Archives For success

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

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

The Shadow Side of Success

February 27, 2015 — 1 Comment

Success tends to be a spiritually precarious place to be.

“My greatest failures in life often came on the heels of my greatest successes,” a friend recently shared.

Even the Apostle Peter’s greatest moment of revelation—“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”—was followed just a few verses later by his greatest rebuke—“Get behind me, Satan.”—after he thought he knew best the way Jesus should accomplish His mission.


We long for success, but if we don’t handle it well, we will be wishing we never experienced it in the first place. How do we keep our success from leading to our downfall?

A first step might be to understand the shadow side of success, those attitudes which often accompany success:

  1. Arrogance
    The moment that we begin to think that our gifts, our wisdom, or our expertise are the reasons for our success is the moment that the decline begins. Leadership expert and author Jim Collins calls it “hubris born of success.” Pride is the root upon which all other vices grow.
  2. Expectation
    Every investor knows that “past results are no guarantee of future results.” Yet if we experience success, we tend to expect that every indicator will forever be up and to the right, and we’re crushed when exponential growth doesn’t always follow our best effort. Organizations rise, and organizations fall; leaders rise, and leaders fall. Our only expectation should be that God will be present and faithful, whatever the circumstance.
  3. Complacency
    Thinking “we have arrived” can lead to complacency. Yet there is always more to be done—projects to begin and improve, relationships to build and deepen, goals to set and strive toward. It’s not that we become obsessed by doing more or that we don’t stop to celebrate achievements; it’s simply a recognition that there is always room for improvement in our pursuit of excellence. There is always room for more fully love God and love our neighbors.
  4. Insularity
    Success tends to bring greater isolation, propping some up on a precarious pedestal. When we cut ourselves off from others, we often miss opportunities to hear wise messages of caution, experience, and vision. We need to seek out connections with others, especially those who challenge us with different viewpoints and perspectives. Criticism may be hard to hear, but it’s crucial to our health.

In 2 Samuel, we see the shadow side of success in the story of King David. On the heels of his military victories, he stays behind to gaze upon Bathsheba. And later, despite the fact that there are no current threats to the nation of Israel, King David orders a census to count the number of men who could serve in his army.  This was not in preparation for battle but to be impressed by his own greatness. Ultimately, David’s hubris and unwillingness to listen to Joab’s warning results in a devastating plague.

When we forget the source of our success, there are always consequences—though, much less devastating than the ones King David experienced.

As followers of Christ, we aren’t called to success but to faithfulness. Faith leader J.R. Briggs writes this in his book, Fail: “Many of us long for the equation to a fruitful ministry. Fortunately, there is none to be found. Some will try to offer it—and may be ‘successful’ in the eyes of others—but it won’t last. Faithfulness is needed.”

Or, as King David put it in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Being known as faithful is a far higher compliment than being known as successful.


Farmers who are clients of HOPE’s partner in Moldova, Invest-Credit

When the financial crisis hit in 2009, it didn’t just strike Wall Street investments.  It impacted every level of the global economy.In Moldova, Invest-Credit (HOPE’s microfinance partner) saw a rapid rise of portfolio at risk, as families were slower to make repayments. This decrease of portfolio quality raised concerns from donors and investors who questioned the long-term viability of the program.

Ghena Russu, the Executive Director, and his staff worked tirelessly to resolve the problems, but their usual solutions didn’t make significant improvement.

The problems kept growing. And Ghena took the challenges personally. Eventually the stress took an extreme physical toll. Unable to sleep or eat solid foods, he lost over 25 pounds within a month. He would have to pull over on the side of the road rocked by headaches. Eventually, he spent four weeks in the hospital while the doctors remained unable to find a cause for Ghena’s illness.

The time in the hospital became an intense time of reflection. Is my identity defined simply by numbers? Is success measured by our financial performance alone? Or is there another definition of success?

“Staring at the hospital ceiling, I came to my senses like a prodigal son,” Ghena says, five years later. “It was just God’s mercy that I eventually realized my worth is not tied to numbers.”

After this realization, Ghena’s health and Invest-Credit’s performance both began to heal.

Never wanting to go back to that state, Ghena created boundaries to protect him from stress. He reduced his work hours, forced himself to take a Sabbath rest, and exercised more frequently. And he publicly acknowledged his mistakes of having his identity so tied to his financial performance and asked for forgiveness from the Invest-Credit staff.

For Ghena, the crisis began a paradigm shift about what trust in God really looks like. He still works hard, but ultimately, he knows that his identity is tied to who he is, and not his financials.

Ghena summarized, “I know God cares for me – and I’m slowly being released from the unhealthy expectations I put on myself.”

May we each be freed from our own unhealthy expectations and remember our true worth in not found in our performance.

Sarah Ann

This blog was adapted from a talk Ghena shared at our global Leadership Summit by Sarah Ann Schultz, one of our amazing 2014 interns.