Jennifer Fulwiler interviews Brice Sokolowski from CatholicFundraiser.net. In this Part 1 of the interview, Jennifer and Brice talk about the Catholic Church, Mass, living abroad, the challenges of following God, and how to pursue your vocation.
Thank you for watching this video. I hope that you keep up with the week videos I post on the channel, subscribe, and share your learnings with those that need to hear it. Your comments are my focus, so please take a second and say ‘Hey’ ;-).
Everything you do with fundraising begins with your community. Your community consists of every person you bring into your mission. This includes donor, non-donor, volunteer, inquirer, lapsed donor, and even the people who you meet each day. By focusing your attention on building your community, you take them on the journey which is realizing your mission. This community will then be inspired to support you financially.
It’s important to build a community because if you don’t surround yourself with people who are passionate about your work and cause, then you will have difficulty fundraising.
If all you do is surround yourself with major donors, you won’t be as successful because you need more than just people with deep pockets. Your mission is not dependent on the money you raise. Your mission is dependent on God and how he wants you to carry out your vocation. Because you cannot carry forward our vocation alone, you must recognize the different talents that people have who come into your life. Then, you determine what led you together and how you help one another.
Start building your community today
Get started with your community by gathering the people around you. It is your responsibility to invite people into your community, what activities they do, and when to approach them for a donation request. As I mentioned, your community’s purpose is not to surround you with financial donations every month. That may be one aspect of your community, but it happens when the other activities are in place.
There are several ways you can build your community. You can connect members with other members.
You connect members with other members.
You get people to share their thoughts and views in discussions. This can be a live event or online.
You share knowledge and wisdom so that everyone becomes better informed about your work.
You educate your community about what is happening.
The atmosphere you build inspires them little by little as they discover more about your work. With time, more people get involved and eventually take action. This action can, of course, be through a financial gift. Each community member takes one step at a time to become more involved in your work.
Also, your community must have its own voice and identity. I am a fan of having a constructive dialogue with your community because it’s fantastic way of learning what inspires people. If you know what inspires them, you’ll know how to better ask for donations.
While you are the leader who organizes how and when people meet, I recommend taking a step back and allowing others to express their opinions. This is not to say that they dictate which direction you take. You definitely set the boundaries.
One of the best ways to learn what people think is by conducting surveys. I talk incessantly about surveys, and there is a reason for this. Surveys work incredibly well in fundraising. I’ve been using them for years, and I’m still finding new ways for improving my fundraising with them.
Knowing how to engage with your community will help you fundraise better.
Along with listening and connecting with your community, the people around you must grow in knowledge about your mission, the purpose, and the results. You do this by updating them on a consistent basis about what’s happening.
Never assume that because you said something once it’s clear to everyone. Just because you have a page on your website titled ‘Our Mission’ doesn’t mean people know what you do. You have to continually tell people who you are, what you do, why you do it, where you are going, and how you will get there.
For more on this topic of surveys read this article which outlines how to use them step by step.
The Benedictine rule for building community – Listen
I remember attending a lecture at a Benedictine abbey just outside of London, England. The abbot was discussing a specific rule which allows the youngest monk the chance to speak openly with his fellow monks, particularly the abbot.
Saint Benedict added this rule because he understood that sometimes God speaks to us through the youngest or least expected person. Take for example David, Ruth, Moses, Abraham, Rahab, John, and Mother Mary. Look at all the Marian apparitions, as Mother Mary is always more comfortable speaking with children.
It’s usually the person we least expect who has something profound to share. You never know who in your community has something valuable to say, therefore always have an open ear.
Feedback from your community also allows you to recognize what you are doing right. When people are complimenting you on your style, especially when it comes to fundraising, you know you are on the right track. It’s that simple. Your community helps you take a step back, reflect on your work, and keep moving forward. Even when you receive criticism, this negative feedback can confirm whether you are or not on the right track.
Therefore, let people share with you what they think.
Another important activity in your community is that they must frequently be asked to take steps forward. It’s not enough to have a group of people around you and hope they will eventually act. This is especially true when it comes to donating.
You have to ask people to take steps forward. Otherwise, you will be waiting a long time before people do.
Whether you are looking for one donor or one thousand, you start with asking your community to take steps forward. Ask each member to regularly take one small way after another. Yes, this all takes time, but this is part of growing your mission, especially with fundraising.
