While in college, I was invited by our alumni office to represent our school at a college fair for high school students. After a day of meeting with prospective students, another college rep asked me to go to dinner.
I agreed, eager for a conversation about something other than financial aid packages.
Halfway through dinner, the conversation abruptly became awkward.“Would you like to be a millionaire by the time you’re 30?” he asked suddenly.
You may have encountered this form of subtle multi-level marketing pitch. The meeting purpose is vague. Without fully disclosing their identity, the other person promises the moon and then unveils a massive pyramid scheme to get you there.
Call it bait-and-switch. I call it the wrong approach.
Yet too often when it comes to fundraising, we pursue a similar path. We cloud our titles and purposes, attempting to disguise our motives for meeting.
When we do this, we undermine the most important aspect of any relationship: trust.
Why not simply be honest about the need to raise funds for an organization that we believe is having a significant impact? Why not boldly ask for an opportunity to share why we are so passionate about the work that’s being done?
If the goal of a meeting is to present funding opportunities, we should be honest about our intentions, giving donors the chance to opt out before even beginning the conversation. Some people will decline our invitation—and we can’t be offended by that. From a Kingdom-fundraising perspective, honesty is indispensable.
A recent report supports this. The 2016 Generosity Project revealed that, “nearly half of older givers and 56 percent of Millennials say honesty is the most important quality in a ministry.”
Trust is an organization’s most crucial asset, and it can never be built on a foundation of dishonesty.
A commitment to truth begins with clarity about the purposes of meetings but continues in being honest with progress. This is easier said than done, especially when progress involves setbacks and failures.
On several occasions throughout the history of HOPE, I’ve experienced this first-hand. With a pit in my stomach, I’ve shared candidly about our mess-ups, not only with staff and partners but also with supporters.
Although it’s never easy, I’ve found that, almost without exception, most stakeholders react to us sharing our failures with incredible graciousness. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, supporters have wanted to know more about our response—what we learned as a result of the experience and what we’re doing differently to ensure that the same mistake isn’t made again. And then, to my utter astonishment, they have often offered words of encouragement about how God has used even the failures in their own lives to bring new growth and understanding.
As hard as it is to share our shortcomings, I believe humble transparency about our failures is simply the right approach. Ultimately, it points the glory back to God for any good things that are accomplished. I like how Paul phrases it in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Let’s be people who aren’t afraid of transparency—being open about our intentions and about sharing both our successes and failures. For charities, churches, and nonprofits, trust is indispensable.
This post is based on an excerpt from The Giver and the Gift. Learn more about how fundraising can be a transparent, life-giving, and generous partnership between both the giver and the recipient:
by Peter Greer and David Weekley