“Our support has ‘dried up’ … we have no one to contact, and it seems no one will support us anymore. What do we do?”
Over the past few years, I’ve received a lot of messages like this from well-meaning, kind-hearted missionaries. Though fundraising isn’t the primary topic I write about, I delve into it time to time because fundraising is just a more specific type of marketing (and because I genuinely want to help).
In my humble opinion, fundraisers would do well to consider the different “calibers” of donors. As yucky as that may sound, it’s necessary. To illustrate, let me share a personal story:
“Too much month at the end of the money!”
Many years ago, I was pulling double-duty as a grad student and youth pastor. Translation: I had no money. I remember one instance (as Dave Ramsey says) when there was too much month at the end of the money, so I prayed “God, please provide!”
He did help, rather unexpectedly, through a nice little lady at my church. She gave me a check that happened to cover my rent that month. No one had any idea that I was in need! I was grateful and excited — but I also thought to myself, “I can either live like this every single month, or get a few things in place so I won’t have to constantly depend on last minute bailouts.”
(Getting another job wasn’t an option — my hours were packed.)
Don’t confuse influence with money (or vice-versa).
Too many fundraisers confuse the two, and end up with an imbalance between both. The reality is that you need donors with money and influence to adequately support your cause.
- Money: how much that particular donor will (or is able) to give.
- Influence: how much exposure that donor can give you (but not actual donations).
The simplest way I can explain this is with a diagram:
Zone #1: High Money, High Influence
Several years ago, I worked at a generous and influential church. One particular missionary couple struck up a relationship with our associate pastor, and they were eventually invited to speak.
Our church took up an offering that weekend, and this couple went home with over $20,000. We also decided to support them monthly, actively encouraged our members to join their mission trips, and recommended them to other churches in our network.
They may well have raised $100,000 in three years from our church alone, either directly or indirectly. It’s likely we supplied one of the largest percentages of donations (from one source) for this couple during those years. Some fundraisers call these folks “anchor donors.”
What percentage of your income is coming from singular sources? And can they leverage their influence to open even more opportunities for you?
These are important questions to consider.
Zone #2: Low Money, High Influence
This is where I see many missionaries (unfortunately) spend most of their focus. Influence does not equal donations. A prime example might be your pastor: he may have influence (he can open the pulpit to you, or connect you with other ministries) but he will not personally give a significant amount of money to you.
Let’s consider another case …
Say you get invited to speak at your denomination’s premier missions conference, where 1,000 missionaries from all over the world will gather for three days of power-packed worship, teaching, and workshops.
Huge exposure! Tons of pictures of you speaking to masses of people! Awesome, right?
Maybe, maybe not. Why?
Because that particular audience, while influential, will not directly donate to you. You may get an honorarium for speaking, but this kind of situation equates to you being paid by exposure, not actual money.
Many missionaries think, “If I can just speak at that conference, the exposure would really raise a lot of money!” This is seldom the case. Influence and money are two very different things.
Still, you should seek these kind of donors because they can open doors to more connections or opportunities. Just keep in mind: they are not the silver bullet they appear to be, nor will they really take care of your immediate financial needs.
Zone #3: High Money, Low Influence
This is your wealthy relative / friend / colleague / co-worker that gives you a healthy donation — but does not carry the influence within ministry circles to connect you with other churches, events, and audiences.
Remember that sweet little lady that helped me pay rent? She’s in this category. The amount of money she gave me was huge for me at the time, but that was all it was: a one-time gesture of compassion. There’s no way she could connect me with other ministries, leaders, and so forth.
You may have folks in this quadrant that give to you regularly. Awesome! But remember that you can’t depend on only these folks. They are important, but they won’t do much in terms of getting “word out” about what you’re doing. You still need folks from zones #1 and #2 — their influence in ministry circles is important for you.
Zone #4: Low Money, Low Influence
The best example I can think of for this quadrant: your church youth group. They love you, will pray their lungs out for you, and will hold bake sales to raise money for your cause — it just won’t be a lot.
I love youth groups and would never despise the size of the gift, but let’s be practical. They might raise a few hundred bucks but for ongoing, sustainable support they simply don’t have the cash flow. Neither do they have the access or connections to get you in front of new audiences or donors.
This is the type of donor that you should avoid spending significant amounts of time on. Please don’t take this the wrong way — I know God can use anyone or anything, and some of your best donors may come as a result of connecting with these folks. But you should spend the bulk of your fundraising efforts elsewhere.
What percentage of my support should come from each quadrant?
There is no easy answer. I could spout off the 80/20 rule (that 80% of your support will come from the top 20% of donors) but that would just be an unfair generalization. Every situation is different, including yours.
My hope is that you will at least consider where your support is coming from, and how you can more effectively target each type of donor shown here.
My advice: target the folks in quadrant #1, because that will trickle down into the other quadrants. I’m not saying you have to wear a 3-piece suit and become all “corporate” but you would be wise to consider:
“How do people that have significant influence and finances operate? What do they base their decisions on, especially when it comes to finances?”
A few thoughts:
- provide a detailed financial report (wealthy people read these)
- cast vision — show what you’ve been doing with your money, and what you plan to do with more
- exhibit professionalism so that influential leaders find it easy to recommend you to others
- show all of this in your support letter and fundraising efforts
Effectively reaching the folks in quadrant #1 will require the most thought and diligence — which is exactly why you should try to reach them. They will create a domino effect into the other quadrants that will sustain you long-term.
- Look at your current donor base, and consider which quadrant they fall into.
- Ask yourself, “What does each donor like to hear about in regards to our work?”
- Grab a calendar and plan when you will update your donors.
- Craft the updates, making sure they communicate well enough to quadrant #1 people.
- Grab your calendar, and schedule the next time you will repeat steps 1-4.
Intentionality increases your influence and income.
You’re probably busy, perhaps even over-worked. You may hate math, accounting, money, and marketing. It’s very possible you’re scared to look at what the numbers say.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned living in overlap of ministry, business, and marketing it’s this: intentionality increases your influence and income.
If you follow the actions steps above and execute, you will see results!
One affordable resource you may find useful:
If this post resonated with you, or if you have other fundraising questions, leave a comment below.
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