By asking your community to take steps along their journey with you, you connect your mission with theirs. They become co-owners in your work. Then when you do ask for a donation, they more often than not will say yes.
Learn more about how to take action by reading this article on what a Catholic fundraiser should do every week.
An exercise on how to start building your community
Here is a simple Catholic approach to building your community and moving your fundraising forward.
Pray – Take a moment to recognize all the different people in your community. This includes volunteers, donors, colleagues, contacts. Take time to reflect on how you have connected with each person . Read chapter four of Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He provides wonderful instructions of how to communicate with people and thank them for their generosity.
Pray – Review how often you connect with your community and share information and knowledge. Write ideas on how you can share more with them about what is happening so they can learn how things are going.
Pray – Review how often you invite your community to have a voice in what is happening. Regularly take feedback through surveys. Thank people for their opinions and decide on the ones you see most valuable. Let people know that you use their feedback. This makes sure your community knows that you are listening and taking action.
Ask – Each month ask your community to get involved. Diversify your requests so that people don’t get the impression that all you want is their money. For those who are new, ask them to attend an event. For those who have been in your community for some time but you’ve never met personally, ask them to volunteer with you.
For those people who have been very active but not donating, ask them for a financial gift. And for those who have been giving for some time, ask them to increase their contribution or sign up for regular giving.
Over time, when you ask every community member to take one step forward, your momentum will pick up, and as a result, your mission will move significantly forward.
Question: What is one action you can take today to build your community?
How do you keep an authentic and Catholic voice when fundraising? I am a big advocate of having a support network around the fundraiser. Fundraising like anything else in life requires the assistance of people. In a recent article, I outlined the characteristics and actions of every individual who should help with your fundraising.
If your fundraiser is not getting much assistance, but rather she is left alone to run your next campaign, you risk disconnecting the donation request from your cause. If and when this happens, Catholics will label you how so many other charities are perceived: “all you want is our money.”
To avoid this, while also making your next campaign the most productive (and less stressful), let me outline how to build a support network around your fundraiser.
Everyone who has a role in your Catholic cause should actively participate in what messages and actions are used during an appeal. This guarantees your requests all link with your Catholic voice. It’s a very simple task that doesn’t require a huge amount of time, but it does require persistence and care.
How do you connect your Catholic voice with fundraising?
You have to first know what your voice is. What distinguishes you from every other charity, even Catholic charity? Why do you do what you do? When you share these points with Catholics during your next appeal, they will see the real you rather than just the face of another request for money. This gets you more attention, plenty of trust, and many donations.
Here is a simple table that outlines who does what within fundraising, along what they should not be doing, so you keep your Catholic voice.
Leads all fundraising activities
Responsible for all go/no-go decisions
Develops all fundraising content
Defines and approves messaging and language
Outlines the fundraising communications plan
Builds awareness in community
Collects and uses feedback from contacts, donors, colleagues, and board
Tracks and finds prospects
Tracks and leads all donor relationships
Researches better ways to fundraise
Presents to leadership team results and recommendations
Asks for donations
Coach others how to ask
Allows the board, directors, and leadership team to direct fundraising activities
Depends on volunteers to fundraise
Depends on priests, second collections, and second appeals
Provides the fundraiser a clear direction and vision (3-5 year plan)
Provides input, recommendations, and guidance into fundraising
Provides advice for communications plan
Listens and takes counsel from fundraiser
Supports 100% the fundraiser
Identifies prospects and influencers
Actively involved in donor relations
Asks for donations
Provides feedback to fundraiser
Dictates how and when fundraising happens
Makes changes to the fundraising plan after it’s been approved
Board/ Leadership Team
Provides input into fundraising strategy and communications plan
Donates to charity
Identifies prospects and influencers
Nurtures donor relations
Asks for donations
Provides feedback to fundraiser
Frequently present at charity
Engages with day to day activities
Think they do not have to donate
Avoids getting involved in find prospects
Declines to ask people in their circles to donate
Spreads the key messages every day
Invites friends, families, acquaintances to events
Occasionally asks for donations in their circles
Provides feedback to fundraiser
Required to regularly asks people for donations
Disregards fundraising as not part of core responsibilities
Spreads the key messages every day
Collaborates with fundraiser to identify the tasks most comfortable doing
Provides feedback on fundraising activities (what works/doesn’t work)
Recommends ideas for reaching more people
Invites friends, families, acquaintances to events
Asks people for donations
Provides feedback on why they donated, what inspires them, and what they hope for in charity
Invites friends, families, colleagues to events
Spreads key messages/news to own network
Asks people for donations
Contacts (non-donors, non-volunteers)
Invites friends, families, colleagues to events
Spread key messages/news across own network
Provides feedback on what they like and what they would like to see more from charity
Asks people for donations
Your Catholic voice finds you long-term donors
You’ll notice that I have a different approach than a typical fundraiser. Not everyone is asking for money, yet everyone has a specific and important role to play in making sure you keep your authentic voice.
