The Mystery of Fundraising
When you hear the word “fundraising,” does your heart begin to pound with excitement? Or do you feel the blood drain from your face as you stand in utter terror? For many, the mere thought of raising funds for their schools causes fear or frustration. It often seems to be an uncomfortable topic at best—and, at worst, a topic to be avoided at all costs.
Fundraising shouldn’t be this painful. Perhaps it would be easier if the mystique surrounding it were lifted. While it’s true that some schools are fortunate enough to have a professional fundraiser on staff, many schools don’t, and fundraising falls on the desk of the principal or administrator. So what’s a school leader—who is not a fundraising expert—to do?
Lifting the Curtain
Let’s start with a definition. Fundraising is asking others to partner financially to see a vision or mission come to fruition. If, for example, the vision is a Bible-teaching school that develops young people to be all that the Lord has created them to be and helps them grow in their faith, then that’s the vision your parents and donors need to embrace.
The “Must Haves” of Fundraising
To effectively raise funds for your school, you must have certain key bases covered. These things are non-negotiable.
- The vision needs to be established. Setting vision is crucial, and the principal or administrator should prayerfully set the vision not only for the school but also for each fundraising effort. What is the mission of the school? What has God uniquely called it to do? The vision needs to inspire people to act; it needs to be something they can believe in and fully support.
- The compelling case needs to be communicated. The compelling case, or plan, needs to justify why the vision is achievable and how it can be attained. What steps will be taken to ensure its fulfillment?
- The principal or administrator must be committed to raising the funds. Just as the principal or administrator sets the vision, he or she must be intimately involved with programs that raise funds for the school. The level of commitment to raising funds correlates directly to the commitment to the vision. It will often be the principal or administrator who asks for funds from the top givers. While he or she can’t be expected to handle administrative functions of a fundraising campaign, there does need to be an understanding of where the school is at any point in the fundraising campaign.
- The “science” of fundraising must be done. Most of us are familiar with the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the monies raised by a fundraising event or campaign is given by 20 percent of donors. While some would argue that this is slightly inaccurate for school fundraising, most agree that a relative minority of donors give the majority of the funds. (Callahan, Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church) If this is the case in your school, that minority must be identified. The principal or administrator should be aware of the minority to maximize giving potential, while acknowledging that every giver is equally important in the kingdom.
- The staff, parents, and students should be educated. A school should have plan in place to provide education about stewardship. Many believers don’t know that a good steward prayerfully manages all that God has entrusted to him, including money. We are commanded to be good stewards of our financial resources and to recognize that everything we have belongs to God. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
A wonderful quote from The 33 Laws of Stewardship emphasizes this concept: “Christ-centered stewardship is the by-product of a Christ-like attitude.” (32) The authors go on to say: Faithful dependability as a Christian steward relates to the management of money, but also to a great deal more. The “portfolio” for which we are responsible includes a wide range of components, and God’s expectation is that we make the most of each one. Think of all the “assets” you have under your management: your money, your time, your possessions, your opportunities, your influence, your relationships, and much more. And to this long list can be added the spiritual assets with which we are entrusted: the Gospel of Christ, the mystery of godliness, the secret things of God. This is no small responsibility we bear, and to handle it rightly demands absolute faithfulness. (32-33)
The Cycle of Fundraising
When raising funds, whether for general operation or for other campaigns, you’ll usually follow a cycle: identify, interest, involve, invest, and influence:
- Identify. Identifying your top givers was mentioned above in the “science” of fundraising. This is a crucial step. Again, you may have people in your community who would cheerfully give to fund your school’s vision, if only they were asked.
- Interest. This is where you present your school’s vision and describe the compelling case. Help your staff, parents, students, and donors see how your school is helping to grow the Lord’s kingdom and how they can be a part of that vision.
- Involve. You need to show your givers how their participation in giving helps to fulfill your school’s vision. Help them see how they can personally participate in this great endeavor.
Invest. Once people understand the vision and how they can participate, it’s time to ask them to invest. This is usually the toughest step, but the most crucial. We’ll dig more deeply into this in the next section.
This is where you engage the now-enthusiastic people and give them the opportunity to influence others. This is when you can celebrate by sharing testimonies of how God has blessed those who faithfully give to kingdom work. And, finally, it can’t be stressed more strongly that your givers, whatever they give, need to be thanked and regularly reminded of how their giving is fulfilling your school’s vision and growing the kingdom of God.
But the People Won’t Give
Statistics seem to suggest that it’s difficult for people to give—only 3-5 percent of Christians give 10 percent of their income. However, Chester L. Tolson argues that people really want to give—that it’s natural. In his book Proven Principles for Finding Funds , he uses the expansive giving that came as a result of September 11, 2001, as an example. It’s not that people don’t want to give, he insists; it’s that leaders don’t ask. He says that “inviting people to contribute to a cause is often the key to making it happen. It’s so simple. If you want people to give, just ask them.” (25) So, why do we often struggle with raising funds for our schools? Why does it seem so difficult to encourage our people to give? Tolson says that the answer can be summed up in just a few words. Leaders don’t ask, and they don’t ask because:
- They are afraid to ask.
- They’re not sure the donor prospect will give.
- They think the timing is wrong to ask.
- They’re not sure of their cause.
- They are lazy. (25-26)
We could add to this list:
- Money is uncomfortable to talk about.
- We’re afraid of rejection—if someone doesn’t give, we often take it personally.
If we as school leaders aren’t encouraging the people in our communities to give, we aren’t allowing them to experience the joy that comes from that giving. There are probably wonderful stories that celebrate giving in your school, and it’s your job as a leader to find those stories and share them. Celebrate how God blesses cheerful givers.
Ideas for Out-of-the-Box Fundraising
Many schools have a yearly fundraising event. This is a great idea, and great things some as a result of these kinds of events, but there are other means by which you can raise funds:
- For identified givers, the principal or administrator should have regular contact, whether by regular meetings or phone calls.
- Have a vision dinner once a quarter or twice a year. This gives parents, staff, and donors an opportunity to reconnect with the school’s mission and celebrate how the Lord has worked in the school, the community, and the lives of the students
- Have a “piggy-bank” campaign by providing inexpensive banks that illustrate your school’s vision, and encourage staff and students to put their pocket change in their banks each day.
- Get your students involved. Tell them about the need and challenge them to create their own fundraisers. A young girl from a Southern California school raised over $2800 by setting paint buckets in each of the classrooms and asking for change and dollar bills.
- Regularly celebrate God’s blessings by highlighting once-a-year fundraising event. If you have a newsletter, highlight stories of how God has blessed faithful givers. Help them to see the joy that comes from serving God this way.
When parents, students, and other donors begin to see how God works through faithful giving, they’ll be encouraged to give more of the treasures with which God has blessed them.
Until Jesus returns, raising funds will be necessary for schools. But it doesn’t have to be painful or frustrating. With the right vision and education, raising funds can be a wonderfully growing experience for leaders and givers alike.
For Further Reading
- Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church, Kennon L. Callahan, 1992
- God & Your Stuff, Wesley K. Willmer and Martin Smith, 2002
- Growing Givers’ Hearts, Thomas H. Jeavons and Rebekah Burch Basinger, 2000
- Leadership Handbook of Management and Administration, James D. Berkley, 2002
- Proven Principles for Finding Funds, Chester L. Tolson, 2003
- Special Events: Proven Strategies for Nonprofit Fundraising, Alan L. Wendroff
- Team-Based Fundraising Step by Step, Mim Carlson, 1997
- The 33 Laws of Stewardship, Dave Sutherland and Kirk Nowery, 2003