Rebuilding a Culture of Generous Giving
by Cathy Kits, SCSBC Development Director ◊
For many families in the early years of Christian education in Canada, giving priorities centred around the church and the Christian school. In fact, many of our schools’ founders established the Christian school before buying their homes. It was the right thing to do. However, the Christian school landscape has changed and while much of this change has been positive, along the way we lost that ethos of sacrificial giving. How can we begin to rebuild a culture of generous giving in our school communities?
At the outset, we need to understand that, increasingly, people are giving when they are offered a compelling vision that resonates with them, and when they have a clear understanding of the impact their gift will have. “When charities fail to offer people both a compelling, specific case and the knowledge of what was accomplished with their gifts, the giver is less likely to give generously in the future.”1 This is a cultural shift, one that has moved giving from organization centric to donor centric.
In our present society, fundraising is about how donors can live out their values through your organization. People will ultimately give generously if their values align with your mission and vision. When you meet with potential supporters and speak from your own passion for the mission and vision of your school and the impact it is having on transforming the lives of children, you speak into the hearts of those who share your values. Appealing to people on the basis of a shared mission, not simply the need for funds, is one of the keys to successful, sustainable fund development.
Most importantly, however, are the genuine relationships you build. These have the greatest capacity to grow a culture of generous giving in your school, responsibility to actively support and promote the mission and vision of your school and are intentional about having personal and meaningful relationships with supporters and potential supporters because it’s developing a culture of giving that is about relationships, not just money.2 People give to people, and they often give because they are asked by people they know and trust. While “events can be great entry points to invite people in, they are a one-time deal, lacking in actual relational development.”3 They don’t lead to donor retention. “Without personal relationships, you’re creating a never-ending treadmill of bringing donors in the front door and watching them exit the back door almost as quickly as they came.” 4
Fundraising cannot be separated from relationship, and this is especially true in the Christian context. “Philanthropy for Christians is first about people rather than about money, the possibility of relationship rather than resources. We must stand against anything that turns persons into wallets or friends into banks.”5 Organizations rob us of our humanity when they use people for their ends rather than for flourishing people.6
Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian, wrote about human connections as being either I-It or I-Thou. In the former, we interact with each other through purpose-oriented materialistic-based transactions. However, in the I-Thou relationship, we actively seek bonds with each other, experiencing the other’s uniqueness and mystery.7 When we develop authentic relationships, we have the ability to respond and care for people appropriately. My challenge to you is that you define your fundraising efforts by a commitment to embody Gospel values, caring for and stewarding people, focusing on transformational giving rather than transactional giving.
“In many respects, a relational approach to fundraising is an invitation to the donor not just to give money, but to participate in the community they are supporting.”8 It is also an invitation for everyone to actively participate in growing a community of givers by actively supporting and promoting the mission and vision of your school, and intentionally developing meaningful relationships with supporters and potential supporters. After all, a healthy culture of giving is about relationships…not just money.9
To assist you, here are some guidelines to assist you in rebuilding a culture of generous giving in your school.10
- Establish clear lines of expectation and communication between development staff, heads of school and the board.
- Cover them all with prayer and an abundance of grace – this is hard work.
- Develop a clear, honest, compelling case that demonstrates impact.
- Create strategies to connect people to your vision.
- Set goals for meeting with current givers, past givers and potential givers.
- Begin connecting with people.
- Provide a variety of ways for people to be engaged and to give.
- Establish a communications plan that encompasses the following: thanking, asking, reporting and follow-up.11
- Set up an efficient method of tracking donor engagement.
- Ensure you have the internal capacity to implement your plan
- Pray for wisdom and discernment.
- Praise God for the outcome.
As you begin rebuilding a culture of generous giving in your school, focus on developing genuine relationships with the people God has given you, creating opportunities to connect them with your mission and vision. And remember, cultural transformation takes time. This is a lifelong journey, not a sprint!
- Penelope Burke, 2016 Burk Donor Survey
- Cynthia M. Gibson, Beyond Fundraising: What Does it Mean to Build a Culture of Philanthropy?
- Zach Clark, Development and Leadership Coaching, “Growing a Culture of Giving”
- Jay Love, Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty
- Peter Harris & Rod Wilson, Keeping Faith in Fundraising
- Andy Crouch, Christian Schools Canada Conference 2016
- Adam L. Clevenger, CFRE, “The Metaphysics of Asking”
- Peter Harris & Rod Wilson, ibid
- Cynthia M. Gibson, ibid
- John R. Frank & R. Scott Rodin, Development 101
- Zach Clark, Development and Leadership Coaching