My focus is not on being professional when fundraising. It’s about being Catholic. If you start with this as your foundation, you will automatically be professional. It’s not the case if you start the other way around.
I am focused on the long-term growth and prosperity of your Catholic cause, not getting as much as possible with a single campaign.
This approach produces lifelong donors, more donations, and a better (and bigger) reputation. To get things moving forward, use this table at your next team meeting and see how you can maintain your authentic voice during the next appeal.
Question: How can you get everyone involved in fundraising to make sure you keep your authentic voice?
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When you cannot move forward with fundraising, you experience what I would call a snowball effect. You stress about the future rather than focus on the present.
Then, in panic, you quickly organize a campaign, asking everyone you know for donations. You do this through email, post, social media, and maybe an event. All your efforts produce some donations but not as many as you hoped.
Soon after, you receive negative feedback from people. They thought you were too pushy and didn’t like the approach. Some of your contacts have even asked not to receive any more communications, or they’ve disappeared off the face of the earth. More stressed, you realize that you may have been too aggressive.
When this snowball happens, you dramatically limit your fundraising because you base your efforts on how much money you can receive rather than what God is giving you. It’s not the right approach, and you can do something about this.
These challenges are often the cause of a bigger problem which too many Catholic charities are facing. Yours may even be, too.
In my experience, these issues happen because you have the wrong leadership team. Leaders are meant to guide you away from problems (particularly with fundraising), so you can avoid these different kinds of panic. Leaders should instead keep you focused on what you love to do: saving lives and saving souls.
Here are three indicators that you may have the wrong person or people on your board, mentors, committee, or advisory group
1: They do not donate an amount that is right for them.
2: They avoid finding and nurturing prospects.
3: They don’t ask people to give.
If you have someone who fits any of these three indicators, I recommend you ask them to start getting more involved or reconsider their role.
The world is in need of you and the great work that you do, but you cannot give all that you have if you are struggling with fundraising. Too often fundraising is a roadblock not because the people around you don’t want to donate to you but because they perceive you as not capable of doing great things with their donations.
They don’t want to donate to a charity that is fighting financial fires rather than pressing forward with their cause. Catholics give to great organizations that are achieving great results.
Therefore, I recommend that you place your cause, the people you serve, and your donors at the heart of how your leaders are involved in fundraising. Do the right thing and get them involved in the three ways I mentioned. The quicker you do this, the quicker people will start donating to you, and the sooner you can get back to doing what you love to do: bringing Christ to the world.
I am a tremendous fan of volunteers. People want to help you without being paid. How incredibly generous they are! As fundraisers, I think we underestimate the gift of a volunteer’s time. To me, it’s as valuable as a financial donation.
However, because we don’t always value time as much as money, we end up asking volunteers to do the wrong things, like fundraising. If a volunteer is raising money for your charity, you assume that you can get even more out of their time. Plus, if you have an army of volunteers, you think that their numbers can help raise even more money.
This thinking can be a roadblock with your fundraising because you are asking volunteers to do something that, in all likelihood, wasn’t why they came to help you.
Then, when you follow up with them and ask if they have completed their tasks, they likely don’t respond immediately. They may be behind. Worse, you don’t hear back from them. They came to you with plenty of energy, but now that enthusiasm is gone, and possibly so are they.
I recommend not placing volunteers outside their comfort zones, especially by asking them to raise money.
