The Catholic Fundraiser

Stewards of Mission: What It Means and Why It Matters

Posted by Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE on 8/29/18 8:33 AM
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“Fundraising is a very concrete way to help the Kingdom of God come about.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Spirituality of Fundraising

Stewards of mission: What does that mean as fundraisers? Yes, we need to keep our missions in the center of all we do. Everything else flows from mission, right? That’s our guiding light, our north star, our EVERYTHING.

As stewards of mission, leaders must be actively involved with mission advancement efforts. At some organizations, that means at least 50 percent of a leader’s time is spent cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding donors. Fundraisers can’t, and shouldn’t, do it alone.

So, how can fundraising professionals continually engage organizational leaders for the greater good of the mission and work together? For most of us, it all begins with the “golden triangle” of fundraising.

The “Golden Triangle” of Fundraising

The “golden triangle” of fundraising includes the Board/Congregational Leadership, Executive Director/Organizational Leaders, and Fundraising Staff. When these entities work together, the mission comes alive, donors see their gifts in action, and the organization thrives.

If leaders are not actively involved in fundraising or have relationships with your donors, your mission may be in jeopardy. When I first meet with the golden triangle I’ll often ask, “What’s your personal fundraising philosophy?”

You may be surprised to hear the answers I’ve received through the years:

  • “Fundraising is a money grab!”
  • “Fundraising should only be done by the paid staff, not religious members.”
  • “Board members aren’t responsible for fundraising. I didn’t join the Board to ask for money.”

Wow! As a fundraiser, that hurts a bit, doesn’t it?

It’s the responsibility of the fundraising staff to engage and educate the golden triangle on their role in fundraising with donors and in the community. If the leadership isn’t supportive, then why would donors be supportive?

That doesn’t always mean that the Board or leadership are directly asking for financial gifts. Perhaps it’s an introduction to an individual, corporation, or foundation, or providing a personal story about their own passion for your organization, or even bringing others to an event where they can see and hear first-hand your mission at work.

Have you ever heard a missionary talk about their work in a third-world country? Or a priest share his difficult road to the seminary? Or a sister explaining how she started a rural school where 90 percent of the children live below the poverty level? Each story highlights a crucial mission — and the need for fundraising to support that mission.

You’ll never forget those stories, and neither will your donors.

Leadership Roles in Fundraising

Over the past 20+ years, I’ve stood in front of thousands of Board Members and Congregational Leaders from all over the world and talked about their role in fundraising. Some want to run from the room. Others keep their heads down the entire time and try not to make eye contact (I can still see you!). Others are smiling ear to ear and eager to run out the door to meet donors.

Slowly through discussions, most leaders can become comfortable with fundraising. Oftentimes,  I’ll ask the golden triangle the following questions to begin a discussion related to fundraising:

  • If we communicate nothing else about our organization, we must communicate [blank].
  • [Blank] is how we make a specific difference through our organization.
  • After meeting a staff member, Board member, or Leader, we want our donors to walk away knowing and feeling [blank].
  • Six weeks after meeting someone from our organization, we want that donor to remember [blank].
  • This is what the Spirit is calling me to do in the ministry of fundraising [blank].
  • This story is an example of what continues to surprise/amaze me about my organization [blank].

Too often individuals with roles outside of mission advancement have an intense fear of fundraising. But with some education, patience, and role playing, many have become amazing storytellers and fundraisers.

Specifically, leaders can be part of the ministry of fundraising in the following ways:

  • Be a role model with their own charitable gifts as well as time and treasure.
  • Take an active role in mission advancement/fundraising—including identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of donors.
  • Make fundraising planning a priority and talk specific details at each. Board/Congregational meeting (goals, expectations, challenges, relationships, etc.).
  • Participate in creating a compelling case for support. Know the case details—number of people served, services/programs, costs, etc.
  • Open the doors to people that maybe interested in the organization.
  • Learn how to become a great philanthropic storyteller and able to recite a meaningful mission moment to a donor.

Board and Leaders: Get Talking about Fundraising

And don’t forget to get the Board and leaders talking about mission and fundraising in a positive, uplifting way with each other.

Recently a Chief Development Officer was discussing a “thank you” event that was held for her Board and organizational leaders. It was there that a Board member mentioned that although she attends the Board meetings regularly, she had never had a conversation with most of her fellow Board members nor was there a mission moment to ground the meetings. Sure, there were lots of reports and updates, but the Board meetings were missing an emotional and personal connection. This stewardship event was the first time the leadership and staff had the opportunity to share their passion for mission, talk about their community impact, and build relationships among themselves. It was an eye-opening experience. And in turn, the Board members’ excitement has recharged their fundraising involvement and the ways in which they talk with donors. Woo hoo!

I would encourage all fundraisers to focus on developing a strong golden triangle so the mission continues to come alive and fundraising thrives.

Together, we are the stewards of mission and fundraising!

Dawn will be presenting on this topic at the 50th Annual NCDC Conference and Exposition. We hope to see you there!

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Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE

Written by Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE

With more than 21 years of mission-focused experience, Dawn M.S. Miller, CFRE has served clients in 31 states and the District of Columbia while also supporting ministries in Africa, Canada, Europe, Haiti, Mexico, and in Rome, among other locations with various fundraising and integrated marketing/communications efforts. Dawn is a frequent speaker and contributor to local, national, and international nonprofit publications, websites, social media outlets, and blogs. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications with an emphasis in Communication Theory and Rhetoric from the University of Missouri — St. Louis.

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In this weekly blog we share tips, tactics and case studies for professionals in the Catholic fundraising community. Learn how to advance your mission with articles on technology, donor engagement, nonprofit leadership, social media, and emerging trends.

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