If you’ve been following me for the past two years, I hope that you’ve enjoyed my weekly articles on how to fundraise in a Catholic context. Yes, I’ve dedicated 100% of my attention to Catholic fundraising. That includes religious orders, lay apostolates, youth ministry, family ministry, pro-life ministries, schools, universities, and the list goes on.
I’ve offered the steps on where to find donations, how to ask for donations, and when to adopt new strategies (such as online fundraising).
Today, let’s dive into the world of appeal letters. You will notice that I take a different approach to the average fundraiser. Rather than focus my attention on asking for a donation, I focus on my relationship with the reader.
To be seen by Catholics, you need to share your mission and tell them what you are doing. But traveling from one parish and another is not enough. You must spread your reach by using digital platforms, and I can convince you for one simple reason: you will find the majority of your donors here.
When I started fundraising, every single prospect and current donor that I met was asking me to connect with them through the internet. I quickly discovered that my initial approach to go from parish to parish was the least efficient use of my time. That’s not to say you should never get out and meet people, but I had to maximize my full potential of telling my charity’s story and finding donors.
I desperatedly needed to find a better approach because our costs were mounting and more donations had to come, soon.
That’s when I turned more of my attention to the internet. But I didn’t just put a donate button on my homepage. That would not be enough. Instead, I had a genius moment. I understood that everyone I was asking to be a donor was connected daily to the internet, had two to three email addresses, and was frequently checking their multiple social profiles. In fact, most everyone I knew was always online, especially with the prevalent smartphone. The big question I was now asking myself was, “How do I share my charity’s story online with people and ask for donations?”
I discovered that building a digital presence rests on four key propositions. Here are the pillars that will build a clear picture for any Catholic agency.
1. Start with a positive view of having an online presence
To get more donors and donations, and without me running around, I had to ask the right question about building my online presence. I used to ask myself the question, “Should I be on all these digital platforms?” I quickly changed my thinking and asked myself a much more helpful question, “Which platforms should I spend use to connect with the right people who will support my mission?”
This was the turning point for me. I went from being overwhelmed with all the options to being more focused on what mattered most: sharing my story and capturing enough attention from people to ask for donations.
You more than likely have a few doubts and worries about the internet. Yes, there are some issues, especially when it comes to distracting us from our lives and responsibilities; however, we must remember that past generations also worried about the television and radio. Both definitely offer a lot of negatives but also positives. Look at how EWTN, Catholic Answers, and Ascension Presents, to name just a few Catholic agencies, have used these technologies to spread the faith to millions of people.
You can too by being having a positive perspective. Your online platform will help you stay focused on your mission and, by managing it correctly, not overwhelm your time and energy in front of a screen.
2 – Select only what you can handle
As I mentioned, the focus must be on identifying which digital platforms are best suited for telling the story of your mission. We must remember that Catholics only donate after you’ve gotten their attention and trust. To get them as passionate about your mission as you are, I recommend maximizing your time rather than trying to maximize the number of social profiles you have.
The goal is not to spend hours on social media. Let’s face it; you have better things to do: saving lives and souls.
Therefore, my suggestion is to select three digital spaces that maximize the spreading of your mission and the sharing of your story. You might be able to only handle one at the moment. That’s perfectly fine. The important step is to start with one and to do it well. What do I mean by that? It means engaging with people through your online presence. If you are on Facebook, you can’t just post a picture every other week and hope people like it. The objective is not to get 5, 10, or even 100 likes. It’s about connecting with people through the story of your mission. To do so, I recommend taking the time to learn and develop how you do this better each week.
Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace.
3 – Use the online platforms that fit your mission
Next, I suggest you select three to four platforms and spend your time and energy working with them. To get you started, I have three recommendations which will move you quickly forward. Two in my view are mandatory, and the third depends on the nature of your mission.
Your Website – You must have a website because you own your website. Every social media platform can disappear tomorrow. The internet and website, however, will not. You want to safeguard your digital presence on the internet, along with your content. A website keeps you secure and directs people to a place they can always find you. I talk extensively how to build a fantastic Catholic website in this article which you can read by clicking here.
Your Email List – You must remember that every donation comes from the hands of someone. And for someone to donate to you, you must get their attention and build their trust. Email is a fantastic medium for doing this because it’s personal and private. Plus, it’s the most cost-effective way of communicating with flocks of people because everyone checks their email. While email looks old-fashioned, it’s still the best way to engage in a one on one conversation with someone. Email isn’t going anywhere. It’s as prevalent as letters. I offer a practical approach on how to use email to better communicate with your donors and prospects in an article which you can read by clicking here.
4. Have your followers and donors do the work for you
Finally, I don’t recommend you be on every social platform. By doing so, you spread yourself thin and lose steam. Your mission and fundraising will suffer when this happens.
