Recently I got to spend time with a friend and major donor who has given millions to one of my clients. This donor has worked hard his entire life. He started with nothing, went to college, and then built a very successful business leveraging all he knew and had learned. Today he has a huge business empire. Along the way, though, he hit some personal obstacles that left him desperate and hopeless. He was able to work through those tough times successfully, but he identifies with people who are struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. He now has “more money than he knows what to do with,” but he also has to have constant reminders of how easily one can slip into total self-destruction.
So, what made this donor start giving millions of dollars to my client? Well, several years ago he responded to a direct mail piece from my client. The donor sent in a larger than normal gift – not a million dollars, but not the average $34 response to a direct mail solicitation. The organization has a follow-up system in place to help notice and reach out to people who sent in larger gifts. Through following up, my client was able to develop a long-term relationship with this donor. The relationship has now reached a place where the donor is giving million-dollar gifts to the organization.
While million-dollar gifts are amazing, I’m not writing this blog post to teach you how to turn direct mail donors into million-dollar donors. Rather, I want to remind us of the important role we play in donors’ lives. Fundraising in a secular context, while great, is fundamentally different from fundraising for the sake of building God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom, we all have a role to play, and we all need to use our gifts. (See Romans 12:4-6.) Sometimes our gifts are our financial resources, but sometimes they are abilities or other gifts instead – which are also given by God. This donor friend of mine has amazing financial resources, but he also has a deep need, because of his struggle with substance abuse. He has to be reminded daily that lives can be ruined by drugs and alcohol or transformed by the gospel.
My client has done an amazing job of engaging this particular donor, inviting him to come and serve the people who are down and out in their city. As fundraisers, we have a responsibility to engage our donors this way so that they can understand and see the impact of the work they are funding. We need to develop strategies to help our donors experience the reality that we are building God’s kingdom together.
Fundraising in the context of God’s kingdom is fundamentally different. But why? And how? Let’s keep asking these questions.