Instead, I suggest you focus their attention instead on other tasks that maintain their high energy levels like spreading the word about your work. Here is a simple approach I use with my volunteers:
– To start, ask them to memorize a 1-page script which outlines your story and the impact you are making.
– Ask them to share this story with people.
– Then, see if they can share the story with a few more people every week
– Keep track of their weekly (or monthly) progress, allowing you to know how they are doing and if they require additional support
By using this approach, you help your volunteers become active at their pace. You also track their progress, so they recognize the impact they are making. When you share with volunteers the impact they have, they are inspired to keep going and sometimes do even more.
Remember, it’s not about managing volunteers (especially micro-managing them). It’s about tapping into their passions and skill sets to bring out the best that they have to offer.
In my experience, volunteers are more motivated to help you this way. And, if and when they do get the courage to help you fundraise, they have the confidence to speak to people and motivation to keep you moving forward.
Question: What approach do you find works best with keeping volunteers motivated with fundraising?
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I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, you fundraise much better when you do not work alone. When you have a team around you, helping you along the way, you’ll have much more success. In fact, they lift you to your fundraising goals.
I follow five rules for gathering the right support around me. First and foremost, these rules lead me back to the most important: your fundraising must focus completely on the mission, which is always Jesus Christ.
These rules deal with placing the right people in the right roles. Each person is blessed with specific skills. Some are better communicators. Others are better organizers. While others are better at asking for donations. Your responsibility is to have the right people do the right task because this determines how well or poorly you fundraise.
Success in fundraising does not directly link with getting as many people, especially volunteers, to bring in as many donations as possible. In fact, it’s not about numbers. You want the right people doing the right tasks.
Here are my five rules to get the right people to do the right tasks
#1 – Recruit individuals who see the bigger picture and will press on
No one likes to fundraise, but it’s sometimes an important part of your organization. Therefore, look for people who understand this fact. It’s tough, but it must be done. These people recognize the challenges but are also willing to overcome the obstacles, even when they don’t particularly feel like doing so.
For example, I don’t like writing, odd as that may sound, but I have found that with dedication I am pretty good at it. By persevering through continuous writer’s block, I provide you with the ideas and resources to help you fundraise better.
For this to happen, don’t push people into fundraising. Rather, they are pulled by the reality that with fundraising, you can do more of what you do best: save lives and save souls.
If someone tells you they’d like to fundraise because it can be fun getting people involved, pause for a moment and ask them, “Yes, it’s an excellent opportunity to bring people together, but will you commit, especially when it’s challenging?” If they show commitment through the ups and downs, then you have someone that can help you fundraise.
Then, based on their comfort levels and commitment, consider different roles for them. Not everyone has to be asking for donations. However, everyone should be spreading the messages about what you do, how you are transforming the world, and how to connect with you.
#2 – Don’t get people involved simply because of their deep pockets
I highly recommend you do not ask someone to join your board, leadership team, or volunteer group simply because of their wealth. This is a recipe for disaster. What if the person does not fully share your organization’s vision? Maybe they agree with most of it, but you run the risk of clashing in the future.
Take for example the pro-life movement. If a wealthy individual is a board member, as well as a major donor, what happens if he disagrees with some of the black and white issues? Eventually, he or she may want to use their power as a board member and major donor to change something about your mission. If this happens, you will find yourself in an awkward position.
You may have to lose them as a board member. You may lose a significant portion of your funding. You may even get bad press in the Catholic news. Worse, you may lose the battle with them. They stay on, and you lose your Catholic identity.
This problem is not exclusive to leaders in your organization. This is often the case when Catholic organization’s who become dependent on government or grant funding. You bend a little now to receive a large sum of money. I guarantee you this is never worth the risk. It’s the slippery slope.
Instead, I recommend you stay small and focus on finding donors, board members, and volunteers that share your vision.
Rule #3 – Don’t push people into doing tasks they don’t want to do
You cannot ask people to do tasks and hope they will complete them. If you don’t provide precise instructions and continuous support, people don’t often follow through, or they may just do a poor job. This is not exclusive when you ask them to fundraise. It’s a fact of life for everything.
However, it’s not their fault, though, so don’t get upset if it happens. People have other responsibilities (family and work), so they won’t always prioritize your requests. They are busy, which is how so many people describe their lives. If your instructions are vague, hard to follow, and come with little support, people get confused about what needs to be done, then frustrated, and eventually stop.
