One Huge Reason People Might Not Be Giving to Your Church

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 
Philippians 4:6-7

My first fundraising job

Nine months after joining the development team of a local nonprofit, I was offered the position of fundraising director. It was an exciting opportunity. I’d raised plenty of money over the years as a pastor – for capital campaigns or overseas mission efforts – but those were occasional projects. This was an opportunity to raise millions of dollars every year to meet the needs of the poorest in my community. I jumped at the chance.
Soon I was immersed in a daily swarm of phone calls, endless meetings, and the constant weight of budget forecasts. Which, I expected. What I did not expect was something more mundane that would change the way I looked at ministry.
Every morning, a staffer would bring me a pile of thank-you letters to sign, to be sent to those who had made a donation the day before. Sometimes there were hundreds of letters, especially at the end of the year, every single day.
But that’s not all. Every letter also received a hand-written margin-note from me. If I happened to recognize the addressee, I made it personal:
“Thank you so much for this gift Susan! Hope you and your husband had a great trip to Mexico…let’s grab coffee soon so I can share what’s been going on lately!”
I learned this from my boss, who had just retired. She insisted on it. And even though she was gone, I wasn’t about to break her tradition. Donors loved her.

What are you suggesting?

Recently, I was telling this story to a group of pastors when one interrupted me:
“Jason…are you suggesting that we should send a thank you letter to every person, every single time they give?”
“Yes,” I said. “That is partly what I’m suggesting. But I’m really trying to ask a question: How would it transform the culture of our churches if we stopped shaming people for not giving enough and simply thanked them every time they gave?”
I know, shaming is a harsh word. But let’s be honest. Many churches only have two tools for generating giving: Heaping guilt on those who don’t tithe, or promising “blessings” for those who do.
Stressed by the budget, pastors get frustrated that so many people aren’t tithing. Soon there’s a fiery sermon series or a new discipleship class on the topic. Now, don’t get me wrong. Teaching your people about giving is incredibly important, but somehow the message always comes across loud and clear: you’re not giving enough.

Let me ask my question again, in a different way 

What kind of culture would we create in our churches if we constantly told people that what they gave just didn’t measure up? Could it be that we might create a culture where giving becomes rare and reluctant?
Here’s the thing: when you accuse people of not doing or giving enough, you’re blaming them for your own sense of failure. But when you thank them, you’re giving them credit for the success.

It turns out, thanks is the opposite of blame

Much like forgiveness turns the tables on retribution and violence, thankfulness turns the tables on scarcity and fear, empowering a new cycle of generosity and joy. But that requires the humility and vulnerability of letting others enjoy the credit for your church’s success.
And that brings me to another benefit of thankfulness: decreased stress. Like the passage above tells us, relinquishing the burden of self-performance by simply asking and thanking God brings peace of mind. I’ve found, that my sincere expression of thanks to others for their contribution is a natural expression of my thankfulness to God. When I’m thankful in this way, I knock myself off the pedestal of idolatry in my own heart and mind, and rest in the assurance that God is faithful.
After five years in secular nonprofit fundraising, I can tell you this works amazingly well outside the church too. The strongest nonprofits in the world have learned that thankfulness is one of the most important practices to cultivate if you want to build enthusiasm, support, and participation for your mission.
As a result, at that first job I mentioned, we lavished people with thanks. It didn’t matter if they gave $200,000, $20, or 2 hours of their time. Whenever someone gave, we made sure they knew we were grateful that their gift helped fill hungry bellies, house homeless families, and improve people’s lives.

Can I tell you how that feels? 

Maybe you already know the wonderfully surprising joy that comes from being sincerely thanked for making a difference. And I’m not talking about a fancy party or lavish gifts. I’m talking about a personal, one-on-one, look-em-in-the-eye and tell them sincerely why their gift matters kind of conversation.
That moment is life-giving to people. I’ve seen it transform reluctant givers into open-hearted philanthropists and turn spectators into enthusiastic workers.

Can I tell you just one more thing? 

Most church people I talk to have never felt that way after giving to their church. That’s why so many of them are giving to nonprofits instead. That breaks my heart on both counts, and I hope it breaks yours too.
But you can help change that today. You don’t have to start by writing letters every week to everyone who gives (although, that’s a good goal). Just do one thing to get started. Pick up the phone right now and call someone who is vitally important to your church and tell them how much their gift of time, expertise, or funding means to you and the people your church serves.
“Learn more at The Praxis Gathering!”
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About the Author

Jason Coker

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