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.
We’ve all read Bible verses in appeal letters and brochures, right? It’s one of the classic tactics of fundraisers to stick scripture into a request to reminds us how it’s our duty as Catholics to give. If you’re running an appeal or campaign, you likely want to do add a few verses into your material.
But what if I told you there is a right way — and a wrong way — to use the Bible in your fundraising?
I’ve got good news for Catholics who want to use Bible verses to inspire people to give: You can quote the Bible without looking cliche’. In fact, I do recommend quoting scripture in your appeals. However, there are rules that you must follow so you don’t sound like the typical fundraiser just pulling at our faith to get to our wallet.
Using the Bible in Your Fundraising
Let’s start by facing the fact that the common practice of using the Bible to get people to donate risks watering down the meaning of these beautiful verses. This is not something you want to happen with your Catholic cause.
Take the often-used classic verse from 2 Corinthians: “God loves a cheerful giver.” This verse gets right to the point that we should give because it’s what God wants us to do; plus when we do it, we should be happy about it! But, using this verse can pull potential donors in the opposite direction. They may get upset and, consequently, choose not to give.
The reason why quoting Bible verses may backfire is because fundraisers often use them as shortcuts with their appeal. By the time we do receive the appeal letter, we rarely know much of what the charity has been doing or how it’s made a difference. To know this, we’d have to hunt for the annual report, but who wants to do that? Instead, the fundraiser hopes that reminding you of your Catholic duty will trigger a donation.
This realization turned a key for me. I noticed that using Bible verses can improve a donation request only if we followed four rules.
1. Don’t Make It the One Thing
Yes, God likes a cheerful giver, but that doesn’t mean the giver should be giving to you. Therefore, don’t assume that the quote immediately connects the person reading your letter with your charity. Provide the reader specific reasons why they would be happy to give to you. You can do this by clearly outlining the results their donation will help achieve.
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2. Make It Unique
Catholic charities often use the same Bible verses when writing their appeal. In contrast, successful fundraisers know they must differentiate themselves from everyone else. Therefore, when they pick a verse, they choose one that relates to their mission and makes them stand out from the crowd. The most important question to ask yourself is this—is this verse quote most applicable to me?
I suggest using resources such as Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Holy Bible to help you find new Bible quotes.
Note: if someone knows of a Catholic alternative, please let me know in the comments section below.
3. Ask Around
Starving charities wait the last minute to run an appeal. Successful charities are willing to plan ahead and make sure they’re sharing their story correctly. They often solicit feedback by asking your volunteers and donors what Bible verses and parables you should use. It’s a good path to both learning how people see you and fundraising more effectively.
4. Think Enough About Money
You must understand that too much focus on the Bible verse can make us overlook everything else about fundraising, especially for those of us who want to focus solely on the faith aspect of our work. I recommend you ought to think enough about the money aspect of your appeal so that you can continue to do what you love without worrying too much. Always remember that the faith-driven person raises funds to help more people, so don’t shy away from this fact.
You have to wonder what it takes to start a religious order from the ground up. You’ve got to be equipped with a lot of spiritual, mental, and physical resilience to handle all the ups and downs. It has to be quite similar to the path an entrepreneur takes. The definition of an entrepreneur is someone who “assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” How fitting is that for the description of a founder of any new Catholic cause?
Over a year ago, a friend sent me a copy of a fascinating biography on Saint Ignatius of Loyola. It was entitled, Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits. (Unfortunately, this book is out of print.) What struck me was that it took a different angle than most books about a saint. There was a chapter in the book named, Saint Ignatius as Fund-Raiser. The author of this chapter, Fr Thomas Clancy, researched the activities that Saint Ignatius took in the last 10 years of his life to build a sustainable foundation for the Society of Jesus.
As a fundraiser, this caught my attention immediately. There’s no magic solution that’s going to raise the money you need or guarantee your Catholic cause’s success. When you set out to build a new project or cause, you do so with the knowledge that many who have gone before you have failed.
That said, this biography of how Saint Ignatius was successful taught me that he focused on five rules which you too can cultivate that will significantly increase your chance of success in fundraising.
Setting yourself up for success
Saint Ignatius of Loyola first put himself in a position to succeed by surrounding himself with the right people and environment. He was a man on a mission during the final 10 years of his life. Between 1547 to 1557, he was laying the foundation for what would sustain Jesuits for many centuries ahead. He was tied to his desk as the order continued to increase in size, and therefore it required more funds to support all its schools, missions, and men.
