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how to lose supporters without even trying

By Mike Frith | 16 August 2015

Missionaries: how to lose supporters without even trying

There are several ways to lose supporters (probably more if you try hard enough) but from our experience the no.1 danger area is relationship.

 

In essence, a good relationship starts with the right attitude.

So here’s a quick test – do you view your supporters as:

  • A valued part of your ministry?
  • A source of income?
  • A necessary evil?

Unless you answered yes to the first option,  you’re probably in trouble when it comes to keeping supporters and it’s worth taking a look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians as a starting point to reappraising your attitude. Philippians is probably the first recorded letter of a missionary to his supporters and one of the standout points Paul makes is that he always prays with joy “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1: 5).

So how can you cultivate the kind of partnership that Paul speaks of? First and foremost it’s about a direct investment of yourself with your supporters, what you need to decide is the best way for that to happen. Treat them as partners in your ministry. Spend time thinking about how you can help them feel involved and a part of the team.

So unless you want to sabotage your support-base, or put off potential supporters, here are some top tips:

1.    Keep it personal

Paul was in Philippi for a relatively short time but clearly he’d made an impact. Spending time with supporters sharing your vision is priceless but you also need to think about how you will keep up that contact. Personal correspondence every three months or so (in addition to regular news that you send out) strengthens the relationship. This could be a letter or email but don’t forget other ways to keep in touch—a birthday card, postcard or timely text. The method and frequency should reflect the depth of relationship with each supporter.

2.    Keep track

There are tools out there which can help you to keep track of your supporters: database software such as TntWare or you could develop your own methodology to keep in regular contact. If your supporters are spread over a wide geographic area, pinpoint where they are so if you’re planning to be nearby, you can schedule a visit.

3.    Make it regular

Back in the days of paper newsletters, 4 per year used to be the average. These days the internet offers endless choices from email; websites and blogs; social networks such as Facebook; internet telephony such as Skype or audio-visual sites like YouTube or Flickr. Whatever your method make sure you keep in touch on a regular basis.

4.    Be creative

Think about your supporters and how they might appreciate hearing from you. For those who are internet-savvy Facebook or Twitter may be the right medium; others may relate better to visuals on Flickr or a short clip on YouTube; others may prefer the paper-based newsletter; sometimes prayer cards, fridge magnets, bookmarks or even a locally-made bracelet are useful to supporters as a means to keep you in their mind.

5.    Tell stories

Whatever your ministry there will be real stories of real people for you to share. Even if you are not on the front line, what is that work facilitating and how are lives ultimately changed? Remember for many of your supporters, what you do will be outside their own experience so allow them to experience the highs (as well as stand with you in the lows).

6.    Share your needs

Don’t be afraid to share your needs with supporters. How can they pray or offer practical or financial support if they’re not aware of what you need. That includes significant factors such as your health; pressures you are under and so on.

7.    Nothing beats face-to-face contact

All of the above goes so far to keep you in touch with your supporters. Ultimately, you are your best ‘ambassador’ so schedule in those important visits, cups of coffee or meals together so you can fully share what’s on your heart.

Above all, keep in mind that this is a partnership and allow opportunities for your supporters to be involved beyond the direct debit or one-off gift. God has put your ministry on their hearts for a reason so be thankful for that connection and pray for opportunities to nurture it.

 

Co-written by Fiona Mearns. Fiona Mearns is the Training and Events Administrator at Stewardship and organises the Finance for Ministry and Support-Raising for Ministry training days for Christian Workers.


Read more like this:

The toolkit for ministry - training for Christian workers

Finance for living - resourcing global mission

Serving as senders - a resource for churches supporting missionaries 

Posted by Mike Frith

Mike is the Director of OSCAR, a support service for Christians involved in mission. Prior to setting up OSCAR, he worked as a pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship in Madagascar and Uganda. He is married to Cheryl and they have two teenage children.

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