Support raising is a tricky subject for many people. For some, it is an enjoyable part of their ministry, for others it is a terrifying and dreadful requirement. Others see it as an annoying distraction from their “main ministry work,” while others see it as part of their call to make disciples. For many who raise support, the process is not enriching and leaves them anxious and frustrated. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I grew up in a family of missionaries who raised their full time support, so did my wife. We saw the good, the bad, and the ugly of support raising first hand as we learned from our parents’ examples. I began part time raising support for missions trips when I was a teenager in 1999, but went into full time support raising just before getting married in 2011.
There is a Better Way
My wife and I decided to rethink the entire approach, taking the positives that we could from our family’s support strategies but also learning from their mistakes. Both of our families have demonstrated a deep love for Jesus and a deep love for the people they minister to, including those they raise funds from. This excellent example has provided a foundation for us to build upon."By knowing the values of those you are reaching, you will be able to connect best with them by building bridges along those values in the support raising process." ~ Jeremy Chambers Click To Tweet
Therefore, for my wife and I, support raising has become a joy, an opportunity to share vision and values, an opportunity to help people be disciples of Jesus even in their finances, to encourage and engage people in the Kingdom of Heaven. No matter how one approaches it, all Christian support based ministries must recognize that there is a sacred element to this process. There is gentleness, wisdom, discretion, meekness, and grace required to handle this part of our ministry appropriately. When you “know your audience” well, you can serve them best. By knowing the values of those you are reaching, you will be able to connect best with them by building bridges along those values in the support raising process.
The Hole in the Support Raising Literature
I have read most of the Christian support raising books that have been written in the past 40+ years, and many secular philanthropic stewardship books as well. The worst of the literature can verge on manipulative guilt laden engineering of people, while the best of the literature still seems to be incomplete.
On most occasions, the better literature all seem to orient around the following actions: prayer, a call toward vision, a relational (vs. engineering) approach toward people, a spiritual understanding of the process, and diligent application of support raising strategy to various contexts. While these are important and shouldn’t be minimized, the attention on values is still profoundly lacking.
If you glance over the literature on support raising, however, there is something missing: a values oriented approach. Classic (and helpful) support raising texts like, “People Raising” by William Dillon and “The God Ask” by Steve Shadrach rightly focus on the relational dimension, but seem to both lack grace and joy at the core as well as an awareness of the values oriented dimension of support raising.
Even one of the best spiritual books on support raising, Henri Nouwen’s, “The Spirituality of Fundraising,” is a vision oriented book and lacks much mention of the role that mutual values play in both ministering to the donor and drawing them into the Kingdom work that is being done.
One of the best informative reads on support raising is Scott Morton’s, “Funding Your Ministry.” It is highly recommended for its ease of reading and for excellence in equipping the reader. However, even Morton doesn’t give much explicit attention to the values of those being appealed to, nor the values that are being represented in the support raising process. A brief summary of the recent support raising literature reveals this large hole: attention toward values is lacking.
The Value of “Values”
I have observed over the years that there are many people who give not simply because of a compelling vision, but because we carry forth their values. However you describe it: Kingdom of Heaven values, the fruits of the Spirit, mutual love for God, desire to spread good news, desire to care for the hurting, desire to love our neighbors, seeking out and ministering to the least, the lost and the lonely; in each case, our vision is backed up by these sorts of values and these connect deeply with the hearts, minds, and souls of the donors. Donor’s don’t just want to hear that our vision is moving forward, but they want to know that the common values of Jesus’s love and the Spirit’s grace and the Father’s righteousness are being promoted in this world."Donor’s don’t just want to hear that our vision is moving forward, but they want to know that the common values of Jesus’s love and the Spirit’s grace and the Father’s righteousness are being promoted in this world." ~ Jeremy Chambers Click To Tweet
I’ve spoken with many support-based missionaries, church planters, and ministry leaders who have noticed that there is a certain number of donors who don’t fully understand their vision, but they still believe in the person and / or the organization. If we look a bit closer we will find that it is because the person or the organization embody the values of those donors.
Vision without values deteriorates into empty hype. To articulate values without vision is like owning a fully stocked pantry and kitchen but never making any food. But when vision and values match up, it is like placing a Michelin Star Chef in that fully stocked kitchen: beautiful things will emerge. Vision may motivate, but values are formative.
Giving in Accordance with Gifting
Spiritual gifts also shape values. Consider that some people also give according to their gifting. If we use the Ephesians 4 gifts, “Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher,” then we can see how some people might be inclined to live out their generosity through one of these lenses. For example, I am gifted more toward pioneering (apostolic) so I love to help fund ministries that are pioneering new works and reaching people groups that may be overlooked by others. I love to support ministry start ups and people who are “going and being sent forth.”
I feel a great passion to fund these endeavors and I wish more people would also give to these sorts of pioneering endeavors. A shepherding type may be more interested in supporting shepherding ministries and an evangelistic type may be more interested in supporting evangelistic ministries etc. An underlying spiritual gift is absolutely going to influence and shape the values of a person and thereby influence how and to whom they give.
Pay Attention to the Narrative You are Communicating
To treat people well is to gently shepherd them. In our ministries, we are out on the forefront, writing a narrative that people need to be drawn into. People need to know what is happening on the frontlines. We are seeing some of the most amazing things that are not being shared broadly.
We can report great news of what Jesus is doing in this world and this is an extraordinary value in light of the darkness that we are facing these days. Every good bit of news is super encouraging and needs to be shared! The narratives we share will amplify our values. If the narrative you share is always involving something negative (about something that is broken in the world) then your donors and readers will be influenced and shaped by this.
However, if your narrative is avoiding what is broken in the world, then your donors and readers are also going to be influenced accordingly. Consider your narrative as something to steward as unto the Lord. Next time you write a ministry update, take time to exegete it and pay attention to the values that you are communicating (knowingly or unknowingly). Ask yourself if these are truly the values you want to be sharing. But then remember also that your donors are internalizing these values that you are passing along, so there is a spiritual stewardship in this too.
The Heart of Support Raising
Our goal is to honor Jesus first and foremost. To do this well, we aim to love those of whom we ask for support, caring for their spiritual growth before we care about receiving funds. The Apostle Paul modeled this out to us in how he spoke of the blessing that he desired for the Philippians to have above all in their giving. He cared for their hearts, that they might know the joy of giving to the Lord.
I have often noticed that support raising always requires me to get my heart right before the Lord before I contact a donor. I spend time in prayer and reflection. I check my heart in accord with Psalm 139, asking the Lord to reveal if there is any false motive in me that I may care for His glory, for the benefit of the potential donor, and for His Kingdom values to be promoted in this world.
It is always a spiritual work. To this extent, one would do well to read and re-read Henri Nouwen’s, “The Spirituality of Fundraising.” If our goal is to honor Jesus, love others, and truly minister to our donors, then we must pay attention to how we communicate the values that will be formative for our donors."If our goal is to honor Jesus, love others, and truly minister to our donors, then we must pay attention to how we communicate the values that will be formative for our donors." ~ Jeremy Chambers Click To Tweet
To love our donors well, we must communicate the values that draw them into God’s beautiful Kingdom. We must intentionally pay attention to what we are communicating. We must cast a vision for Kingdom work alongside Kingdom values that back up that vision. To truly behold and savor a value is to become shaped by that value. Again, vision may motivate, but values are formative.
Additional Resources: The books mentioned above are all helpful to various degrees but one may also want to do a simple search online for “values based support raising” or “values based fundraising” as many organizations and individuals have richly explored this topic.
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