Thought Factory Podcast #410 || How to Approach a Donor for Money

How do we approach ministry when it comes to donors’ money? How do we cultivate donors and make the ask?  What are the people with greater financial means thinking and expecting when they are approached to give money, especially when people ask them al the time to give to various causes?  Hosts Jeff Eckart and Jayson Brewer talk to a stockbroker who made a lot of money over the course of 30+ years in the financial industry.  He gives us insight from his perspective of someone who is approached to give away his money all the time.

Bill Johnson has been in the financial industry for 30+ years as a financial advisor, stockbroker, and financial planner.  He has since become an ordained minister and we spoke with him on the Thought Factory Podcast.  Here are the highlights of the interview:

What is your view of money?
“I tell people all the time and I remind myself all the time, money is a tool.  It’s nothing more, it’s nothing less.  I tell people, it’s only money, you never want to look at it as anything more or anything less.  So, I think that’s the first place you want to start.  I think as a donor person that’s often asked for money, I think you just want to keep that in mind so that when you go to the donor, you are not overly dramatic and see it as something way more than it is.

I view my role as a donor in a pretty strong fiduciary capacity.  There’s a due diligence piece that has to happen.  I think finding that balance with a donor to recognize it’s only money but that there’s also a fiduciary aspect to it, it’s only a tool, but that I don’t want to just be flippant with it either.”

Could you define fiduciary?
The Bible has a lot to say about fiduciary.  It’s a person that is entrusted with something that is not theirs and that there’s ultimately some kind of accounting for what they’ve been entrusted with.  We know the story of The Talents, a pretty common one, but in the business world, a fiduciary is that exact person.  So when someone gives me their money to invest, I have to invest upon their behalf and give an accounting for what it is that I do, to show that I’m a good steward of what they’ve given me.  So that fiduciary is a powerful biblical term that carries over in the donor world because many donors carry that feeling of, ‘Hey, God has entrusted me with this, I need to show good fiduciary work.'”

What goes through your mind when you get approached to be asked for money? Speak for people on your side of the table as far as what they are thinking/expecting?
“Recognize that money and a donor has two parts to them.  There’s the mind part – like what happens in our thoughts –  that’s somewhat of the fiduciary piece.  And then there’s the heart piece – there’s the emotion behind things.  Now, donors sometimes fall in one camp or the other.  Some donors are very mind, that it’s a very methodical, very fiduciary way and that’s okay.  It’s okay for a donor to feel a stronger tendency towards that fiduciary aspect so if you’re going to ask that kind of donor, you’re going to have to be ready to answer very logistical questions of how much, when, where, and what do you need, why, and how. 

Then there’s the heart piece that says, ‘Hey, I, as a donor, I’ve got money to give but I want to hear this story.  I want to know what’s going on and to hear about transformation.  So the heart piece has both passion and story behind it.  If you’re going to be asking donors, you want to try to have a little bit of a groundwork to know where they are at.

I think it’s very okay for you to go to the donor first, maybe in that first interaction and say, ‘I’m not sure where you are, tell me, are you more of a mind person – logistics, thoughts or you more of a heart person – emotion, passion, story?’  And then let them answer that.”

How do you find or identify a potential donor?
Donors are different because there’s some that you will think right away might have a lot to give and that may or may not be the case.  So, the first thing I would do is, I would make no assumptions about a person’s ability to give.  If you aren’t really intimately aware of how their life works, if you don’t know who they are, I found there’s a whole group of people of donors who live very modestly and off the radar lives. 

I would just say don’t look maybe to identify donors as much as I would say I want to find out who in a church or wherever who I can just tell the story, the vision.

Vision is what I see.  A mission is what I’m doing to get there.  So you want to be able to articulate your vision and your mission for that ministry.”

How would you guide a youth pastor to approach a potential donor?
“I think the underlying issue behind that, which is a very dangerous one if you’re not careful.  We all do this, you start to view the utilitarian value of a relationship, which is what can you do for me?  You don’t come out and say it but it comes out in this way:  so if you come back into your church or wherever, you’ve got a phone call from someone you think really can write you a big check or do whatever you need, and then you get a phone call message from maybe a person that’s not in that place, you immediately say, ‘Well, I’m going to call this one back first.’  Yeah, it’s so subtle.  How the utilitarian view of relationships comes in and the beauty of Jesus is he never did that.

So when you go looking for donors, I would tell people, don’t look for donors. I know that seems dumb but don’t look for donors.  Look to share the story of the vision and mission that you have.  Then let God do what God does in that interaction.”

Does it bother you that if somebody approached you and knowing that they found out that you had means and then all they’re doing is approaching you because you have the financial resources?
“None of us have everything figured out with money.  In fact, for all that I know about money, I’ve told many people, I feel like I know very little about it.  But, there’s one thing that does happen when money happens to us.  If we get a bonus or what in our family, called “found money,” we actually start praying.  ‘Okay God, we are going to be looking for needs to come our way.’  We teach our children to have this little pool of money and now let’s begin praying that God brings us needs.  It’s okay to just have people ask me for money I have no problem with that now.”

(Jeff) I see so much of a parallel between fundraising and prayer.  The more you know the donor and the more you have a mutually shared heart, the more mutually benefit you can get.  If you know they’re a hard person or if you know their information, that shapes your approach to them.  Much as our approach to prayer.  The more you know about God, the better you can pray.  The more you know about His Word that describes Him and what he cares about, what he’s passionate about, the better you are able to pray to Him.

What are some do’s and don’ts oo what are some common mistakes that you’ve seen happen?
“I am not at all impressed with the one-time letter and they always come at the end of the year.  It says something like, ‘You’re going to use a tax deduction.’  As if a tax deduction is why I give.  Half the money we give is not even that kind, it’s just cash.  So the tax deduction, the year-end and we’re trying to close the gap and we got a budget shortfall and all that.  It’s for whatever reason, for me, that doesn’t motivate me a lot.   I’m much more motivated by the story, the transformation.”

What do you want to say to youth workers about cultivating donors?
“I think a youth pastor faces a little bit of a difficulty because the donors are parishioners and so they’re maybe already giving to the church.  So I would, if I was a youth pastor or a youth worker, if I was going to do anything, I would definitely approach my leadership and find out what their expectations are.  Like, what am I allowed to do and not do?  How am I allowed to ask and where?

To me, parents of the ministry are probably your best first place I’d want to go.”

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