Saint Ignatius surrounded himself with a copywriter, secretary, and a register to help him press on. During these years, the number of correspondences he wrote increased dramatically. Nearly 96% (or over 6,000) of the letters and correspondence that Ignatius sent in his life were written during this time and concerned money and finance.
By reviewing what he wrote, we can uncover the Five Essential Rules that Saint Ignatius followed to be successful in building the Society of Jesus from the ground up.
What did he write and how did he write asking for money?
Rule #1 – Believe in the value of your work
St Ignatius first teaches us that we have to be convinced of the value of our missions. If we cannot communicate to people our commitment and enthusiasm for our work, then the work will die.
For Ignatius, he saw education as the best hope for the Church and the world. He viewed colleges as better means to teach the faith than preaching. He also saw colleges not only producing educated men and women but also committed Christians. Ignatius’s commitment to education was serious and not made lightly. In fact, he was so committed to building schools that he compromised his vow to poverty when he recognized that schools could not be sustained only by alms, but also by fixed incomes.
“Two things are necessary to spread the Kingdom of God: money and a contempt for money.” – Cardinal William Allen, 16th century English Cardinal
Rule #2 – Let your light shine
You must be in the news, send letters, and publish books as often as you can. Ignatius knew that the business of fundraising was not simply asking people for money. To get people to donate, he realized that he first had to get people’s attention.
The primary publicity was the good works of the Jesuits, but Saint Ignatius knew that people had to hear about them. Ignatius was a tremendous fan of putting things in print and distributing it. He viewed letters as one of the chief means to spread the news about the Jesuits, and he required his fellow Jesuits to continuously write letters to people outlining their work and how it was making a difference.
He wanted to keep the Jesuits in the public eye. This helped get potential donors interested in founding a college. He also saw this publicity as a great way to increase vocations.
We live in an age of communication. As Catholics with big dreams, we have to master the technologies that help us spread our messages and attract the attention of people. We have to tell the world about the work we are doing and get people involved.
Rule #3 – Know your clients and be patient
Saint Ignatius was adamant about the vanities of life. After his conversion, he believed in the uselessness of amassing riches. Ignatius however realized as he grew older that if he wanted to build his colleges, he had to rely on those around him, especially those with money. Heavenly success, especially with the big dreams he had, depended on human favor.
He began to see good qualities in being wealthy and the importance of helping those with wealth to use their money for good. He therefore established his credibility and authority with them, thereby allowing him to raise funds for himself and help others change their lives.
Saint Ignatius insisted that we had to do favors for our actual and potential benefactors in order to get them involved in our work. We can too easily denounce the rich and powerful. In an ideal world our fundraising would be more democratic. A drive for 10 million dollars would be met by a million people giving ten dollars each. But that almost never happens. We have to live and serve God in the real world, and in that world we cannot do without big donors.
At the same time, we cannot forget those who can give smaller gifts, especially in our modern age, which allows an even a wider pool of donors. We live in an opportune time of the internet to amass support from large numbers of people.
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Rule #4 – Manage your assets carefully
Ignatius was thoroughly impressed with the work ethic of merchants. While deploring their goals of increasing wealth, Ignatius tells fellow Jesuits:
“Do not ever permit the children of this world to show greater care and solicitude for the things of time than you show for those of eternity. It should bring blush to your cheek to see them run to death more unhesitatingly than you to life.”
Ignatius sought to emulate the energy and enterprise of merchants rather than over indulge in long prayers and senseless mortifications. Early Jesuits sometimes referred to each other as merchants. Zealous Jesuits were even called good merchants. Back then Jesuits had to be merchants and bankers, and knowledgeable about money and negotiations in order to run schools; their endowments were often tied to land requiring management on their behalf.
For Ignatius, founding a school or any Catholic agency for that matter required three foundations; the spreading of the faith, the purification of the Church on earth, and an increase of earthly resources to better serve the first two. As a consequence, Ignatius recommends that you must render an account of your stewardship and manage them carefully. You can do this through your annual report, updates to donors, and the study of best practices.
One of the reasons that Ignatius was a successful fundraiser was that he showed sincere gratitude to all whose donations enabled the Jesuits to do what they were founded to do: help souls. Chapter 4 of the Constitutions, which dealt with the colleges of the Society, is devoted to the obligation Jesuits have to pray for benefactors and the ceremonies by which they are to honor them and their descendants.
Similarly, you must help your donors: meet them in their hospitals, and attend their funerals and weddings. Ignatius learned that his supporters found it much easier to connect with him and the Jesuits when he took time to be part of their lives.
