Archives For transparency

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 first time I witnessed microfinance in action was in Cambodia.  I met clients who beamed as they described the impact small loans and training had on their lives.  Transforming their families and communities, clients were working their way out of poverty.  I joined the multitudes convinced this simple concept pioneered by Muhammad Yunus had the potential to change the world.

When Yunus said, “Let’s build a poverty museum, because that’s the only place you’ll be able to see [poverty],” I even started construction.   (See

Although my enthusiasm has not waned over the last 12 years working in the sector, it has been nuanced. I have a greater appreciation for the multidimensional aspects of poverty.  It’s naive to think that microfinance is a panacea to poverty, and I’ve come to recognize the following factors play a role in successful poverty reduction:

Multi-tiered approach

System of justice

  • In one day businesses were wiped out in Zimbabwe as President Robert Mugabe, through Operation Murambatsvina (translated “cleaning up the trash”), literally bulldozed its citizens’ businesses.  Without a system of justices,  businesses have little opportunity to thrive and small gains can be eliminated in a moment.

A clearly defined mission

  • There is a chasm between the mission of client-centric microfinance and microfinance that has been generated to maximize profits and shareholder return.  Though maximizing profits isn’t wrong, we need to make sure that we are creating a system that doesn’t further burden the poor.  On November 16-17, at the MicroEnterprise Development Summit, those in the Christian microfinance space are creating five-to-seven principles to ensure that the clients continue to be our focus.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my desire to temper the expectations of what microfinance can–and cannot–do.  Our executive team recently watched the 2011 Skoll World Forum plenary, “Large Scale Change in Action: Microfinance in the Balance.

Of particular note was the conversation about adjusting our expectations of the impact of this tool. The summary: microfinance is a powerful tool, but not perfect.  Let’s not miss what it can do by hailing it as the elusive holy grail of international development.

  • “We’ve over promised.” [16.15-20.40]
    • Microfinance isn’t the silver bullet to end poverty, but it is still an effective tool in alleviating poverty.


P.S. – if you’re interested, other highlights of the Skoll discussion include:

  • “The elephant in the room.” [21:05-29:15]
    • Discussing the tradeoff between profits and social impact.
      • [representative from for profit, 21.05-25.40; representative for nonprofit, 25.41-29.15].
  • “It’s a question of ethics.”[32.35-36]
    • Are we measuring success with the right metrics?
  • “The [microfinance] ecosystem…”[8-12.10]
    • How do we create an industry of accountability and transparency?
  • “The noise… the facts.” [5.50-7.50]
    • A glimpse of what people are saying about the recent history of the sector as well as whom microfinance is serving.