To avoid this, I recommend you make sure they know exactly what you require of them. You do so by identifying what skills a person. Don’t force anyone to ask for donations if they do not want to ask. Instead, discover what tasks they are comfortable with doing. Then, build on those.
After assessing what skills someone has, provide them with step by step instructions on the task you want them to complete. Take the time to sit down with them and walk through the instructions. Make clear that they have your full support. Also, provide your contact details.
Let them know that you’ll also check in frequently to see how you can help them. Remember, you are not doing this to micro-manage or push. You are rather guiding and supporting.
By demonstrating this level of commitment, you build their confidence, and, with time, they will be better at those tasks and, with time, be able to do more for you.
At the minimum, everyone in your organization should help spread the word about your mission. Again, planting seeds is an essential part of fundraising. Provide volunteers, colleagues, leaders, and board members a one-page script to memorize which outlines what your organization does, how it’s making an impact in the world, and how someone can connect with you (website, social media, email).
I recommend my colleagues and volunteers to introduce each day the organization to at least five different people. Yes, I am serious, and you should measure their performance. I am not saying you should manage them or scold them when they don’t. Encourage them by showing how beneficial this one act can be in moving the organization forward.
Also, when you set a target, people know you are serious. Show them each week what happens when, collectively, everyone is involved. People automatically get inspired to keep going because they see that more people are connecting with the organization.
Example: Why planting mustard seeds is so transformational when you fundraise
Let’s see how impactful this one task can be for a small or start-up Catholic charity.
You are four people, and none of you are comfortable with fundraising. Nonetheless, all four of you make a habit of reaching out to five new people each day, for an entire year. (Say 252 days, not counting weekends) By the end of the year, you would have connected with 252 (days) x 5 (people per day) x 4 (you and your colleagues) = 5,040.
5,040 people is a lot. By the second year, you could comfortably identify between 100 and 300 people to ask for donations because you know them well. More importantly, they know you well.
Also, I am not talking about distributing flyers. I am speaking about proactively speaking with people on a day to day basis. Yes, it sounds challenging, and you and your colleague may only find one or two people at first. But trust me, God will place people in front of you. He always does, and when He does, you and your colleagues will know what to say.
#5: Leaders must partake in fundraising in three ways
Every leader of your organization, this includes directors and board members, must be actively involved in fundraising in three ways.
1: They donate the amount that is right for them.
2: They actively find and nurture prospects.
3: They ask people to give.
Their involvement in these activities is one of the most significant drivers of your fundraising success. If they do these tasks, you will have tremendous opportunities. If they don’t, your fundraising will suffer.
One of the main reasons Catholic charities struggle with fundraising is because board members, directors, and other leaders do not participate in these three tasks. This is disheartening to employees who depend on the charity’s fundraising for income to support their families.
If your leadership team is serious about providing the ultimate confidence boost to your staff and beneficiaries, they will do these three tasks. They show that, as leaders, they are doing everything possible for the organization.
We all have roles to play and responsibilities to carry out when it comes to fundraising. And, depending on a person’s skill set and desires, he or she should be given the responsibilities most suited for them which move your Catholic organization’s mission forward.
This is why these five rules are so important. They make sure people are helping you raise money in the best ways possible.
I have often told fundraisers, “Whatever you do, please make sure you have the right people involved, especially within your leadership. Nothing I do pays more dividends than this.” Who knew that there were so many benefits?
Question: What other benefits do you see to getting the right people involved with fundraising? You can leave a comment below.
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The following is a continuation of the Almoner’s blog, a series of fictional letters from a parishioner to his parish priest about fundraising.
Dear Fr. Jacob,
Perhaps you are right.
In some ways, fundraising does sound a lot like begging. I understand that you don’t want to look a beggar because who does? I would not either. I think this is a key reason why most people prefer to sell things when fundraising rather than ask people directly for money. People feel more comfortable selling brownies than feeling like they’re begging.
I’m going to say something that might sting a little. I can say it because I’ve felt the pain myself. If you don’t like being a beggar, you may wish to examine your heart. You might have a bit of pride that tells you, “begging is beneath you.” Even more, beggars are beneath you.
I have shocking news for you: Jesus wants you to be a beggar.
