January 27

The Road Less Traveled (Psalm 24)

Daniel Watts

It sounded like just what I needed: “New Era Philanthropy,” a weekend of fundraising training in Colorado Springs.

An added incentive for me was the fact that the sponsoring organization would cover the cost of lodging, meals, and transportation: at the time I was living and ministering in Krakow, Poland.

In order for me to attend, the chairman of the board for Every Generation Ministries (EGM)—David Sanger—had to join me. A fellow children’s worker, a good friend, and young like me, he also didn’t know a lot about organizations and fundraising.

A little background. I had been a children’s pastor in Southern California, and I had a seminary degree. But I really had no idea what I was doing or how I was supposed to build a ministry organization and procure the financial resources we needed.

My wife and I had been ministering in Poland, and Every Generation Ministries emerged from that work. Yes, I was the founder of the ministry, but I was well aware I didn’t know all I needed to know.

I was eager for any help I could get, so David and I accepted the invitation to the training in Colorado.

During the conference, David and I attended a seminar entitled “Making the Ask.” The presenter talked about the importance of researching potential donors and finding out how much they could give.

(I thought there were laws against that stuff, but apparently you can find out a lot about people’s finances, especially individuals who are wealthy.) He also made it clear that fundraising efforts are generally focused on wealthy people. His spiel continued….

Once I, the ministry’s fundraiser-in-chief, had done my homework, I would be ready to meet potential donors. At that time, I would present the giving opportunity and then ask for a financial gift, the size of which I had figured out based on my earlier research.

The seminar presenter then made a big deal about not leaving without a check. He had stories, statistics, and experience to support his teaching. (If you look up “closer” in the dictionary, his picture might be there.)

When he finished his presentation, he asked if we had any questions. I was totally overdressed as Europeans tend to be in the US. I stood up—a move that was also weird in the US unless you’re at a White House press conference—and naively asked, “How can you ask people for something that isn’t theirs?

The look on his face was awesome: it was as if I were from Mars. Looking at me quizzically, he asked what I was talking about. His nonverbal communication was not encouraging.

“Psalm 24:1 teaches that everything belongs to God,” I said, “so how can we ask someone to give us something that actually belongs to someone else, namely, to God?”

Now the look on his face was not so awesome: I could see he thought I was an idiot. In that awkward moment, someone in the back—the CFO of a very large Christian organization—blurted out, “How big is your budget?”

Pretty excited about the fact we’d just crossed the $100,000 threshold, I shared that with the group.

That will never change,” he said—and everyone began laughing. 

And they were laughing at me.

Right then David pulled on the sleeve of my sport coat, and pretty much humiliated, I sat down. That very large organization probably spent more on their annual utility bills than EGM had in its entire budget.

The Road Well Traveled

The road well traveled

That “Making the Ask” seminar was significant as well as a bit humiliating. During that presentation, I began to see a little more clearly that there are at least two roads to effective fundraising, and one road is much more traveled than the other.

Each road operates according to its own distinct paradigm. The well-traveled “Make the Ask” road is paved with secular sales and marketing techniques as well as some biblical principles. 

Foundational to this common road is the truth that churches and ministries need money for their work; Christians have money; so we just need to convince them to write the check. The essential aspect of this approach is the ask, and sales and marketing techniques are helpful, if not crucial. 

Yet often these marketing and sales techniques seem awkward or even crass to a pastor. Frankly, when you’re operating in this paradigm and on the road well traveled, money can be hard to talk about from the pulpit.

In fact, I recently took a class from a world famous British scholar. In one of his lectures, he stated flat out, “We all know how difficult it is to talk about money to a congregation.”

I looked around the packed lecture hall at all the pastors responding to this comment with knowing nods. Because of this discomfort—the scholar went on—a pastor may teach a vague series on giving at the beginning of the year, host a Financial Peace University course for the congregation, and pray… a lot. This is the road well traveled.

Those more upbeat pastors who try to embrace the road-well-traveled model may also try another lane. They create a dramatic media presentation of how awesome the church is and how great the impact people’s giving is having on the church family, the local community, and ministry projects around the world.

The presentation fires up the congregation, and people want to give more. After all, when—like Amazon—a church is successful, people want to invest.

So—in this model, on this more traveled road—pastors in some sense cast the vision, make the ask, and don’t leave without the check.

The goal of the ask is a hoped-for transaction between the giver and the receiver. The potential giver is definitely in the fundraiser’s sights and sometimes even in the sights of some pastors.

The Road Less Traveled

The road less traveled

The day after my monumental embarrassment during the “Make the Ask” seminar, our new ministry organization (Every Generation Ministries) had a board of directors meeting.

Two weeks earlier, a Christian foundation had awarded a $30,000 grant to EGM. For an organization our size, that was like an Eastern European farmer with a horse and a plow being awarded an air-conditioned John Deere tractor.

Not only that, but the organization that had sponsored the “Make the Ask” event offered to receive the $30,000 gift for us and, in 90 days, double it to $60,000. Being solely responsible for fundraising, I found this good news almost more than I could bear.

During the board meeting, we talked about the grant, and to my utter shock the board of directors decided to decline the matching opportunity.

The chairman and some of the other members had prayed and felt the Lord leading them to forgo the match. I confess, the match was so awesome, I figured prayer wasn’t even required! Clearly God had poured out His blessings on us!

But the board held fast to its decision. We did—with gratitude to God—receive the $30,000 gift.

And a few weeks later, splashed across the front page of The Wall Street Journal, was news that the CEO of that doubling organization had been indicted for running a Ponzi scheme. We would have lost every cent of our $30,000 grant.

God gives guidance regarding money to those who ask. On the road well traveled it’s all about securing the funding. On the road less traveled it’s about asking people to talk to God and give as He guides.

The road less traveled is all about helping people grow in their relationship with Christ through giving. Next week we will look at the next step down the road.

In Summary

The Road Well Traveled: Learn about prospective donors, find a project that aligns with their heart and giving history, make the ask for the appropriate amount (you know that from your research), and do not leave without the check.

The Road Less Traveled: Minister to people by presenting your needs and asking them to talk with God about financially supporting the ministry and to then do as He leads. Help people grow in their relationship with God through giving. 

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