The Uncomfortable Truth About Me

The Trust-Builder

True story: 

A ministry leader tended to be quite closed in discussing his emotions; he was extremely reluctant to reveal anything of the sort to his donors.  

But a program produced by his ministry was particularly close to his heart — a program designed to help underprivileged children in very practical ways.  

The ministry leader grieved, literally, over his ability to fund the program fully.  

Yet year after year, the donors failed to respond.  

Finally, he agreed to bare his soul. In a message to donors, he admitted how deeply he was hurting about his failure to raise the money needed. He didn’t whine; he just expressed the truth about the frustration and pain he was feeling — in the context of the children’s need. 

The results were powerful. Donors responded to his willingness to disclose his own pain. They gave generously. The program’s funding increased dramatically. 

Vulnerability made the difference. 

Vulnerability takes “transparency” one “dangerous” step further: Now, instead of simply revealing myself to you, I will reveal to you things that you could use to hurt me. 

No wonder it’s one of the five friendship components (maybe one of the two) most often absent from ministries’ donor relationships. 

Vulnerability opens the heart in ways that nothing else can. It says, 

  • “I have doubts.”
  • “I have bad days.”
  • “I get tired.”
  • “I get angry.” 

Vulnerability takes huge risks — because the donor could easily respond with “I hate you for that.” 

But this hardly ever happens. 

Instead — because vulnerability is so rare — the donor is astonished. 

And because the risk you’ve taken is so evident, the bond between you and the donor is dramatically intensified. 

  • “I wish I had done it differently.” Could you admit such a thing to your donors? 
  • “This situation has me more discouraged than I’ve ever been.” Can you imagine your donors not reading the rest of a letter that began with those words? 
  • “I had an argument with my wife yesterday, and…” That’s vulnerability! 

Of course, there are many objections to the doctrine of vulnerability: 

  • “Aw, people don’t want to hear about my troubles.” 
  • “Our donors just want the facts — ‘Tell me what to do.’” 
  • “This is fundraising, not psychotherapy.” 

No, vulnerability should not equate to the wanton airing of your dirty laundry. Your appeals don’t need to become an exercise in psychoanalysis. 

But where it’s appropriate — where it helps your donor understand your frame of mind, and why you feel something is important, or how you came to be in a certain position or hold a certain view — vulnerability can make a tremendous impact. 

Real friends tell on themselves. Admitting to your own flaws is a sign of trust. Trust connects people. 

The average donor fails to make much of a distinction between the message and the messenger, so you need ways to connect to that donor — person-to-person, not corporation-to-customer. 

Why is your best friend your best friend? The answer probably involves the word trust. “I can trust my best friend.” Friendship and trust are intertwined. Vulnerability builds trust. 

Over time, you might say trust takes on sort of a life of its own. It greases the chute between the ministry’s request and the donor’s response. The donor doesn’t have to be skeptical, doesn’t have to be careful, doesn’t have to inspect the appeal in fine detail, if trust has already been established. Vulnerability gets you to the place of trust more quickly. 

Generally, we observe that donors are quicker to trust ministry leaders than ministry leaders are to trust donors. Yet practicing vulnerability in our communications with donors can become one of the most rewarding aspects of the relationship.  

Making oneself vulnerable has a certain cleansing quality — the feeling of “I have nothing to hide” is very freeing. You’ll often get a warm response from donors when you’ve made yourself vulnerable, and that’s enriching too. Vulnerability might be described as the breathtaking extreme of a ministry leader’s contribution to a donor relationship. 

  • The story of Jesus’ earthly life is a story of vulnerability. He wept; He squirmed; He admitted not wanting to go to the cross. 

    Philip Yancey, in The Jesus I Never Knew, refers to what Dostoevsky called “the miracle of restraint.” While at any moment God could squash any of us like a bug — and we would deserve it — He loves us so much that He doesn’t squash us. 

    Yancey observes that God “granted us the power to live as though he did not exist, to spit in his face, to crucify him.” 

    He made Himself vulnerable to us.

    “Although power can force obedience,” Yancey writes, “only love can summon a response of love, which is the one thing God wants from us and the reason he created us.” 

Christ’s vulnerability is the ideal model for us. 

When we make ourselves vulnerable to our donors, we say to them, “I am not going to manipulate you into responding; I will not try to overpower you and get you to do something you don’t want to do. I’m on your level. I just know this ministry is doing good things, and if you become part of it, it will be good for you as well.” 

Let’s talk about your ministry’s unique donor-relationship dynamics. To start a conversation, please contact BBS & Associates today.