Consider how Jesus rolled out the Kingdom of God. When Jesus sent out the disciples to proclaim the kingdom, did he give them chariots of fire to carry them or hosts of angels to warm up the crowd?
No. Instead, Jesus said, “Don’t take gold, or silver, or copper for your belts, no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.” (Matthew 10:9-10)
He told them to go as beggars, and it worked. In fact, it worked so well that the greatest military in human history tried for 300 years to crush this kingdom of beggars and finally decided it just had to convert.
You will notice that this is not a one-off or an accident. As if Jesus wanted to prove that his method worked, 1,200 years later, he led Saint Francis and Saint Dominic to found their orders on the same principles.
Why does it work? “Though he was rich, Jesus made himself poor so that through his poverty we might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) Jesus has given you, me and everyone else this example to follow.
I have a friend, Brother Vincent, who is currently a Franciscan Friar in New York City. He spent a couple of years in Central America working with one of their apostolates. One of his jobs was to go to the marketplace every day and ask for bread from the vendors.
Brother Vincent told me that he would walk down the row of vegetable stands, asking for food for the love of God. The farmer, whose stall was at the end of the row, would see him coming and always find something to do so he wouldn’t have to answer him.
The farmer continued this habit for several months. Each time Brother Vincent would greet the farmer and ask gently for a gift for the love of God, the man would keep his back to him and ignore him.
Then one day, after Brother Vincent called upon him, the man stood up, turned around, picked up an onion and tossed it over. For the next couple of months, the man continued to do so, giving Brother Vincent an onion each time he saw him. He was still gruff, but now giving.
Then, some months later, the man finally smiled at Brother Vincent, reached down and gave him two onions. From that day forward, he responded very kindly to the brother’s requests.
Ride this donkey right into the Kingdom
When Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph, he rode a donkey. For us, that donkey symbolizes humility. Taking on the rags of a beggar, like Christ, will transform your ministry in ways that you can’t possibly imagine.
Nathan Krupa writes about fundraising at https://thealmoner.com. He lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife Mary and two sons. He has raised money by writing grants for Golden Harvest Food Bank (www.goldenharvest.org) for five years, and is a member of the Parish Council at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. He is also a member of the Alleluia Community, an ecumenical covenant community.
He writes a collection of letters called ‘The Almoner’s Blog’. In the old days, the almoner was the office in the church that asked for money to support charitable work with the poor.
Discussion Question: What is your biggest fear when fundraising?
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I think one way we can improve Catholic fundraising is by reviewing how open we are to changing our approach.
At one point or another, we have all been in a situation where we wanted to change but found it difficult to do so because change takes time and effort. It also requires us to pause and have clarity on what needs to change and how to carry that change forward.
Pausing to reflect seems impossible these days. For most of us, we live in a constant rush, rarely having the time to step back and assess our day-to-day situations.
Also, in practice, we agree that change is an essential part of life, but how often do we just shrug a new idea off? Most often, we judge an idea without much consideration. We process the idea through a simple, automated decision process: “I like” or “I don’t like”.
Sadly, when presented with a new idea, organizational leaders or managers can all too easily operate in a similar way, responding with, “I’ll think about it.” Instead of taking the time to pause, reflect and ask the question, “How can we improve what we are doing?”, it can be easy to simply carry on with old routines. This method of leadership can cause deep frustration within the organization as people feel they aren’t being heard or appreciated.
It’s human nature to get caught up in the way we do things, but this habit seldom leads to any change happening because we disregard an idea before fleshing it out. We sometimes don’t take the time to step back, reflect, and consider our options. Nor are we always open to the idea of consulting others, taking on their suggestions, refocusing, and moving forward. These actions require that we consider how to change and stick with it.
Not changing also limits our capacity to benefit from new forms of working. I know of one religious order that spent thousands of dollars on flying everyone to one location for meetings. I understand that meeting face-to-face periodically is important for international religious orders. However, what is daunting is that the nuns had never heard of or used Skype, Google Hangouts, or What’s App. In fact, they’ve never had a video conference call.
The same applies to the fundraising methods used by many Catholic organizations. Many of their methods, used for decades, are inspiring fewer and fewer members of the public to give due to changes in the social and cultural landscape. Very few leaders are accepting these realities and considering alternative solutions.
