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 had prayed and planned for this moment with King Artaxerxes. When your major donor opens the door for your proposal, you must boldly share your heart and how they can make a difference that will last beyond their lifetime. We know what we want, but what do your major donors want from you? Many donors are frustrated with ministry leaders who don’t make sound business decisions. One donor who gives significantly to the kingdom looks for at least four critical qualities in a ministry leader.

Clear Thinking. Effective fundraising starts with a clear, compelling case for support based upon sound research. Some ministry leaders make decisions on a hunch, 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).

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. The businessman/board member raised red flags at every meeting, but the other board members gave into the leader’s whims. Finally, the board member left; he couldn’t stand to see the ministry he loved destroyed by bad decisions.

Competence. One major donor evaluated a leader’s track record and concluded, “He’s a nice guy who genuinely wants to help people, but he’s somewhat incompetent.” Donors who have this attitude about your ministry’s leadership may stop giving and wait for the next leader, or they may maintain status quo giving, but they certainly won’t give sacrificially.

Diligence. Laziness is a cardinal sin. Donors can understand if you fall short of your projections, but they don’t understand if you don’t give 110% percent to achieve your goal. Major donors accomplished success in business because they worked hard and have little sympathy for those who seem to coast. “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23).

Effective leaders are rare in the nonprofit would—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, determine to “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 your clear thinking and good judgment. I pray for competence and diligence to serve you to the best of my ability.

Think about this: The king granted Nehemiah’s request because he believed in him. How can you build trust with your donors?

Have a Spirit-led fundraising week,


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 two books: Ask for a Fish – Bold Faith-Based Fundraising and Simply Share – Bold, Grace-Based Giving. 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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