Is Perfectionism Killing Your Donor Ministry?

I was on the phone last week with a 10-year successful student minister. But he was frustrated with donor ministry. He voiced a dilemma we’ve all experienced—listen in:

Gospel Worker: As our kids get older and as the ministry grows, there’s no time for ministry to our donors. How do you do it?

Scott: One simple thing…If I think of a donor’s name in the morning, I phone them immediately. I tell them I was thinking of them and ask if everything is okay. A nice discussion ensues, and I leave them with a simple prayer request before we hang up. Five minutes.

If they don’t answer I leave a short message saying I was thinking of them and wonder if they are okay. Then I thank them for their partnership. 30 seconds.

Sometimes I simply text saying, “I thought of you this morning.”

GW: So that little contact is okay? Wouldn’t a 30-40 minute visit be better?

S: Sure, if the donor wants to visit. But it is better to do something small rather than nothing.

Perfectionism will keep your donor ministry action steps locked in your mind. Perfectionism is good for brain surgery or landing an airplane, but it is over-rated in ministry!

GW: (Laughter) Hmmm.

S: By any chance are you a perfectionist?

GW: (More laughter) How did you know?

S: Wild guess! (Laughter) Perfectionism will keep your donor ministry action steps locked in your mind. Perfectionism is good for brain surgery or landing an airplane, but it is over-rated in ministry!

GW: That makes sense. What else do you do?

S: Here’s my basic communication plan—but it’s flexible.

  • Three newsletters to the 700 on my mailing list. Usually February, June and October. One topic, one page, one photo. Personally signed.
  • An appeal letter sent December 1 each year to all 700 in a donor-version and non-donor version. Personally signed. 2-3 pages. Ask for support in the coming year.
  • Gift of a calendar-diary to donors of the past three years. Sent before Thanksgiving with a warm thank you. Personally signed.
  • Email blast to the 390 (from the 700 list) for whom I have email addresses. Sent whenever I think of it. No schedule, 4-5 times per year. Ask for prayer for a trip or to report on an event. One photo, one screen.
  • Monthly thank-you’s to 3-10 periodic donors who appeared that month. Helps occasional donors feel appreciated.

GW: What about personal visits to giving partners?

S: Ideally, I’d like to be in each donor’s home once every five years sitting at their table having their kids spill Kool-aid on my shoes! But that’s too perfectionistic. Now I ask the Lord: “Who are the giving partners I must visit every couple years? I focus on them since I can’t visit everyone.

GW: That doesn’t sound very organized! (Laughter)

S: (Laughter) It’s not! Whenever I take a trip I add a day to have a meal or stay overnight with a donor or two. In Chicago last month, I added two days and had great encounters with three giving partners and one future donor.

GW: This takes time.

S: Sure, but if you commit 20% of your work-year to donor ministry and fundraising you can easily do it.

GW: 20%! Where’d you get that?

Whatever you do, do your work heartily [not perfectly!], as for the Lord rather than for men.
— Colossians 3:23

S: I made it up! (Laughter) I don’t have a Bible verse, but if fundraising and donor ministry is a legitimate ministry then why would we hesitate to spend 20% on it? Over the years I find that 20% is adequate to stay fully funded. Your donors are worth your time and energy.


Okay, how does this hit you?

Of course you must prepare. But replace perfectionism with excellence—"do the best you can with the time and energy God gives you right now.” Doing a trifle with your donors (though not award-winning) is better than waiting until everything is perfect—that day will never come!