Over the years, I’ve fielded thousands of questions about fundraising, including how to prevent blind spots from derailing funding leadership. But the No. 1 question missionaries ask is how to raise capital quickly so they can continue their work.
It’s an all-too-common dilemma. The time to scramble for funds, however, is before you head out on a mission, not while in the field and away from donors. This advice does little for missionaries who are faced with the very real threat of being in a foreign country without access to money, so I’ll share some tips to use if caught cash-strapped away from home.
Don’t Leave Home without It
I urge ministry leaders to jump to the forefront of this issue by preventing it from occurring in the first place. The solution I have recommended for decades is simple but disciplined: Don’t allow missionary workers to leave home without having trips funded 110 percent against their goal. The additional 10 percent of funds protects you against dips in donor funding, currency devaluation and unforeseen emergencies that gobble up resources. I believe in this lesson so strongly that I’ve jokingly told leaders to lie down in front of the airplane carrying their staff overseas. Don’t let workers leave if they haven’t raised 110 percent of their funding goal. It’s that serious.
What to Do When the Money’s Gone
Although the time to fundraise is before you go overseas, you do have options if you find your mission is in the red. I suggest following this three-step plan.
Step 1: Analyze the Situation
In Proverbs 27:23, we’re told, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.” This scripture reminds us to pause and assess the strength of our donor relations. You can accomplish this quickly by asking yourself these questions and answering honestly.
- How many donors do you have?
- How many monthly donors have dropped out?
- How many annual or biannual donors have stopped giving?
- How much cash are you short each month on average – to the penny?
- Did your large anchor donors not come through?
- For people who stopped giving, do you know why?
This last question segues into a discussion about donor communications. Donors often misplace their giving receipt and need to be reminded. It could be that simple; don’t take it personally. I advise fundraisers to communicate at least six times a year with their donors. These “touches” include email, texts, social media messages, phone calls and video chats. In-person meetings are best, but a Skype session will allow you to reconnect effectively when meeting in person is not an option.
Step 2: Return Home to Do Your Fundraising
This is not the time to hesitate or be shy about inviting financial support. I urge any missionary who is facing a dire situation like running out of capital to tap their resources at home immediately.
The best course of action is to suspend your mission for two weeks to a month. Use this time to return home, regroup and raise more funds. Many missionaries balk at this idea, worried they’ll lose momentum or send the wrong message. But I urge them to reconsider. After all, no one can come to Christ if you’re not alive and safe to spread His message. I also share an anecdote of another missionary who took this advice. He left his work in the field to visit his home base of donors for three weeks. He returned with enough funds to continue operations and was delighted to learn that his ministry flourished while he was gone, spurred on by the prospect of having enough working capital to thrive again.
In addition to suspending your mission so you can fundraise, call your funding organization and ask for a bridge loan, or at least request they pay your way home so you can fundraise. Another alternative is to call a major donor with this ask. You can stress that if they pay your return expenses, you can return to the work of Kingdom-building. That’s an impressive return on investment!
Step 3: Fundraise from the Field
Ideally, you can resume fundraising when you have boots on the ground. If not, adapt the following ideas to work remotely by relying on technology to facilitate communications with your donor base.
Build up the pipeline
Using the donor analysis you conducted in the first step, identify donors who have deeply lapsed in their giving – anywhere from 13 to 48 months. They may resume giving when they learn about your need.
Seek quick cash infusions
I also recommend identifying six to eight “anchor” donors. These are individuals or groups who could send $5,000 to $15,000 immediately. These donors will respond to a personal touch, so meet with them face to face or request a video meeting using Skype.
Here’s some language to use when approaching potential anchor donors:
“I’d like to talk about your support. Thank you for your past contributions. My budget is going up, and I’m asking a few people to anchor our team for $5,000-15,000. We have a lot of people who give monthly but to do what God has called us to do, we need to have our mission 110 percent funded.”
I’ve personally used this approach at least 25 times, and 90-95 percent of people I ask say yes – but be sure do it face to face.
Ask for guidance
Go back to your contact list and ask the Lord to lay 25 names on your heart. Send these people emails and ask for the opportunity – either in person or via Skype – to present your funding dilemma. There will be a good response. Here’s a form to help you get started.
Preventing funding issues before they arise is the best, but don’t despair if you find yourself out in the world and out of money. When you shift your focus from wondering who will give to you to determining who needs to hear your story, you’ll be able to get back to the work of Kingdom-building.
About the Author:
Scott Morton serves as international funding coach for The Navigators. After graduating from Iowa State University and starting his journalism career, he moved from part-time ministry with college students to full-time ministry with The Navigators. That’s when the fundraising adventure began. After serving on campuses in the United States, with short team ministry stints in Asia and Europe, he joined The Navigators U.S. Development Department in 1985. In 1997, he led the U.S. Navigator fundraising strategy as vice president of development and took the international funding coach role in 2010. Scott has written five books, including his latest, “Blindspots: Leading Your Team & Ministry to Full Funding,” for Christian leaders to learn about fundraising. Every leader could profit from this book, whether you supervise one, five or 25 people. You can purchase Scott's book here.