Because we don’t actively embrace change, we usually don’t consider it until a situation has gotten so out of hand that we absolutely must change. Take for example the many fundraising campaigns initiated on the basis that funds have run out, and the charity is on the brink of closing. How often have we heard these kinds of appeals?
As I mentioned, we don’t take on change because it is demanding, and therefore we devise reasons not to change which sound legitimate. In actuality, these excuses are red herrings. I have listed ten common statements why fundraisers are not willing to change.
Top 10 Reasons Catholic Organizations Don’t Change
1. It’s not in the budget
2. Nobody here can do the extra work to get it going
3. It’s going to decrease our quarterly numbers
4. It’ll never work
5. Nobody does it like that now
6. It’s not practical
7. Things are working the way they are
8. We’ve never tried anything like that before
9. That’s never been approved by the leadership
10. That’s not the way we do things around here
You will notice that none of them refer to the mission of your Catholic organization. None of these reasons consider how you might achieve or strengthen your goals or zeal.
Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice; accept correction, to be the wiser in the time to come.”
Take for example the teachings of Jesus. Though he speaks in simple parables, his stories have profound meanings if we stop, reflect and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us. As a result, we change. This practice is called Lectio Divina, and I highly recommend it. When we do consider what the Holy Spirit is telling us, we are open to the different perspective which he is pointing us toward, thereby renewing our commitment to Christ.
This is why it is crucial to have both prayer and a spiritual director in your organization. Prayer and guidance allow you to determine how to calibrate yourself and stay focused on what’s essential, not on what’s easy.
St Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church, is someone who inspires me because he recognized the need to change how the Catholic Church operated during the 11th century. Bernard, as an enclosed monk, wholeheartedly took up writing letters and using messengers (both new methods of communicating) to spread his messages and inspire followers.
He wrote incessantly, even writing, “Oh, woe is me! It is impossible to find in all of Clairvaux sufficient clerks for your servant’s needs.” He also crossed the Alps three times, taking advantage of the network of roads which connected him with the Catholic communities and his monasteries.
By embracing change, St Bernard embraced both his monastic vocation and mission to spread the Gospel, thereby achieving his goal: to renew monastic life and Christianity across Europe.
As Catholic fundraisers, if we want to attract donors and support our organizations, we will accept the realities and embrace change.
You can assess how ready you and your leaders are for change by reviewing the ten responses I mentioned. If you find that you do say any of them, I recommend evaluating how you prioritize your work because none of these statements has your Catholic mission at its center.
If Bernard were alive today, I am sure he would learn the new ways of communication via social media and mass media to attract followers. He would have an iPhone and leverage the power of text, voice, and video to reach millions of people and spread the message of Christ.
“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” – Cardinal Henry Newman (1801-1890)
The mission stays the same, though not necessarily the way we accomplish it. The focus of change is to improve the way Catholics fundraise to strengthen Christ’s mission here on earth. The mission is not about staying in our comfort zone. The people whom we help (the hungry, the lonely, the tired, the scared, the unloved) are not in comfort zones; therefore why should we be?
As Saint Bruno said in his motto for the Carthusians, “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis” – “The Cross is steady while the world is turning.”
Leaders give us the energy and drive to move forward, even when times are difficult. Fundraising, for example, is usually listed as one of the most challenging tasks an organization is faced with. How often do we need leaderships to provide that surge of passion or encouragement to press on?
If there is one factor that separates a great organization from a good one, leadership ranks at the top of the list. Not only do we stay focused on what to do because of great leaders, but we also press on with more joy, drive, and energy.
“Our own times require of the laity no less zeal: in fact, modern conditions demand that their apostolate be broadened and intensified.”
Apostolicam Actuositatem, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity – Second Vatican Council
Why? Leaders have a clear sense that the less we do, the more we accomplish. They greatly influence our ability to focus on the essentials.
Too often, we can drift away from our core tasks because excessive demands flood our inboxes. Leaders recognize this reality and respond by eliminating the non-essentials. They also take on some of these duties themselves or delegate them to others. By doing so, leaders help everyone stay on course, including us as fundraisers.
If you’re a high-achiever like I am, you likely have more projects and ideas than time. It’s easy to think of racing to get as much done as possible. But maintaining focus and limiting tasks are both crucial. It can be incredibly helpful when a leader steps in to remind us what are our core responsibilities and goals. Therefore, great leadership is paramount to raising funds, inspiring donors and keeping the mission going.
