given a choice between two organizations, both very competent in their missions, I would choose the Christian ministry because they are intentionally advancing the Kingdom. There are, however, many good organizations that are doing what Scripture teaches e.g. feeding the hungry, healing the sick, welcoming the stranger, loving the unlovely. You get the picture. The onus is on Christian ministries to be excellent in what they do."

As a follow-up, I asked Shaw what principles should guide believers in their giving choices? What factors should believers look for in making those choices? Should a "return on investment" be part of their thinking?

"Excellent question! It really depends upon what the donor believes God is leading them to do. There are many ministries that are very effective in changing and saving lives. But, they may be well funded and the donor feels led to give to a ministry that is doing things well, but just needs greater financial support in order to accomplish their mission. Some people like to give where they perceive it will make the biggest difference."

Here are some guiding principles for donors:

a. Does the ministryís mission, vision and values match closely to your own?

b. Has the ministry demonstrated integrity in all it does?

c. Are lives really being changed and saved? Are results measurable? Can you accept their effectiveness?

d. Are you being told, clearly, how your funds are being used?

e. Is the ministry accountable for how it spends your money? How do you know?

f. Have you ever met anyone from this ministry? Were they forthcoming about the ministryís strengths and weaknesses?

g. Does the ministry submit itself to outside financial auditing?

h. Does the board have term-limits of service? (Self-perpetuating boards are open to suspicion)

i. Do all the board members give financially?

j. Is the percentage of overhead comparable to other ministries of similar kind?

k. Can you visit the ministry if you want to? Have you been invited?

Finally, I asked Shaw if "the Tithe" still relevant in today's culture and economy? Why or why not?

"This question intrigued me, so I looked it up on the official NIV website. It contained no listings for the word 'tithe' in the New Testament!

"Now, does this mean it is no longer relevant? Iím going to leave this one to the pastors and theologians to answer. What I can say is that one need only study the teachings of Jesus to get a sense of His heart and standards for caring for those around us."


** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. Michael has traveled to Albania and the former Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany and the former Czechoslovakia, Israel, and Canada. He has reported for ANS from Jordan, China, Russia, Jamaica, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649,at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.'

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