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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.


giver gift cover

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:

The Giver and the Gift:
Principles of Kingdom Fundraising

by Peter Greer and David Weekley

Order now: Givington’s | Amazon

Photo courtesy of CNN

Photo courtesy of CNN

A couple days ago, I received a call from Port Salut, Haiti. My friend Ralph was clearly shaken as he shared about the devastating effects of the recent hurricane. “There is no place to sleep,” he reported. “Our homes have been absolutely destroyed. If we do sleep, we sleep standing up.”

He added that the bridge on a major road had also been leveled, meaning that no one—and no aid—could get in or out.

My heart once again broke at the reality of devastation in Haiti left in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Recent reports about rebuilding efforts following the 2010 earthquake had been encouraging, but we are coming to the sobering realization that the new devastation in Haiti’s southwest will inevitably cause massive setbacks. There are troubling reports about cholera, food supply, and more.

I work for a nonprofit, HOPE International, which serves in Haiti. I’m committed to the nation of Haiti and its people—friends like Ralph mean my connection to the country is not only professional, but also personal. Further, we have been and will continue to be fully devoted to the long-term rebuilding process there.

But what will you not see right now is a fundraising appeal from HOPE to raise support for Haiti, and I want to tell you why.

1. Relief is necessary—but it’s not our area of expertise.

As Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett point out in When Helping Hurts, there is a difference between relief work and development. At HOPE, we specialize in Church-strengthening microenterprise development; we simply do not have the expertise to lead relief efforts. That’s not to say we aren’t remaining involved. Our country director in Haiti, Lesly Jules, is working with churches to coordinate efforts on the ground. We are committed to praying for those affected by the storm. But as an organization, relief is not our area of focus.

2. We want to partner with those who do specialize in relief work.

After having the eye-opening experience of serving in a refugee camp during a crisis situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I can tell you, relief work is a different skill set, mindset, and approach from long-term rebuilding. I am so thankful for the Church in Haiti, as well as our friends at 410 Bridge, World ReliefWorld VisionFood for the Hungry, and other organizations with dedicated teams that are experts in strategic relief efforts. Already, these groups have all mobilized to provide food, water, clothing, and shelter in response to the hurricane. We want to point people to these groups as they use their God-given gifts to bring comfort and care to our Haitian friends.

3. We want to remain focused on what we do, so that when the time comes, we’re ready to step back in.

The outpouring of generosity that flows into hurting communities that have experienced a disaster can easily entice well-meaning organizations to step into areas of need that they’re simply not equipped to meet. These well-intentioned efforts often leads to long-term damage, and it’s never been our approach. Instead, we remain focused on the future. The long-term work of rebuilding in Haiti is going to begin again—and when it does, we will be there. Until then, we remain committed to standing with our Haitian brothers and sisters and our church partners, as well as to pointing people to the organizations equipped to meet the immense immediate needs in affected communities.

Fail ImageAfter weeks of application questions and initial interviews, the time for my final interview with HOPE International’s board of directors had finally arrived. Things seemed to be going smoothly—that is, until Tom, one of the board members, asked a question that I was completely unprepared to answer.

“Do you have any experience fundraising?”

Fundraising? Even though I was applying for a position with a nonprofit, I had somehow failed to understand that ensuring there were adequate resources to implement the mission was going to be an important part of my job.

I am incredibly grateful that, despite my complete lack of knowledge or experience in this aspect of my role, the board still offered me a position at HOPE. The 11 years since then have been a steep learning process, including some unforgettable lessons on the do’s and don’ts of fundraising.

Knowing that I’ve learned more through the times of failure, here are my Top 10 Fundraising Fails—lessons that I hope you don’t have to repeat!

1. I verbally vomited on people.

Early on, I would charge into meetings and nervously gush HOPE’s mission, key objectives, and plans for the future, without having any idea if the person on the other side of the table even had any interest! Since then, I’ve learned that even more important than what I want to communicate is taking the time to get to know who I’m taking to—their calling, mission, and special areas of passion. I’ve tried to adopt the 70/30 rule: Listen for 70 percent of the time and talk for 30 percent.

2. I didn’t follow up.

There were times when I would promise to send a person additional information, but then get inundated by the avalanche in my inbox and forget the specific details of what I’d promised. I’ve learned I can’t trust my memory, so today, I have a stronger system in place to immediately capture all items right after a meeting, while the conversation is still fresh in my mind.

3. I focused too much on new relationships.

At times, I have focused more on seeking out new donors than caring for existing supporters. I’ve realized that attrition is a crucial indicator of long-term success. In fact, I consider that statistic as even more important than the amount of funds raised on an annual basis.

4. I failed to give sacrificially first.

How can I ask others to do what I’m not willing to do myself? Early on, I was asking others to join HOPE’s mission but was not personally contributing toward it in a deep and sacrificial way.

5. I focused on short-term goals not long-term relationships.

I put immense pressure on meeting quarterly fundraising goals—even if it meant sabotaging long-term relationships with potential partners. Impatience is a killer of every relationship.

6. I failed to move on.

I put inordinate amounts of energy into several relationships that simply were not a fit in terms of mission and passions. I’ve learned that it’s important to give yourself the freedom to move on.

7. I jumped when I should have waited.

Every time I’ve made an “ask” without being asked for one, it hasn’t gone well. My friend Terry says that a good ask is like a marriage proposal—the person ought to know it’s coming, and you ought to have a pretty good idea of what the answer will be!

8. I failed to honor others.

There have been times when I’ve shared stories about the families HOPE serves in a way that might have generated a donation but did not honor them. Each time I talk about HOPE’s clients, I’m committed to doing so in a way that celebrates their incredible gifts and dignity.

9. I failed to talk about failure.

I believed that in order for donors to offer their support, I had to pretend that everything was going perfectly well. But actually, the opposite is true. If there isn’t honesty in the times when HOPE doesn’t meet our goals or has operational failures, it’s not a real partnership. In the corporate world, you get put in prison for not divulging key information to your stakeholders, and yet somehow in the nonprofit world it’s become standard practice! Honesty and transparency are crucial to any successful partnership.

10. I said “yes” to every invitation.

By accepting every invitation to meet with donors, churches, and organizations, I was actually saying “no” to the ministry and joy of loving my family at home. I also wasn’t empowering other members of my team to rise up, gain practice, and expand HOPE’s impact through their gifts.

giver gift cover

Learn more about how fundraising can be a life-giving, generous partnership between both the giver and the recipient:

The Giver and the Gift:
Principles of Kingdom Fundraising

by Peter Greer and David Weekley

Order now: Givington’s | Amazon