Taking steps forward with your fundraising
For your Catholic cause to succeed, whether you are starting out or looking to grow, your assumptions about fundraising and growth must be accurate. That’s why you should take to heart Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Five Rules and find ways to integrate them into your interactions with donors and potential donors.
The ability to fundraise effectively is one of the surest indicators of whether or not a Catholic will create a lasting order, school, parish or apostolate, regardless of the mission or vocation.
Regrettably, fundraising is also one of the most likely skills to be overlooked as one you should learn in the Catholic Church.
But the truth is, anyone can learn how to do it — with the right approach.
Use these rules to your advantage, and remember how St Ignatius placed them at the heart of his fundraising. With the right focus, you will dramatically increase your fundraising ability.
Question: What rules do you follow when fundraising? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Why is it so hard to ask for legacies when you know people are considering what to put in their will? Will-writing is when you would think it would be the easiest to ask, don’t you agree?
You would think people would have productive conversations with fundraisers without wasting time on explaining the importance of giving. Everyone is already in agreement that giving is essential. We just have to find the right cause, the right organization, and the right solution to the donor’s desire.
Currently, the number of people over the age of 65 is 600 million. That number will balloon to 1.5 billion by 2050. With numbers like these, you would think fundraisers were excited about the possibilities.
However, the opposite is true, everyone – including fundraisers – are scared about breaching this topic.
Why Legacies are Brilliant for Charities and How to Get Them
Richard Radcliff explains how to overcome these obstacles in his book, Why Legacies are Brilliant for Charities and How to Get Them. A Catholic himself and long-time legacy fundraiser, Radcliff outlines step by step how you can make the most of legacies, which he advocates offer considerable opportunities to any Catholic charity willing to take the time and energy to follow his advice.
He begins by pointing out an interesting – but often forgotten – underlying fact about these donors over the age of 65. They are becoming less spontaneous with their giving as they have to support children and grandchildren. They may have money in their retirement account, but they are much more prudent about where it goes. This means that they are giving to fewer charities and focused on a more personal experience. Even more, they are considering how well they spend their nest egg.
The solution for any Catholic cause would then be to offer these savvy donors a solution that costs them nothing now but meets their requirements of making the most of their money. How does one do so?
Richard offers a step by step solution in his book. Today, I will outline the 7 steps I think will help you get people to leave your charity in their will, either through a cash sum or percentage of their estate.
7 Steps to Getting Legacies
Step 1 – Have a legacy vision that stands out. Richard explains that a bland line such as, “Please remember us through a gift in your will,” just doesn’t cut it. He recommends writing a sentence that is unique to your mission, inspirational, and memorable.
If you are enrolled in my Fundraising Boot Camp, I provide a complete overview of how you can do this. Click here for more info.
Step 2 – Consider planting seeds rather than going for a direct ask. Richard explains that legacy fundraising is different than normal fundraising. In his research of asking over 26,000 people in focus groups. An indirect ask is better received than a direct. Everyone is happy to know about the need and benefits of legacies to your charity, therefore share them without being ashamed.
Step 3 – Have your legacy communications be less formal and more focused on telling the story of how your Catholic cause has benefited people. Richard recommends having someone who’s benefited from your charity tell their story. This could even be a person who has already put your charity in their will and shares why they’ve done so. Also, keep your messaging is upbeat, positive, and inspirational.
Step 4 – Promote your legacy material year round, ideally through stories that focus on your legacy vision as it is short, inspiring, and memorable. Some recommended times to promote your legacy giving include anniversaries of your charity, reminders of how legacies have benefited your charity, seasonal messages, and after significant accomplishments.
Step 5 – Consider structuring your legacy campaign as such:
– A summary of the charitable outcomes and finances (use infographics)
– A one-page that describes ‘look at what we’ve done together’ (this messaging is critical)
– The legacy vision which shows that there is still more to be done
– Provide a way to take action (your contact information along with words to include in their Will)
Step 6 – Segment your audience and focus your communication to those who are committed donors, lapsed donors, eventers (those who keep showing up), and major donors. Richard highlights the important fact that statistically, a direct mail legacy campaign generates around a .5% response rate (please note: that’s half a percent). Richard strongly recommends you do not attempt to run a direct mail campaign because you will drive people away.
Step 7 – Listen. One of Richard’s strongest recommendations is to listen to donors. Listening can often be the best thing you can ever do, and they are far happier than they were before when you are asking for money. However, always be ready with your legacy material at hand and available. Again, it’s the indirect ask that works best. Provide them the information to take action, and leave the rest to them.