I want to reiterate that you have to focus on sharing your mission, every day, every week, every month, every year. To do so, you must spread your story in the best way possible over the long run, not short. It’s more important to share stories with those who enjoy hearing from you, rather than trying to be seen everywhere by everyone.
This means it is more important to go deep into the relationships you develop online. Rather than trying to rack up as many likes, followers, and subscribers as possible, engage with their comments, thank them for their shares and likes, and respond to their emails. Numbers don’t matter.
If you do a great job with the people who are connected with you, I guarantee more will people come. God is continually placing people in your life. Focus on the few and allow God to multiply them.
‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ – Matthew 25:21
Question: Which digital platforms will you be using to spread the message of your work and attract donors? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
I want you to accomplish everything that God wants you to do. Whether you are a religious, a priest, a layman, or discerning your vocation, whatever God is calling you to do (even if it seems impossible), I want to help you move forward.
What often happens when we walk in faith, we look to others for support. The assistance we want usually comes in the form of financial donations. Meaning, we have to start asking for donations.
As a result, fundraising adds another level of difficulty to the already challenging journey, wouldn’t you agree?
I want to offer you advice on one of the best ways to get people to assist you financially. Listen to me very carefully because I guarantee you will have significantly better results. You will also stress a whole lot less, isn’t that what we all want? We want to focus more on the mission and stress less about the resources.
The Best Advice for This Year – Follow-Up with People
My advice is to focus significant amounts of your attention on the follow-up.
A follow-up means taking the time to build a meaningful relationship with someone after you’ve asked them for support. You do so by keeping people informed of how you are making a difference, even if they’ve not yet agreed to give financially.
Why do I encourage you to follow-up with people?
Too often, when asking for donations, Catholics forget about keeping in touch with people. They instead ask for money, then get disappointed when the response is negative or non-existent. Then they forget about the person entirely. The relationship disappears even before it can be started.
This common way of fundraising is detrimental to you and your cause. Let me dig deeper and explain why.
I am blessed through my work at CatholicFundraiser.net to work with hundreds of Catholics who are seeking funds. Because of this oversight, I’m able to see the trends and mistakes that Catholics are making over and over again. One of the most significant missed opportunities I frequently see is this inability to follow-up with potential donors.
Two Case Studies – One Failure and One Success
Let me share with you two examples to explain why following up with people is so important and how it can transform your fundraising quicker than you can imagine.
Case Study #1 – This is What You Should Not Do
The first example comes from a Catholic family who is passionate about reviving the use of sacred music in the liturgy. While working with them, I discovered they had a fantastic line-up of potential donors. Seriously, some of the people they had met over the course of two months were unbelievable. These were well-known people in the Catholic Church and their community. They had shown interest in the family’s work; however, they weren’t responding to the family’s donation requests.
I recommended that the family keep in touch over the course of three months and try again.
The family, unfortunately, didn’t take my advice. They didn’t see the long-term benefits of building relationships. Instead of seeing each person as a future donor – either in three months, six months, or even next year – the family could only see them as people who would never donate. This is a false assumption.
As a result, the family forgot about these relationships and looked elsewhere. Three months later, they put her project on hold due to a lack of funding, confidence, and direction.
The second example comes from one of the largest Catholic organizations whose mission is to keep Catholics informed about the teachings of the Church. I worked with the development office to build a campaign that would immediately identify people interested in financially giving and focus 100% of our time on following up with each one individually.
We launched the campaign in just a few days because we kept our focus specific to identifying people, asking for their support, and then following up when necessary. Within a month, we had raised $100,000. We also had another $500,000 on the way because of our dedication to following up with people who showed tremendous interest in what the organization was doing but weren’t ready to commit immediately.
Let me reiterate. This campaign took only a few days to get started and reaped significant results for this mission.
How did we do it? All we did was write a few emails, edited a short phone script, and make phone calls. The costs were just time and effort. For information on the how to find donors, read this article: The Art of Finding Donors.
The 2 Lessons Why You Should Always Follow-Up
I want you to take away two key lessons today about the importance of following up with the people.
Lesson 1. God always provides. You must pay attention to who God places in your life. I constantly quote Saint Paul: I planted, Apollos watered, and God grew.
I’m a big believer that God always gives us the people and resources necessary for us to move forward. We just have to have our eyes and ears open, and then take action. Meaning, you must keep following up with the people God places in your life.
Lesson 2. Always maintain a log of the people whom you meet. Instead of continually looking for new people to ask for donations, take the time to review the people you’ve met each week. Take note of what they’ve said and consider the best approach to reconnect with them.
