Fad Fundraising

“All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:24).

Joseph Bayly wrote The Gospel Blimp as a satire to poke fun at Christian ministries that build elaborate systems but neglect the real work of evangelism. The plot focuses on George and Ethel, a friendly Christian couple who were concerned about their next-door neighbors but didn’t know how to share the good news of Jesus Christ. One night during a gathering at their home with some Christian friends, a blimp flew overhead. Their friend Herm came up with a brilliant idea: Why not use a blimp to proclaim the Christian message to the unchurched citizens of Middletown? Herm’s vision spawned a new non-profit organization with an exciting new strategy to buy a used blimp, hire a pilot, and evangelize their hometown by towing Bible-verse banners, broadcasting Christian music and programs over loudspeakers, and “carpet bombing” folks with gospel tracts. It’s a great farce, if only it didn’t hit so close to home. We will do anything in the name of evangelism—except talk to people about Christ. This same attitude infects fundraising. Consider these four questions as you evaluate your next fundraising event.

Fundraising events take massive amounts of time to plan, execute, and follow-up. Know your purpose before investing the time. What are the key performance indicators for your event? Is your goal volunteer engagement, donor cultivation, generating fundraising income, goodwill and peer relationship building, memorable experiences, networking, milestone or mission-affirming celebrations, etc.? Identify two or more specific outcomes for your next event.

Your volunteers are a precious resource. Invest their time wisely. Will the volunteer opportunities for your event be meaningful and life-giving for volunteers? Will they be energized by serving or just dutifully helping because this is what we/they have always done? If you accounted for all your volunteer time, would you break even?

Can the time and energy invested in your event achieve significant outcomes in moving forward donor relationships through goodwill, networking, or raising funds? Events can effectively encourage greater community support, promote your mission, start new relationships, and build donor and volunteer loyalty. Sometimes we think we must take every donor down the same path. How will you reach the major donors who don’t attend your events?

Stephen Covey said, “The enemy of the best is often the good.” Events can be positive experiences or black holes that compress and stretch you at the same time through a phenomenon called ‘spaghettification.’ At the end of the year, you will be graded on how much money you raised, not how many events you planned. You only have so many hours in your week to raise money. Manage your time wisely. Any activity that is not directly connected to identifying, cultivating, or soliciting major donors should be secondary on your to-do list.

Think About This: Fundraising events might bring you closer to your major donors, but like George and Ethel learned—it’s more effective to meet your friend face to face.

Response: Father, help me not rely too much on events to tell our story. Give me courage to visit my major donors personally and ask for their support.

Ron Haas has served the Lord as a pastor, the vice president of advancement of a Bible college, a Christian foundation director, a board member and a fundraising consultant. He’s authored three books: Ask for a Fish – Bold Faith-Based Fundraising, Simply Share – Bold, Grace-Based Giving, and Keep on Asking – Bold, Spirit-Led Fundraising. He regularly presents fundraising workshops at ministry conferences and has written fundraising articles for At the Center magazine and Christian Leadership Alliance’s Outcomes magazine.

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