In his second recorded letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul uses this phrase: ‘for God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor 9:7 NIV). We all love those that are cheerful; especially when they are being cheerful about giving something to us!
Those that give to our churches, ministries and charities are a wonderful asset: the lifeblood of our organisations, without which we could not function. Their selfless sacrifice enables us to do the work we want to do, and often pays for our salaries as well. So how do we make them as cheerful as possible in doing that?
Whether our role is church leader, charity CEO, fundraiser or treasurer, we want to be those who help people give to us, and to be as happy as they can be in doing that.
Here are some principles which will help us do that.
You may already know of the ‘AAA rating’ we refer to that makes churches and charities ‘good with money’.
That rating comes from 3 ways that are critical to success that all start with ‘A’:
When we have these three operating effectively in our organisation then we should be a good organisation to give to.
Some time ago, we undertook some qualitative research among church groups over giving to the Church. One group interviewed caught us by surprise as, when asked about giving generously to their own church, the answers could be summarised as, “You much be joking! The attitude of leaders stinks – they only talk about money when they want it for themselves.”
Givers want to know that the organisation is a good steward of the money given to it. A steward is not the owner; they know they are holding it for someone else. This is reflected in the apparent attitude that the organisation and its leadership demonstrate towards money and to those giving it, which is often shown in the way they talk.
Language is a very powerful thing. Proverbs 18:21 says, ‘The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.’ (NIV). When and how we talk about money does matter, but it is not only money, but how we talk about other people and organisations and what we say on social media: are we supportive and positive, or often critical and negative.
Most impactful is how we see those that give us money. Do we recognise their sacrifice in giving to us, see them as gospel partners or are we displaying a sense of entitlement and see our supporters as ‘walking wallets’? In my mind, we do better when we think of ‘partner raising’ rather than fundraising – we are raising up partners in our ministry, not just obtaining their money.
Remember what Jesus said when he watched people giving; the widow who gave a ‘mite’ (a tiny financial amount) was considered the one who gave the most. This is important.
When Billy Graham set up his ministry, it is reported that he wanted financial accountability to be the first priority. This was wise; he knew money messed up ministries. Accountability is important to supporters. It knocks on into transparency, enabling givers to see that what they give is in a good environment and how it is being used.
Accountability has many aspects. It is both individual and corporate. As individuals, it protects us and enables us to be teachable (much more important than most of us think!). As organisations, we demonstrate that we are good stewards of the resources given to us. It builds trust in those we whom we work.
Practically, it includes:
- Creating a culture of challenge, sharing of information and openness to questions.
- Demonstrating conflicts of interest are managed and nobody dominates.
- Reporting back to supporters and other stakeholders.
- Investing in the ministry’s public accounts.
Each of these could be a blog in their own right, and each will take a different form depending upon the organisation and nature of its supporters. Churches are different from most charities in having a closer, more involved bond with the majority of their givers and what works for a publicly funded charity will be different from a church with a strong family feel.
I will say more on the accounts aspects. Financial reporting may seem boring - almost irrelevant. However, it says something about the organisation. It shows how much the organisation values accountability in explaining well what it does, why and how it does it and how its finances work. For closely involved supporters (e.g. church members) it is best to provide more detailed information than the public accounts and, nearly always, comparisons with budgets and budgets for the forthcoming period.
The public accounts also give a message. Together with the Trustees’ report, they tell a story of our work, they show efficiency (or lack of it), regard for regulators (Romans 13) and the quality of external advisers and reviewers. It is not just a hygiene fact sheet but speaks of kingdom values.
The Apostle Paul, in the context of handling finance, said, ‘we are taking pains to do what is right not only in the eyes of God but also of men’ (2 Cor 8:21, NIV), or in the ESV translation: ‘we aim at what is honourable not only…’ This speaks of intentional planning on finance.
Having good administration to handle supporters’ generosity is a vital element of good stewardship. At Stewardship, we often see the generosity of the people of God being poured into ‘leaky buckets’ – with the loss of finance, motivation and reputation that follows. It is important to show supporters that you have in place well planned systems so the bucket into which their money goes is not leaky.
If they think our administration is good, then it gives them confidence to give. If they think it is bad, that does the opposite! It is part of doing ‘what is right’.
Part of this is to have a team. Because there is such strength (and health!) in having a finance team and not just one-person handling finance, this is a critical aspect to develop and to demonstrate. Paul did this with the Corinthians; making sure they understood that he was sending a team of ‘brothers’ to administer ‘this generous gift’ ‘to honour the Lord’. Another is the relationship with the supporter; a prompt acknowledgement of gifts is valuable.
A third, often overlooked, area is the wider sense of the charity’s governance. This is seen in such issues as the Charity Commission or other charity regulator’s (if not registered in England and Wales) website. It shows whether the statutory returns are up to date (surprising how many are not!). This also shows what policies are in place, whether Trustees are paid and other elements that give a picture of how well administered it is.
Learning from the Apostle Paul
2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 show Paul talking about money; challenging, inspiring, reassuring. But he was also giving confidence to the church as they were exhorted to give for the needs of others.
Our organisations depend upon our supporters. Let us plan to do what we can to give them confidence that their money given to us will be well used. We want to them to be cheerful (or even hilarious) in their giving, not just for our sake but because God loves it when they are!