I leave you with one final thought. When running a legacy campaign, it’s best to offer people the tools to take action and get them to inquire about the possibility. Integrate your legacy messaging into thank you letters and emails, and make sure to ask softly.
Question: What recommendation do you have for asking Catholics to leave you in their will? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Let’s get serious because you wouldn’t be reading this if you were not looking for better ways to improve your fundraising. I want you to be successful and accomplish all you want with your mission. To do just that, I want you to take your fundraising to the professional level.
But before we talk about professionalism, I want to put this word into context with our Catholic faith. When we often talk about professionalizing anything in the Catholic Church, we can quickly think of suits, flow charts, graphs, colorful brochures, policies, and procedures. That’s not what I am talking about here.
When I say go ‘pro’ with your Catholic fundraising, I mean keeping your eyes on the bigger picture; Jesus Christ. I say this in all seriousness because there is a small but vital distinction to be made with your fundraising.
Step 1. Get on with your mission, with or without donations
You and I know that what matters most is doing God’s will. This means to be part of his Kingdom and to tell all nations. It also means to save lives and souls. Therefore, let’s stay focused on these goals when we fundraise rather than the amount you raise in your next campaign. Why? God is more interested in you fulfilling your vocation than you raising funds to do your vocation. To be more bluntly, you following God is more important than raising funds, wouldn’t you agree?
That’s what going pro with your fundraising. Press on with or without funds.
I continuously see Catholics never following their vocation because they are waiting for the funds to come first. They think that if God wants them to do something, then He will first provide the money. No, that’s not correct. That’s not going pro with your fundraising.
Get started without the funds. Show people what you can achieve without donations. Inspire them what you can do even before they choose to support you. Then, when you do get their donations, go above and beyond. Meaning, turn everything to the next level. In other words, keep going pro.
Step 2. Overcoming you biggest roadblock – you
As I help more and more Catholic agencies (and I’m helping a lot) with their fundraising, I see the most significant distinction is here.
The ones that do best with their fundraising have their eyes on their mission and keep going. They are always looking to move forward with or without donations. They never stop. Their faith is in Jesus, not in a major donor that will appear at any moment.
The Catholic agencies who seem to never get out of their struggles, or even pick things up, slow down or completely stop when fundraising doesn’t go as planned. Meaning, their level of commitment to their vocation is dependent on money.
Your biggest roadblock is you thinking that external resources are going to pick things up. They may or they may not, who knows? If someone were to give you a big fat check, what would you do? You probably wouldn’t know what to do, and that’s the problem. You are not doing enough already to even know what to do with donations. So, focus on you, your ideas, your will, your focus, and get moving, because I know that God is already blessing you with the tools necessary to move forward.
Let’s take this even further because when I make this point, I often get pushback, otherwise known as excuses. Catholics often think that in order to do their mission, they have to have money. This is particularly the case when they have none. Well, I fully disagree. If you don’t have money, and you believe 100% that this is what God wants you to do, he probably wants you to move forward without money. My grace is sufficient, as Jesus said to Paul when he was grumbling.
My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. – 2 Corinthians 12:9
Therefore, stop grumbling and get moving. Stop making excuses. Find alternative ways to move forward without the donations you think you need. Change your plans to fit your current situation. If you dream of opening a religious house or retreat center where you can help hundreds of people, but you don’t have the money to do so, start with helping one person. If you are already helping one person, help another one.
I guarantee you that Jesus will help you along the way, so give him the time and space to do so. Remember, we are on his time, not ours. Share your story with everyone around you and inspire them. Get people to trust you with your actions so they can are willing to trust you with their money.
Step 4. Understand the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’
This is an important point. You must not forget this point when you go out and fundraise. There’s a distinction between want you need and what you want. You want money, but you don’t need. You need God, and you’ve got him. Please don’t mix these up, so just go. He will give you all that you need. You just have to show up (every day) and keep your eyes and ears open to spot the people and resources God places in your life.
I am completely serious that God is giving you everything you need right now. You however are unfortunately spending too much time focused on what you don’t have than looking at what you do have.
That’s what I mean by going pro with your fundraising. If you can move your mission forward without money, just imagine what you can do with donations, am I right? If you do have some funds, keep going on what you have, learn to keep those donors, and find ways to get a few more at a time.
I often tell Catholics who start with fundraising, “If what you are doing is God’s will, you must believe that he will never leave you out to dry. Instead, believe he will give you everything you need. Just get started, move forward and always keep your eyes and ears open.”
Question: What is one action you can do today to go pro with your fundraising? You can leave a comment by clicking here.