As fundraisers, we depend on leaders because they help us understand what we are raising money for, and they inspire us with energy to find these resources.
Here are three leadership qualities that will improve your fundraising immensely.
Quality 1: Set clear and measurable goals
When setting the strategic direction of an organization, define a plan which has clear and quantifiable goals. The plan will turn the vision into reality while the goals will point everyone in the same direction. Together, the plan and goals connect with the fundraising targets so that everyone knows why the funds are needed and how the money will be raised.
If the board of directors sets a goal to double the team size in three years, this translates to more money and an increase in staff. The organizational structure, work habits, and culture will therefore also change. The leadership team sees these interconnections and, in response, lays out a plan to connect, manage and direct everyone to achieve these goals.
I was once asked by the board of a charity to double donations in one year because they wanted to increase the organization’s size. I presented my plan, which the board unanimously approved. However, when I politely asked that they define the overall organizational goals and targets to help me reach the fundraising goal, my words were met with silence. They seemed to assume that I would raise the money first, and then they would think about everything else later.
The results were dismal. For the first six months, I raised zero funds. Once the leaders stepped forward and became more strategically involved, the impact was incredible. Within three months, we not only raised the funds we were aiming for, we raised our yearly target.
Quality 2: Actively involved in fundraising
Leaders take an active role in fundraising by spreading the organization’s message and finding prospects. They do so in three specific ways: (1) donate themselves, (2) recruit donors, and (3) ask for donations.
Leaders should always financially contribute to the organization, giving an amount that is appropriate to their circumstances. Whether a board member is a corporate CEO or full-time mother, she should consider a donation based on her circumstances. Giving financially is important because it demonstrates to everyone, both inside and outside the organization, that the leader is fully committed. Also, leaders know that it is as much an honor for them to be on the leadership team as it is for the organization to have them involved. They, therefore, want to give back.
What happens if a donor approaches your leader saying, “I understand you provide strategic direction and advice to this organization. Do you, yourself, give financially?” What an awkward situation it would be if your leader responded, “No, I don’t give. I do, however, give generously of my time and expertise, and I think that is enough.”
What if your leader instead said, “Yes, I do give financially. I am passionate about what this organization does, and I consider it a great privilege to donate my time, advice and money to this great group of people.”
Second, a leader is directly responsible for recruiting other donors. Consider this scenario: you have five board members, and each has donated between $500 and $2,000 during a year. In total, you have raised on average $5,000. Then, each member recruits five more people to donate $500, raising an additional $12,500. In total, you have now raised $17,500.
This money could have an enormous impact on your mission. While you are the official fundraiser, your whole team should be helping to bring in funds, with the leaders setting an example.
Leaders understand that potential donors look to them for an indication of how well-managed is the organization. An inspired Catholic donor will think, “since the leaders are so involved and passionate about this mission, I know my donation will be used correctly and go a long way.”
Quality 3: Open to change and feedback
Leaders must also demonstrate the virtue of humility in two distinct ways: openness to change and feedback from others, both inside and outside the organization.
Leaders understand that the pursuit of greatness means adapting along the way. They know that the overall goal shouldn’t be to do everything correctly. Rather, the goal should be to do everything better. It is your mission and not individual egos that are at the heart of your organization. Therefore, change is essential.
As a fundraiser, you can confidently present new ideas because your leaders trust you and want to find ways of improving the mission. When you propose a change, a confident leader will openly consider whether and how to implement it.
Leaders also continuously collect feedback on how they and the organization are doing. They want to know what donors, followers, volunteers, staff, friends, etc. think of them and their team so the organization can constantly learn and grow.
Donors are attracted to great organizations. There is a tremendous difference between how much an excellent organization receives compared to an average one. I would say the difference can be as much as 100x more.
A leader’s attitude, contribution, energy, passion, and commitment are all crucial when it comes to fundraising. When an organization’s leader inspires someone, that person automatically ask the question, “How can I be a part of this?”
Leaders must, therefore, demonstrate greatness and become involved in all aspects of the organization, especially fundraising. When your leaders exhibit these three leadership characteristics, you will see the positive financial impact.