In many organizations, those whose role it is to raise funds often believe their donors need to be cajoled or coerced into giving more. Fundraisers lament that people are already giving as much as possible, and expectations should be set low for the upcoming annual appeal. Likewise, those bold enough to ask are often convinced that if people only knew how expensive it was to fund the budget, they would certainly be inclined to increase giving.
More often than not, ministry leaders begin to panic leading into the final weeks of the year, as a deficit at year-end seems inevitable. The ardent plea to help “bridge the gap” or “fund the deficit” begins in earnest just as the season of Advent commences. Finally, as gifts are received, it is likely that if any acknowledgment is sent to the donor, it does little, if anything, to deepen the donor’s relationship with the ministry or inspire future contributions.
Viewing donors as a commodity whose purpose is to fund your budget will hinder your generosity objectives and reduce your capacity to do ministry. Developing meaningful and authentic donor relationships ensures your mission is achievable.
Shift Your Thinking from Transactional to Transformational
Transactional thinking views giving as a means to an end. We need to pay salaries and keep the lights on. Therefore, people need to give. Donors are viewed as holding the necessary money to keep the organization afloat and fund expenses.
Signs You Are Thinking Transactionally
More time is spent asking than thanking.
Organizations that are thinking transactionally spend most of their time considering how to ask for contributions rather than how to thank people for their generosity. Generosity and development teams are charged with asking for support from their supporters, and rarely are they also encouraged to develop a strategy for thanking donors. Is it any wonder that people often complain that they are always being asked for money?
All donors are treated the same.
Many ministry leaders suggest that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their contributions (or lack thereof). This is simply not true. This is not a suggestion to show favoritism to those who give the most. However, it is an encouragement to consider what the donors’ contributions indicate about how important your ministry is to them. Someone who is contributing little (relative to his/her means) has chosen to be less invested in your organization’s mission and ministry. Their level of support (or lack of support) suggests they are not interested in seeing your vision become a reality. People who are giving substantially are making a significant investment that requires a heartfelt and commensurate response from you.
Asking from the ministry’s perspective.
When asking for financial support, transactional thinkers believe donors need to know how expensive it is to run the ministry and how their increased giving will help pay for the inflated cost of doing business. Rarely are donors motivated to give based on budget or the rising costs of overhead. While this may be the gnawing concern of leadership, most donors are ambivalent about how much the electric bill or healthcare costs have increased over the last year. If your appeal is mostly about what you need to fund the budget, your transactional thinking is likely doing more harm than good in building meaningful donor relationships.
Moving From Transactional to Transformational
Transformational thinking views donors as partners in ministry whose collaborative work is changing the world on behalf of the kingdom. It means intentionally responding to donors in a way that conveys a personal and authentic relationship. When leadership adopts a transformational perspective, developing authentic and long-lasting partnerships with donors becomes a high priority.
Signs You Are Thinking Transformationally
Leadership frequently asks for donor input.
Financial leaders are those whose giving reflects a deep investment and desire to help you achieve your ministry objectives. These donors should be invited into conversations regarding strategic plans, new ministry initiatives, and other significant ministry activities. Viewed as partners in ministry and welcome collaborators, your financial leaders should hear about big news directly from the pastor or ministry leader. They should also receive personalized and prompt thank-you notes expressing gratitude for their willingness to invest in your ministry. Donors whose contributions inspire heartfelt gratitude will generally continue giving, and often at higher levels.
Impact stories are shared with donors.
One of the most common reasons donors contribute to an organization is they believe their generosity is making an impact in the lives of other people. Transformational thinking leads to sharing stories on your website, through newsletters, giving statements, and in worship of how your ministry or nonprofit is changing people’s lives. Telling donors how their giving is making a difference will inspire deeper relationships and increased generosity.
Higher levels of donor retention and lifetime donor values are achieved.
Ministries that are thinking transformationally will experience an increase in the number of donors who continue to provide financial support and also observe an increase in those contributions over time. Deepening relationships with those who make your ministry possible will result in stronger connections and higher levels of giving over time.
Your Next Step
How to shift thinking from transactional to transformational:
- Spend as much (or more) time thanking donors as you do asking donors for their support.
- Invest time and energy in building relationships with those who make your ministry possible.
- Focus communication on what the donor needs from you rather than what the ministry needs from the donor.
- Ask financial leaders how they want to make a difference through giving to your ministry.
- Demonstrate your ability to make a difference with the contributions you receive by telling impact stories through your website, newsletters, and other communication channels.
- Deepen relationships with donors who have invested in your ministry by inviting their input and counsel.
Donor Appreciation—A Clear Path to Sustainability and Impact
By changing the way you think about and respond to donors, you open the door to a world of possibilities. This shift in mindset can have a significant and direct impact on both current and future contributions.
When donors feel valued, appreciated, and meaningfully engaged, they will likely continue their support. By prioritizing gratitude, investing time in building relationships, and focusing on what donors need from your organization, you demonstrate a sincere commitment to their partnership in seeing God's vision become a reality.
This transformational thinking goes beyond superficial interactions and transactional exchanges and demonstrates that you genuinely care about the individuals who make your ministry possible. Expressions of gratitude communicate to donors that they are not just a means to an end but integral participants in the journey toward achieving your ministry goals.
Embracing a mindset of appreciation, transformation, and genuine partnership with your donors will yield powerful results. Not only will you increase donors’ trust and commitment, but also create a ripple effect when engaged donors become advocates for your cause. Together, you can work hand in hand, knowing that your collective efforts are making a tangible and lasting impact in your community—and the world.