May 9, 2008 Volume 22, Number 04
Marketing meets ministry
Raising money with integrity is a noble task
By Tom McLagan | Special to ChristianWeek
The session is about to begin. There is an uneasy shuffle of feet as the counselor stands. "Thank you all for coming." He gestures to me, "Maybe you'd like to go first." I hesitate, then rise slowly, sweat beading on my forehead. I swallow and begin, "My name is Tom, and I'm a fundraiser...[gulp]... for a Christian ministry." The others gasp. As I sit, the woman beside me gently touches my shoulder. "I'm sorry", she says. And she means it.
This is the reaction (slightly embellished) I get nearly every time I tell people my profession. Surprise mixed with sympathy. It's inconceivable to people that anyone could enjoy it. The fact is, however, that God made some of us to be communicators-even communicators who on occasion ask our brothers and sisters for money. Please don't feel sorry for us. Many of us couldn't be happier. This is our ministry.
Marketing in the world of ministry does present special challenges, but also many delights. When marketing meets ministry the road is fraught with hazards, but the encounter doesn't need to be a collision.
To some people, "marketing" (which I use to include fundraising and promotion) is a dirty word. What does filthy lucre have to do with ministry? Quite a lot, as it turns out. The Bible certainly warns us not to idolize money. But neither should we run from it. Money is simply a tool, and when employed properly it brings tremendous blessing.
Marketing in ministry is simply communication to inform and encourage others to give. Is that not actually a holy activity? Is exactly what Paul did when he encouraged the Corinthians to fulfill their pledge of financial aid to other believers in Jerusalem?
I also dislike certain styles of marketing. And I too, am tired of the sheer volume of it. But these are evidences of bad marketing, not evidence that marketing is bad. Certain stories need to be told, and we cannot let our distaste for others' techniques sour us to the whole practice.
I think some of my friends would consider it a perfect world if ministries did not need to ask for support at all-the Spirit would simply move people to give. As someone familiar with several ministries, I can tell you that such a world does not exist. The truth is that people give to the projects or programs that they know about-and they will not know unless we tell them. Gifted communicators have a role to play.
Asking for money isn't easy, but it needs to be done. So, if you need to ask for support, seek advice about how to do it well, rather than avoiding it. Or better yet, recruit someone who likes this sort of thing. Believe it or not, such people exist.
Some marketers are not shy at all. Some are pushy and manipulative, and take advantage of the soft-hearted. But if the cause is compelling and clearly presented, accompanied by prayer, then there's no need for pushiness. Paul advised not to give under compulsion. By inference, Christ-followers should not use compulsion when asking others to give.
Equally problematic are leaders that seem more anxious to see growth in their organization's annual revenue than in the final ministry outcomes. If the marketing department starts to take on a life of its own it's time for the marketers (and those leaders) to reconnect with the ministry programs. This will remind them of why they exist; the end goal is ministry, not money.
Can there be balance when marketing meets ministry? I think so, if we can keep a few thoughts in mind:
Act, pray and fear not--Remind yourself every day that God is the owner of all things and the only reservoir of resources for your ministry.
Practitioners needed--To have a fulfilling career in fundraising you must excel in the Christian discipline of giving.
Share stories of impact--To grow a loyal constituency across demographics, give donors evidence (testimonials and statistics) that their giving makes a difference.
Avoid competition--Whatever your opinions of other ministries may be, keep them to yourself.
Tell the truth-Puffed--up reports and subtle omissions can twist the truth. Communication must be skillful, but if we abandon integrity we are defeated from the start (2 Cor. 4:2).
Be transparent about challenges--Talk about your problems as openly as possible and you will be surprised how many donors will pray and support you.
Stewardship matters--Use fundraising methods with a high ratio of "funds raised per dollar spent." Be wary of low-return activities, including leadership pet projects.
True believers only, please--Your marketing team must really believe in what you do.
Know your place--Sometimes marketing staff can be prideful because they see themselves as the breadwinners of the organization. This is a recipe for low morale.
Spare us the wailing--Tell your story compellingly, invite support, then be quiet. Don't engage in manipulation or syrupy groaning. Do your job, and let the Spirit do His. (2 Cor. 2:17).
To this last point, I realize that "tell your story" is often not easy. Today there are a myriad of ways to tell our stories. Each of us must diligently seek out the best ways to get our message across to the people we want to reach. But balanced and effective ministry fundraising starts with attitudes, not methodologies.
Remember that Jesus raised a lot of money without access to our modern methods. He (and His sizeable entourage) travelled about for three years with no discernable source of income beyond what people handed to them. Jesus presented Himself to the world-He "told His story"-and people gave. In walking by faith, Jesus showed us the way.
In a profession like fundraising, faith can mean the difference between an awe-inspiring journey, and a lot of therapy.
Tom McLagan is director of development for Partners International Canada.