Seven good ideas from the secular fundraising world

Progressively bigger stacks of coins grow plant shoots.
 on April 1, 2022

I’ve long taken exception to secular fundraising’s dependency on the promotion of “benefits” or “membership” to encourage giving. There is almost no emphasis on altruism when giving levels or clubs are used to leverage donor support. Indeed, the fixation with public gift recognition ± especially for very large gifts ± is used frequently in major gift or capital campaigns. Top donors are rewarded with naming opportunities even on publicly funded buildings where the taxpayer is the largest supporter.

The commitment to improving people’s lives and the betterment of society is the great aspiration of philanthropy. And while its methods used to raise funds might have their shortcomings, the secular world has much to teach church leaders about how to encourage generosity.

Here are seven really good ideas taken from secular fundraising that are worth incorporating into our practice of Christian stewardship.

Say thank you

In the promotion of altruism, it is always a good idea to demonstrate gratitude. It is a good practice to acknowledge the donations of time, talent and treasure of everyone in our congregations on a regular basis. This means including a thank-you letter with year-end tax receipts, listing non-monetary contributions in newsletters and publicly identifying volunteers and their efforts during church services. 

Have a plan

In the secular world, it is called the case for support and annual report; we call it a mission action plan and narrative budget. Either way, it is critical to know why you are doing what you do and to promote it widely. A plan adds credibility to what you are doing and provides a strong argument for support. Overhead and administration costs are not the most attractive ways to describe our work. We need to be clear that we are doing the work of God and demonstrate how that has a transformative impact, and then speak to it on a regular basis. 

Ask often

The theme of generosity permeates the gospel. Choose to make it a regular focus during sermons, prayer reflections and the offertory. Explain to church members why we give and how to give. In the same way other charities encourage giving through direct mail and e-newsletters, do not neglect these ways to encourage giving – at Easter, Thanksgiving and Advent. Challenge congregants to give an hour’s pay each week to support the ministry of the church. 

Keep donors informed

“Moves Management,” a common methodology used by most charities, teaches us that donors require constant “touch points” where they are reminded of the mission and vision of an organization. The consistent messaging reinforces why giving is important and how it makes a difference. Ensure that websites and notice boards are updated regularly, ministries are acknowledged and promoted and that a narrative budget is produced annually and distributed to all households in the parish.

Invite everyone to give

We tend to engage most with those who participate and give the most of their time, talent and treasure. However, we won’t grow the base unless we invite more people to participate in funding our ministry. In the same way that FaithWorks conducts what is called “acquisition mailings” to attract new givers, parish leadership needs to invite everyone on the parish list to be a giver. One way is to send letters of invitation (with pre-authorization enrollment forms) to non or lapsed givers at the beginning of the year. Another is to host a Back to Church event; this might be an obvious activity as we reconnect following two years of pandemic-induced isolation.

Promote gifts of encouragement

Universities and hospitals have been especially good at reaching out to their existing donors and inviting them to make a will and leave a gift as part of their end-of-life plans. While the Church gets similar gifts from time to time, we need to do a much better job of encouraging such gifts. For the most part, we have yet to even introduce the opportunity to most people. A first step is to develop a Gifts of Encouragement brochure.

 Make giving easy

The Church was one of the first institutions to pivot effectively at the beginning of the pandemic. Many parishes set up, gave links on websites, encouraged PAG enrollment and promoted e-transfers, Tap 2 Give or QR codes.  All this was done to keep the giving pipeline open. Without it, many parishes would have been unable to sustain ministry during the pandemic. All this is to say that many people want to give, and we need to make it as easy as possible to do so. The pandemic was a real eye-opener for many, demonstrating that reliance on traditional means of giving isn’t the most dependable.

There are other ways in which secular charities provide good examples of what parish leadership can do to secure continued support; these include inviting young people, hosting events and letting people know that all gifts are valuable and transformative.

Churches have a huge advantage over many charities in that we have a captive audience that engages with us on a regular basis. To capitalize on this advantage, we need to introduce many of the best practices of the secular world, as noted above. If you’d like more information on how to implement any one of these strategies, do not hesitate to connect with me in the Stewardship Development office at [email protected]. We are always available to help. 


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