Designing a “Donor-Edible” Message

It’s easy to confuse the concept of the message with the concept of the mission statement — or even an operational blueprint.

“The Message” of the ministry can’t be a multi-page document detailing everything the ministry does. “The Message” of the ministry also can’t be a paragraph so long and involved and confusing that it can only be interpreted by a veteran staff member.

Your message must be donor-edible.

If I can gobble up your message — if I can see it, want it, reach out and grab it, pop it, chew it up and swallow it, all within about eight seconds of reading time — then I may want to eat some more of what you’re cooking. You’ve offered me a donor-edible message, and I am grateful!

But if I have to study your message — if it makes me furrow my brow, like a five-year-old contemplating fried mushrooms — if I have to ponder it, figure it out, sniff it warily, cut it with a knife and fork, or otherwise process it … well, then, I may as well have cooked for myself — and I am very, very unlikely to want more of whatever this stuff was that you offered me.

You may have heard this kind of phraseology in the offices of some Christian organizations:

  • “I have people who handle fundraising for me.”
  • “They do our development; I just do ministry.”
  • “We try to keep fundraising separate.”

This way of thinking carries terrible risk! Keeping the two separate, on the face of it, doesn’t seem dangerous — or even mistaken. In fact, it sounds honorable — sort of a ministry equivalent of the separation of church and state.

But separation of church and state wasn’t God’s idea. The state needs the influence of the church — civil government, after all, is ordained by God, and His design for government is fully compatible with His design for the church (according to Romans 13:1, 1 Peter 2:13,14, and elsewhere).

Likewise, your marketing efforts need to be fully informed by your ministries. Their designs should be fully compatible. God’s idea is that the marketing — the communicating, the inspiring, the persuading — will grow directly out of the ministry itself.

If you take the Holy Spirit out of the fundraising, the work He wants to accomplish — in the lives of those your ministry is helping, even in the lives of your donors themselves — goes undone.

Ministry is a team sport

To avoid schizophrenia, where “ministry” is run separately from “marketing” in your ministry, you must acknowledge the fact that ministry is a team sport.

The leadership is only one part of the team. The staff forms other parts. Volunteers are a part of the team. A development agency may be part of your team. Perhaps most critical of all, the donor is a part of the team.

We are all members of the body of Christ, and certainly your ministry is a significant, distinct component of that body. It follows, then, that your ministry must function by the same processes and within the same parameters as the body as a whole. And denigrating the role of any member of the body is … well, a no-no.

The power of “human relations”

One major MIQ (“most important quality”) among donors involves what we might call a sense of “human relations” — treating the donor like a real human being, with common courtesies, and allowing the donor to feel like a partner in the work instead of simply a money-giver.

Failure in “expressing their thanks and gratitude for your contribution,” for example, was cited by one in five lapsed donors as a reason for lapsing — and more than 35% as a reason for decreasing contributions. (Active donors were even more passionate about gratitude: 36% would stop giving, and 24% would decrease giving if a ministry failed to express thanks.)

The calling of God


It is important that a field representative feel a sense of ‘the calling of God’ into major donor ministry.

If a rep feels led by God into this work, the mission of the organization will tend to stay in sharper focus for him. If a ministry’s representative, for example, believes that God has called him there ‘to help students grow into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ’ (that organization’s mission statement), he will do everything — build relationships, work hard, etc., etc. — with a strong level of commitment and a rather slim chance of being sidetracked.

When face to face with a donor, you have to be able to trust your mission. You have to know it, understand it, and believe it. You have to be committed to it heart and soul. Your heart has to beat with the pulse of that mission.

Then, every interaction with that donor, every conversation — all the way from chit-chat about casual everyday goings-on to the ‘moment of truth’ when you’re asking for a donation — will flow naturally out of, and back to, that mission. If the rep isn’t sold on it, the donor is unlikely to buy into it.


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A winning formula


Those involved in your ministry’s major donor program must remember the ministry’s mission — even as they never forget to raise money for your ministry. Here’s an example.

Chris Cole, 26 years old, had no fundraising background, but she had a passion for the ministry. She was trained as a field rep and began making calls and visits on her own. Within six months, she was raising 40% more than her wage.

Because she was the ministry’s first field rep, there was no significant pool of donors. She had no choice but to make a lot of ‘cold calls,’ contacting prospects out of the blue and asking for the opportunity to get together and talk about the ministry.

She was warned that she would get a lot of no’s before she would ever get a yes — statistically, it was likely that she would be rejected eight times for every one acceptance. Half an hour into her first day at work, she called down the hall: ‘I’m halfway to a yes!’ She had been turned down four times. But she was persistent. She was engaging.

When she got into a relationship with someone, she never forgot the mission — the mission of the organization she was representing, which filled her with joy and energy, and her specific mission as a field representative of that organization: to raise money for the achievement of the organization’s ministry goals. Chris Cole is the kind of field rep you need to build your major donor ministry.


Like what you read and want to learn more? Check out some of our books.

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