Archive | February, 2015

Another Aspect of Real Ministry – Deborah Lewis

27 Feb

One thing we don’t need more of is gloomy doom-filled prophecy about the state of the church, campus ministry, and money.  Another thing we don’t need is more clergy and campus ministers referring to things like fundraising and routine administrative work as “not real ministry.”  That’s like if Jesus, instead of telling the disciples to feed the 5000 (Mark 6: 30-44), had said, “I don’t care if they’re hungry.  We’ve been healing and teaching for days.  That’s real ministry.  I don’t care how they get fed so let’s get out of here.”

Even if you are somehow swimming in cash, fundraising for ministry is still important.  One day you might be in different circumstances.  More importantly, raising funds is also about raising the stakes for the folks who support (or should be supporting) your ministry.  It’s about inviting greater, deeper participation in and connection with campus ministry.  We all need that.

I am not an expert but I have learned a few things in 14 years of campus ministry.  I’m still learning.  The Wesley Foundation at UVA is in the midst of its first-ever capital campaign and though I’d do some things differently if we were starting over right now, we have been more successful than anyone thought we’d be when we started out.  When we’ve made it through the campaign maybe I’ll offer more specific tips for capital campaigns but today I offer a few thoughts on the logistics of routine fundraising.

  1. Capture information. How do you receive and or request contact information?  Your first priority should be students and their parents.  When and how do you ask for information?  Mailings? Clipboards at events?  Facebook groups?  I’d love to hear from others on this one, as the terrain changes quickly and it can be hard to keep up.  It’s easier than ever to post mass messages to a Facebook group but that’s not the same as knowing who’s in the group and how to send them a postal mail letter.
  2. Use database software and do regular upkeep. I hear other campus ministers bemoan the fact that when they got to their ministry there was no well-developed database of alumni and friends.  If this is where you are, let the griping stop and the databasing begin!  Start right now with this year’s graduating students.  Get their full contact info and their parents’ mailing info (#1) and put it into your system.  Alumni and their parents are your best source of supporters because they get what you are doing and they are living proof of the importance of your ministry.  Once you get rolling, you can recruit alumni to “reach back” and find those you’re missing.Maintaining your database is an ongoing project.  Make sure your postal mailings have “return service requested” so you are kept abreast of address changes.  Keep reminders on your web site, email lists, Facebook groups, and the like, reminding folks to send you address changes or the whereabouts of missing alumni they might know.  Add every donor to your database:  the church that sends a gift or raises an offering when you go to speak about your ministry, the random person  who sends a gift because they saw something about your ministry in a denominational publication, the great aunt who sends a gift in honor of a graduating nephew, etc.  If someone has taken the time to send a gift or make one online, you already have their attention.

    There are many good low-cost options for database software so please don’t be tempted to rig something up with an excel spreadsheet.  You will need more power and functionality than that, if not now, eventually.  (I receive no benefits from this company for saying this, but we have been using Fundraiser for over a decade.  It integrates well with Quickbooks so you can enter gifts just one time.)

  1. Set up online giving. Network for Good is a great option and works in conjunction with Guidestar.  Your denomination or the alumni association of your school may have other methods available to your ministry.  Online giving services generally charge a fee for their service, usually taken as a percentage of the gift a donor makes (Network for Good communicates this very clearly to the donor and gives him the option to cover the fee by making a larger gift).  Funds are transferred electronically to your ministry’s designated bank account and you have immediate online access to the donor information for updating your database (#2) and sending thank you letters (#4).Don’t let the initial set up or the fees deter you from offering online giving.  I am certain we have regular donors who will never go online to make a gift.  I am equally certain there are others who have made gifts (and who set up regular, recurring gifts) because we offer online giving.  Give your community options for making their gifts – some will want to send checks and others will want to handle everything online.  You want to hear from all of them.
  1. Send thank you letters. A fantastic motto is “thank before you bank,” meaning send the thank you before you deposit the check.  We don’t always get things done in that order but it’s a good goal and reminder of the importance of sending timely thank you notes.  We use a form letter which our database fills in with the pertinent info regarding amount of gift, what it was given for, etc.  In the letter we include a cumulative total of the donor’s year-to-date giving, avoiding the need to send separate year-end tax letters (the last gift a donor makes in a given year will always have that year’s total-gifts-to-date).  I personally sign all thank you letters and I try to write at least one handwritten sentence on each one.  This is another way to nourish community connection (#5) and to give the form letters a personal touch.  Something as simple as this will work:  “Exams are starting up next week.  We are so thankful for your generous gift and your prayers as students finish up the semester.”
  2. Keep and create community.  I sort of cringe when I hear words like “constituents” and “stakeholders,” though I get why they have started to creep into ministry circles.  Whatever you want to call them, there are people who make up your community – beyond the students currently participating.  Alumni, parents, churches nearby, denominational groups, university personnel or office-holders, friends, and board members (past and present) all fall into this community.  Especially since they do not all live nearby where they can see and participate in your ministry on a regular basis, they need to hear from you regularly – and not just to ask for money.  When your community members remain engaged in what’s going on and recognize they are still part of your community – no matter the distance or years – they are much more likely to maintain a connection through giving, too.Your website, Facebook page and/or groups (do you have one for alumni and friends?), Twitter, Instagram, listservs, and postal mailings can all be ways to do this.  We still send hard-copy newsletters a couple of times a year and we think carefully about what needs to be communicated in each one.  Along with more casual updates and pictures of recent events online, these are our opportunity to tell the story of our ministry in an episodic fashion, building community over time.
  1. Have a plan. Plans can change but start with a plan and make it intentional. How many times a year will you make an appeal for money?  When during the year will you do so?  Will you be asking for annual operating costs or for gifts to a particular project or fund?  Your plan should include not just the actual appeals but also your storytelling means (#5).  For example, if you know your annual appeal is going out on September 30th, you might plan to send a newsletter around July.  You want folks to have just recently heard from you and to feel caught up on the ministry when your appeal arrives.   After the appeal goes out, keep it in the forefront of your community’s imagination through reminders, links, and pictures online.
  2. Let the people hear more than one voice. After many years writing all of our fundraising appeals, I have started recruiting key alumni to write these for us.  This gives them a chance to step up and help, beyond their own gifts (always choose someone who makes regular contributions so they can say with authority, “Here’s why I give…”), and it gives everyone else a chance to hear the story of your ministry from another angle.  Most of us have become skilled at telling our stories and it doesn’t mean you never have the opportunity to do it again, but sometimes the less polished or non-clergy story is the one others can hear best.  When I ask a student to write for the newsletter or to speak on a visit to a local church, I joke that the people want to hear “real live students,” but it’s true.  Students, alumni, parents, and board members can make the case in ways we can’t.

This list is only a start.  That’s the main thing:  to start wherever you are and make some strides.  Most of us can improve our fundraising skills and most of us will need more of a plan for our future ministries than waiting on bundles of cash to fall from the sky.  Forming and nourishing relationships is as real as ministry gets and it’s at the core of successful fundraising.