We’ve heard it again and again… these are unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world as we know it upside down. The way we once lived, worked, and played can no longer be considered the normal way of doing things. At least for the time being, we live in a changed world and what we are experiencing seems to be a “new normal.”
Ministries have been severely impacted by this pandemic. Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates charitable organizations in the United States, reports from an April 2020 survey that 83 percent of its respondents experienced a substantial decrease in giving to their programs. Sadly, most expect further declines in the upcoming coming months. Sixty-four percent of the respondents reported that to make up for the decrease in funding they had to cut back on the programs offered to their constituents.1“Impact of the Pandemic & Economic Shutdown on the Nonprofit Sector,” Charity Navigator. April 17, 2020. This survey was taken just one month after the pandemic began. Things became much worse than expected for the nonprofit sector. A recent article in The Washington Post claims that one-third of nonprofit organizations may not survive the fallout from the pandemic.2Robert McCartney, “Nonprofits in trouble: One-third of organizations may not survive pandemic, recession,” The Washington Post. August 3, 2020.
I have been raising money for worthwhile organizations for over twenty years. Currently I serve as a development director for a large nonprofit organization that cares for boys who have suffered abuse. In addition, I raise funds to support the biblical counseling ministries in which I am involved. I have never experienced anything like this during my career as a fundraiser.
The new normal in which we are living has extended to the realm of fundraising. Face-to-face meetings as well as marketing and awareness events have all but stopped. Fundraising events have either been cancelled or held virtually without an onsite audience. Financial insecurity has caused a slowdown in giving. As a result of these changes, ministry leaders have had to be innovative and creative in order to keep their ministries open.
If you find yourself in this situation, here are a few ideas that may help provide financial stability for your counseling ministry:
1. Start with a list: If you aren’t maintaining a donor list, marketing list, contact list, or prospect list, start one now! Many counseling ministries have never had to raise financial support or develop a marketing strategy. Now is the perfect time to start. Any time you send information to someone, put their name and contact information on an excel spreadsheet. Any time someone donates to your ministry, whether financially, with their time, or with an in-kind gift, add their name to the list. If your ministry provides a service for someone, their name should be added to the list. Over time your list will grow to be comprised of people who have a direct interest in the work you are doing. This list will be the foundation for raising financial support.
2. Determine who has a direct connection to your organization: Take time to think about who your likely donors will be. Those who have been involved in your ministry and believe in your mission and vision are ones who are most likely to support your cause financially. Board members, volunteers…essentially anyone who has a close link or direct connection to your ministry is a prospective donor. In addition, your organization is making an impact on many people in your community each day. Don’t hesitate to ask those people who have benefited from your ministry to become supporters. Former counselees can be your greatest cheerleaders and financial supporters!
A key point to remember is that relationships matter. It’s harder to develop relationships now in the time of social distancing, but it is important to take the time get to know those people on your list. Make sure that you schedule time speak with them, listen to their concerns, learn about their interests, and care about them. Help those who you identify as “linked to your ministry” understand how they are important to the success of your program.
3. Develop your Plan: A first step you must take is to determine the financial needs of your organization based on the impact you want your ministry to make. As you plan to engage the potential donor, be sure to have a complete understanding of your mission, the impact you are planning to make, your needs (what program you are asking money for), the benefit the program is making in the community, and the fruit the donor will see from his/her investment (i.e. your gift of $____ will provide counseling for ______ people).
4. Make the Ask: This is where things have changed the most. It’s become almost impossible to have face-to-face meeting with potential donors. Phone calls, letters, social media, and emails are all proving to be efficient tools for fundraising. The most effective tool is either a phone call or a Zoom/Skype/FaceTime meeting so that you can have a direct conversation.
Be sure to start the conversation on a personal note with the potential donor; ask about how things are, the family, health, etc. Talk about the ministry and give updates on the accomplishments being made. During your conversation, determine if this is the right time to ask for a donation. You might find in your conversation that the potential donor has lost a job or is experiencing financial difficulty. If this is the case, you have a wonderful opportunity to offer encouragement and pray for your friend, realizing that this is not the time to ask for financial support.
If during the conversation you determine the time is good to ask for financial support, share the need that you have. Explain how the donation will be used and be specific about the impact that it will make. You may get a “no,” but don’t be discouraged. Thank the potential donor for their time and remember that your conversation has likely brought that person one step closer to supporting your ministry. If you are fortunate enough to get a “yes,” immediately thank the “donor” and over the next few months, thank them again with a card, and then once again with a phone call. Be specific in telling them how their gift made an impact for good. Make sure to keep in regular contact with that donor. Don’t always ask for money, just continue to develop that relationship.
A final note. It’s important to remember that many biblical counseling ministries exist as parachurch organizations. Even though the counseling center is doing kingdom work, a parachurch organization is not a church. Those who are raising money to support the parachurch ministry should be very careful not to solicit funds that belong to the church. But be encouraged, James 1:17 tells us that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Sharing the great work and change that our ministry is making in the world with others is a wonderful privilege. It is an equally great privilege to ask them to join us in this work by financially supporting our programs. Be excited that you can share this blessing!