Not every person you met will immediately respond with a yes when you ask for a donation. However, don’t disregard the person in the long run. Make a note of the meeting and put a reminder on your calendar to check back at a later date.
Sometimes the best action you can do is to give them an update on what you are doing.
Remember that people donate because they are inspired by what you do rather than by what you say. Keep their attention and remind them of the difference you are making. Then, when the time is right, ask again. Keep repeating this.
Please don’t look at the short term. Be patient – it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Follow-up with people regularly and you’ll see that more and more people will support you.
You will succeed with fundraising when you do this: demonstrate for 52 weeks a year “how you are making a difference” rather than “how you will make a difference.”
Question: Who will you follow-up with this week? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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.
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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?
The “thank you” is the undisputed champion of all fundraising conversations. This is because your gratitude is the hallmark of acknowledging how God blesses you through the people you meet. Therefore thanking people must be foundational in your day to day work as a fundraiser. I would even rank your ‘thank you’ as more important than your gift request.
Let’s take a closer look at how to thank people because more than likely you are only thanking people after they donate. This is the standard approach to showing gratitude. Yes, this is good, and I want you to do this every time, but I want you to do more.
If you want better results in your fundraising, you have to learn to use these two words more often.
Thank the person, not the donation
I recommend that you get more personal when expressing gratitude because thanking someone goes beyond the donation. There is so much at play in a donation than the moment the person gives you money.
I often stop for a minute to comprehend how this person reached the decision to give. How did they come into my life? How did they get inspired? What conversations did we have? What led them to think that I was worth a financial gift? How did they reach the decision to be generous with their money?
When you pause and reflect on every step that had to occur, you recognize that many actions had to happen before the act of giving you financial support. This helps you thank the person more sincerely, and it helps you recognize the other steps that you should be thanking a person.
You have to thank a person each step they take with your mission. So don’t wait until you receive a donation to say ‘thank you.’ Thank the person for connecting with you, attending an event, calling you, asking a question, volunteering, and the countless other actions they do. Don’t wait until someone gives to thank them.
Take a step back – donations happen much earlier than you think
Let’s dive further in this idea of thanking people much earlier than when they give. A sequence of actions and decisions took place for a person to make that decision. I encourage you to find out what those steps are because once you know them, you can identify prospects much easier.
When I can’t understand how someone came to the decision to give, I contact them and ask, “You have humbled me by your generosity. Thank you so much. If I may, what inspired you?”
You might think this is intruding someone’s privacy, but it’s not. The idea that a donor’s privacy cannot be breached is a myth. Yes, people don’t want you to be cold called. They don’t want to be bothered with endless requests. Also, if all you do is contact them when you want money, they will likely get upset.
However, there’s a significant difference between my approach and what most Catholic organizations do: constantly ask for money.
When I learn why people donate, they tell me their story and how they came to the decision. I see how the different moments led to the donation, and I can become even more grateful.
The benefits of getting good at ‘thank you’
When you become a pro at saying thank you, you are inspired to do ten times more with their donations. This is why the generic thank you note only handicaps your ability to move your Catholic cause exponentially forward.
People’s generosity fuels our passion to do more for Christ, and we can even more by getting better at showing gratitude. If someone finds your cause worthy of their hard earned money, recognize that there is more at play than a financial transaction.
Dig deeper when it comes to thanking them. I recommend you make every effort to tell them how humbled you are by their attention and generosity. When you consistently do this, every day of the year, your fundraising will increase exponentially.
Thanking people more often will have a tremendous impact on your fundraising.
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The four ‘thank you’ messages you must master
Let’s look at the four moments when you should thank people.
The first is thanking someone after they make a donation. As discussed, this is the most fundamental thank you. Find your authentic way of saying, ” I thank you for your generosity.” Don’t copy someone else’s version. Put it in your own words. You have to come from a place of authenticity.
If you are looking for inspiration, look no further than the writings of Saint Paul. He is a master when it comes to thanking people for their generosity.
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The second way you can thank people is after meeting them. Whether it is the first encounter or a “catch-up” after an event, make sure you say thank you. It’s also good to mention one or two comments they said that stuck with you.
The third way you can thank someone is after they do something for you. This is apart from a donation. What comes to my mind are volunteers. Volunteers are a bedrock of support for your work, and they should be thanked after they help you.
The fourth wayis when you become a pro. This thank you happens at the specific moments which you know are fundamental moments in your relationship with a person, especially if they are not yet a donor. You can do this with a handwritten card, a phone call, and personal email. People don’t expect these messages, but when they receive them, they are extremely grateful.
Always remember: Catholics want to give, but they want to give to Catholic organizations who they know will do more than just take their money.
Putting your ‘Thank You’ into practice
Exercise on how to get better at saying thank you.