In the early 1990s, Dr. Gary Chapman published The 5 Love Languages. The Secret to Love That Lasts. To date, over 20 million copies have been sold and Dr. Chapman’s love languages have helped millions of couples learn how to find a deeper and more meaningful connection.

In his book, Dr. Chapman posits that each of us has a particular way of expressing and receiving love. He describes the five “love languages” and suggests that by learning our partner’s love language, we are better able to express our love in ways that resonate more deeply. For example, if your love language is “Words of Affirmation,” it is powerful to hear your loved one express encouragement and affection through notes, texts, or personal compliments. Words of affirmation would be less impactful to someone whose love language is “Acts of Service.” For this love language, the deeper love connection could be made by doing errands or tasks that benefit their loved one. Dr. Chapman suggests that by understanding what our partners need from us, and understanding how they wish to have love expressed to them, we can elevate our relationships and experience deeper connections.

What is Your Love Language?

Never before has it been more critical to connect with those who support your ministry. With less people contributing to charities and more charities competing for philanthropic resources, building relationships with those who are invested in your ministry is essential to funding ministry now and in the future. But are you communicating in a way that expresses your love and commitment? Are you saying what your donors want and need to hear?  

As a church, we frequently rely on communicating information that we believe people need to know. We share the number of pledges received as well as the dollars committed. We present our annual budgets and talk through the expenses in detail reminding listeners we are frugally holding close to what we did last year. After all, we want them to know we are being prudent and responsible in the disposition of the resources they have given.  

When it comes time to raise funds outside the ministry budget, such as during a capital campaign, we send detailed information about the projects to be funded. We explain that the HVAC is on its last leg and the roof repairs cannot wait another year. We might even preach and teach on sacrificial giving and encourage givers to contribute a percentage of their income to further the work of the church. But is this what your supporters really want or need to hear? Is this the love language that deepens connections and commitment to your ministry?

Speaking the Love Language of Donors

In a recent article, Horizons’ Partner, Kristine Miller, reflected on a conversation she had with The Rev. Richmond Webster, Rector of Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, Birmingham, Alabama. Kristine shared “Rich said,  ‘While the love language of most clergy includes sharing the Good News, pastoral care, theology & worship, the leading the love language of most major donors is creating wealth and sharing it in meaningful ways.’” Kristine suggests, “As the pastor to financially blessed individuals, it is important to know not only what keeps them up at night but how they want to impact the world through their giving. It has been my experience that people with substantial resources often struggle to identify opportunities to use their resources in purposeful ways. Donor research reveals they frequently choose to contribute significantly more to organizations outside the church in the belief their resources will have a greater impact.  As church leaders, we need to learn how to speak our donors’ love language and help them make the difference they want to see in the world through the ministries of our churches.”

How to Speak the Love Language of Donors

Learning to speak to prospective major donors in a way that deepens connections and builds trust requires time and a shift in perspective. If the love language of donors involves sharing opportunities to have a significant impact in the world, then how we talk about giving opportunities needs to change. It will no longer suffice to simply ask for an annual estimate of giving to support a modest budget. Of course, you need resources to grow your ministry, but what are the big impact stories you can share? What ministry investment opportunities can you offer that help build connections and deepen relationships?

Steps for Learning Your Donors’ Love Language

First, find out what your donors truly care about. Is it food or housing insecurity, beautiful music, students or children, social justice issues, or something else? Ask where they express their generosity beyond the church. Invite donors into conversations that help you learn what they are passionate about and where they hope to make a difference. Listen to their hearts and learn their stories. The key to these conversations is to ask open-ended questions, such as “What passions is God stirring in your heart these days? How are you considering responding?” etc.

Second, invite them to dream with you about the current and future ministries of your church. What opportunities do they see for expanding or improving ministry? Remember, these are people who are skilled at solving problems and building wealth. Learn from their experience and wisdom. Partner with them to discover avenues for engaging people inside and outside your church in new ways. Ask them to help you fund these exciting new initiatives and bring others along as well.

Finally, expressing gratitude is one of the most important things you can do to keep and strengthen these relationships. Thank your donors for their time, wisdom, and financial support that enabled your ministry to grow.  

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