By: Dave Dickens
My favorite book related to support raising is Henri Nouwen’s The Spirituality of Fundraising. I read it at least once a year to be refreshed in a biblical perspective of giving, receiving and asking. I admit, where that perspective is most tested is my year-end appeal to ministry partners.
It is no secret in the nonprofit world that year-end giving makes a significant impact on annual budgets, sometimes up to 50%. It is also no secret to the Gospel worker. With such a great opportunity, and for some, such ‘high stakes’, it is easy for the year-end appeal to become no more than a fundraising strategy, well executed with the right methods in order to produce the best results. And with so many nonprofits, churches and missionary workers utilizing the end of the year appeal, it can start to feel like a competition for mission dollars.
How do we keep from slipping into this kind of thinking and make our year-end appeal, to borrow from Nouwan, a confident, joyful and hope-filled expression of ministry? I suggest four key essentials.
First, our posture matters.
Think of what you want to see happen through your year-end appeal. If you are thinking of only financial gain, then you are thinking too small. Ask the Lord what He wants to do and turn that into a prayer.
Lord, may my partners be encouraged to read my letter as I write about what YOU are doing in the world; Lord, may my partners have many opportunities to give this month and the capacity to give generously; Lord, meet the needs of my teammates and meet my needs, also. Lord, may those who give experience the joy of giving.
Second, give generously.
As those who receive much in December, shouldn’t we be leading the way in generosity? As Paul encouraged the Corinthian church:
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. II Corinthians 9:10-11 (NIV)
If you are like me, because of our connection to so many missionaries and Christian organizations, we receive quite a few year-end appeals. What is our first response when we see those letters in the mailbox? Is it positive with a generous mindset or is it negative and even bothersome that another missionary friend is asking for support?
Here is a challenge: Let’s commit to give to every year-end appeal we receive this year. I know that may sound extreme but it could be transformational. Perhaps we experience such joy in giving that we are disappointed on days that we don’t find an appeal letter in the mailbox! And based on II Corinthians 9, as we are being generous, we can be confident the Lord will supply our needs.
Last year a friend asked me if he should take advantage of Giving Tuesday. I said, “Absolutely! We of all people should be especially generous on Giving Tuesday!”
Third, let’s be sure to guard our hearts.
One year I was dropping off year-end checks to our donations office. I had three checks nicely paper clipped together. A staff friend was there too, dropping off his rubber-banded stack of checks. I had rubber-band envy!
As we compare with friends how our year-end appeal is going it can lead to unhealthy comparison which can lead to envy or jealousy. Perhaps we hear of someone who received a $10,000 gift. Or someone shares that their end of year response is the highest it has ever been. Let’s be sure to guard our hearts and not let sin creep in. As we hear good news, celebrate the good news with our friends and thank the Father the giver of all good things.
Fourth, make the Lord and the Great Commission the focus of your year-end appeal, not the need.
In your letter be sure to share a changed life story and celebrate what the Lord has done the previous year. Cast vision for what you anticipate the Lord will do in the coming year.
When you transition to the ask, don’t leave the vision behind and don’t make the ask based on need. People are not motivated to give because we are getting short paychecks, or because we had a hard financial year. That is not just need driven, that is ‘needy driven’. Make your appeal vision driven.
A friend shared with me an appeal that Pastor Alister Begg made on his podcast ‘Truth for Life.’ My friend tried to capture the appeal as best he could, so this is a paraphrase:
As we come to the end of 2015 with all of our expenses properly cared for, I want to ask you if you’d be prepared to call or go online and make a donation, so we not only finish 2015 strongly, but enter into 2016 with a great sense of anticipation.
I love that! My wife Nancy and I write something similar in our year-end appeal letter. After we have shared a changed-life story and reflected on the Lord’s goodness, we write:
This gives us great anticipation for all the Lord will do in 2023! He continues to provide opportunities for greater impact and broader scope, and we continue to trust Him for the resources to match that vision. As you may know, year-end giving is significant to our overall budget. This year, we are trusting the Lord for an additional $7,000 in year-end gifts. Would you consider giving a gift of $500, $250 or $100?
Lastly, here are a few practical tips.
● Make this a hard copy letter and not digital. I know that postage rates just went up again in July but you want your letter read and not buried in someone’s inbox.
● Make your letter stand out so it looks different from your typical prayer letter. I don’t go overboard with this but will use a different colored envelope and a custom-ordered Christmas return address label.
● This is the only letter we send ourselves and not use our prayer letter service. This is just personal preference but Nancy and I really enjoy sitting around the table putting this together and remembering our ministry partners as we see each name. It also reminds me of how grateful I am for our prayer letter service!
● We send an email the last week of December to those who have not responded. I know there are those who intend to give and adding the link to our give site is all they need.
May we experience the Lord’s abundant grace this December as he supplies our needs and gives us hearts that are fully secure in him, delighting in his provision for all his workers as we lead the way in joyful generosity!