May I speak to you frankly about a blind spot in leadership? It popped up last week, but the story I am about to tell occurs frequently.
My assistant and I met with a missionary couple (Joe and Vicki—not their real names) last Monday. They had been in town five weeks and they had a problem—they were only 50% supported. But Joe said, “That’s not the real problem. I am not afraid of fundraising, but I don’t have time to do it. The real problem is that my supervisor expects me to catch up on my fundraising while I open a local office here—now!”
Vicki chimed in. “How can we launch a new office and do major funding simultaneously! It feels like we are being set up for failure.”
Over Mexican enchiladas we discovered:
- They recently lost $1000 in monthly support as a result of their move. Their funding goal is now $3500 per month.
- Their potential donors are 500 miles away in Oklahoma and 800 miles away in California.
- As a stay at home Mom, Vicki now feels pressure to get an outside job.
What to do, they asked.
Expecting your staff to do fundraising as part of their ministry is normal—no problem there. I suggest 20% of a staff’s time needs to go to fundraising and donor ministry.
The blind spot emerges when leaders telegraph to their staff that fundraising is expected in addition to a hard week of work, rather than part of the work. I have been guilty of it myself. “Get your funding, but don’t let your outreach slip! And don’t forget you’re leading the statewide conference next month.”
Leaders, if you do not deliberately lead your staff to take time for fundraising as part of their job, you are making two errors.
- You are forgetting that fundraising is a time-consuming-emotion-taxing-risky adventure of faith. It is not merely an ‘admin detail’ your busy staff can work on a few nights a week and be done with it. Taking shortcuts like sending emergency letters to friends in Oklahoma and California is not a solution.
- You are eroding their morale. If you persist in saying “Get your funding but don’t let anything else drop!”—you are going to lose them. Sadly, most gospel-workers suffer in silence on this topic. They do not want to be considered ‘wimps’ who couldn’t measure up. Funding is the elephant in the room at staff meetings.
You might say, “Their funding is their problem.” Okay, but if you want them on your team, it is your problem too.
Or you might say, “I’ve encouraged them to take all the time they need for funding.” Fine, but they are too conscientious to drop other ministry responsibilities. They need leadership, not merely encouragement.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Repent! I’m serious. You have sinned not only against your staff but against God. You are well-intentioned, but you have a leadership blind spot. You are like Pharisees whom Jesus accused of tying up heavy burdens on men’s shoulders but refused to lift a finger to help (Matthew 23:4).
Repent to your staff but also to the Lord. What is the sin? Perhaps arrogance—for forgetting that fundraising is a spiritual ministry. Perhaps insensitivity to the pain of your staff.
- Slow down and talk with your staff:
- How much do they need to raise—their “holy number!’ Is it adequate? Mission workers tend to low-ball what they need. Talk to the spouse!
- Get out your calendars. Have them set aside specific days in the next three months for thorough fundraising. Caution: Because gospel-workers are conscientious you will need to give directives to help them block-in fundraising time on their calendar.
- Pay for their fundraising. It costs money to raise money. Pay for travel, rental cars, restaurant meals with donors, living room desserts and materials.
- Have them prepare a detailed fundraising plan (with a deadline) that is approved by you and a funding specialist who will work with him or her on implementing the details. You are not the funding coach; you are the funding champion—the cheerleader—and you are not passive!
- If ministry demands are so crucial that you do not want your staff to raise funding now, then you must cover their budget. Assign a time for fundraising 6 months or a year from now. But I assure you it would have been easier if they had done it before they started their new assignment.
Tomorrow I will check with Joe and Vicki to see what their supervisor said. I hope he listens. Stay tuned.