What Major Donors Want

The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (Nehemiah 2:4-5)

Nehemiah prayed and planned for this moment with King Artaxerxes. When a major donor asks what you want, boldly share your heart and tell them exactly what you need. We know what we want but turn the question around. What do your donors want from you? Many donors are frustrated with ministry leaders who don’t make sound business decisions. One major donor looks for at least four critical leadership qualities.

Clear Thinking
Effective fundraising starts with a clear, compelling case for support based upon sound research. Some ministry leaders make decisions on a hunch. Perhaps the Spirt is prompting you in a certain direction but God has given you a mind to think carefully about your steps. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28). Do your homework!

Good Judgment
A businessman who served on a board became increasingly frustrated with the way the executive director overspent the budget then desperately turned to donors for help. At every meeting the businessman raised red flags, but the other board members gave into the leader’s whims. Eventually, he resigned in discouragement because couldn’t stand to see the ministry he loved destroyed by bad decisions.

One major donor evaluated a leader’s ability and concluded, “He’s a nice guy who genuinely wants to help people, but he’s somewhat incompetent.” Donors with this attitude about your ministry’s leadership may stop giving and wait for the next leader to see if things turn around. They might maintain their status quo giving but they certainly won’t give sacrificially.

Laziness is a cardinal sin. Donors can understand if you fall short of your projections, but they won’t understand if you don’t give 110% percent to achieve your goal. Major donors are successful in business because they work hard and have little sympathy for those who don’t. “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Prov. 21:5). One important way to build trust with your donors is to do what you say you will do. The king granted Nehemiah’s request because Nehemiah knew exactly what he needed and how long it would take (see Neh. 2:6-9).

Think about this: Effective leaders are rare in the nonprofit world—or in the for-profit world for that matter. If God has called you to leadership, evaluate yourself to see how you match up with these donor expectations. If God has called you to follow, “lead up” and help those above you live out these characteristics. Your donors will notice and thank you. Which of these traits will you enact today?

Response: Father, I want to be an effective leader. Please give me clear thinking and good judgment. I pray for competence and diligence to serve you to the best of my ability.

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  Christian Leadership Alliance’s Outcomes magazine.

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