Creating an Endowment Fund—It Can Be Done!

Interview with Grant Dibden, Navigators National Director, Australia

Interview with Grant Dibden, Navigators National Director, Australia

SCOTT MORTON (International Funding Coach): What prompted you to start an endowment fund? 

GRANT: I had just taken over as National Director (ND) for Australia and was attending the Asia Pacific NDs Conference.   

At conferences I keep a page with five to ten ideas that the Lord gives me. I was challenged when former International Director, Mike Treneer, said “Any fool can make a plan that uses resources.  The challenge is to make a plan that build resources.”  He also said that 25% of a National Director’s time should be spent on fundraising—25%!

That was a shock! I was not very courageous at fundraising in those days, as evidenced by my low personal donor income. Then I remembered a question from International Executive Team Member, Mike Shamy. He challenged us new NDs, saying: “As a national director, what is it that only you can do?”

During this time our Australian staff were below 50% budget—especially new staff. I felt a burden to help them rather than letting them struggle alone.

At the end of that meeting, I felt God was leading me to start a National Endowment Fund primarily to help new staff. 

© The Navigators - Do not use without permission.

© The Navigators - Do not use without permission.

About that same time I heard from fellow Navigator, Tom Yeakley, about impossible prayers– prayers that that only God can make happen. Tom challenged us pray every day for a year and see what God would do. So I went back to Australia with my impossible idea. 

SCOTT: What was your goal in the beginning?  

GRANT: $250,000, but it was a “pipe dream.” Up till then, I had raised $5000 to $10,000 nationally each year for ministry causes—including the Office Photocopy Project which raised about $300 – need to rethink that one 😊.

SCOTT: Did it seem overwhelming? 

GRANT: It seemed impossible! But since I had never done anything like this, I didn’t know enough to be discouraged 😊. I was prepared to take a few years—to keep focused and keep going. 

SCOTT: What kept you going?  

GRANT: God kept answering—people kept giving!

SCOTT: After you raised the first $250,000, you increased your goal.  

GRANT: I expect staff to come to the National Conference every two years. I wanted to cover half of their costs. 

I also longed to subsidize staff training conferences in Asia, to pay for our Care Team to visit staff and to have a yearly staff retreat for five days where staff spend with God – no formal meetings or teaching sessions just precious time alone with the Lover of our souls.

I soon realized we needed not $500,00 but $1,000,000! That would generate up to $50,000-100,000 per year from investment income.

SCOTT: What was your strategy to raise the $1,000,000? 

GRANT: Pray and ask! First, I asked guidance from Dave Gresham, who assists Navigator leaders in major donor funding. He stresses building long-term relationships with donors. 

Second, I wrote to everyone on our Australian database of about 3000. I sent one formal letter appeal each year and funding updates in a second letter. Though unusual, one reader gave $40,000 over a couple of years from the appeal letter alone!

Third, the Endowment was our financial appeal at our bi-annual national Conference – around 160 people. I asked a number of people face to face as well.

SCOTT: What was the response of the staff team and Board? 

Grant: They thought it was a good idea. I asked several Board members to give and a few came through – a couple of large gifts. I also asked the staff and they gave too—monthly and one-off gifts.

SCOTT:The response from major donors? 

GRANT: One gave $40,000 at $10,000 per year after my face-to-face appeal. 

A church that received our letter gave $30,000. We hadn’t even heard of this church located in a remote part of Australia. Plus, it had recently closed so we couldn’t even find the pastor. Providentially, Karen, in our Office, had lived in that area and found an acquaintance who also received the appeal mailing. 

Karen tracked his phone number, and I rang him. He had been treasurer of this mystery church which had said if it ever closed it would give what [remained in the treasury] to a missionary cause. They gave us 50%! Elated, I drove four hours to meet this unknown Navigator friend to say thank you. And thanks to the Lord. 

SCOTT: You said your top 12 donors to the endowment gave most of the money? 

GRANT: They gave 66% of the total!

SCOTT: Did you get any negatives from donors or staff?  

GRANT: Some questioned whether an endowment would discourage future generations from giving. But I felt it was good stewardship and attractive for many people as a “gift that keeps on giving.” A few asked to be removed from our mailings. That’s okay.

During this time we hired Kayla to do development work and to work on our website. Previously, I had done all development work personally.

SCOTT: Guidelines for distributions?  

GRANT: I submit proposals to a Navigator Board sub-committee. Distributions are not my decision, but a Board decision, based on my advice. The sub-committee can spend all the investment earnings for that year, plus up to 5% of the capital without recourse to the whole Board. The Board could spend all the endowment capital if we feel God is leading for a ministry opportunity. This policy reminds us that the fund’s purpose is to support the ministry. 

SCOTT: Would you advise other leaders to start an endowment? 

GRANT: Without the Endowment we would not have as many gift-income staff as we have now. We have 18 gift income staff currently and the  eight new staff benefitted from it. Plus, all staff benefit through our provision for the Staff Retreat and other trainings. 

It contributes to our Calling by helping people to take a step of faith to move to gift income and by enabling those on gift-income to be trained and encouraged. 

Well-funded staff are the best advertisement for other staff. I encourage leaders to go for it 😉 – step out in faith and see what God does. It is so encouraging when He does things that you think are impossible.

SCOTT: Was there a verse of Scripture you clung to during the process?  

GRANT: Romans 4:17 – God brings into being the things that don’t exist. He certainly did that!

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
— Romans 4:17 (NIV)

SCOTT: What lessons did you learn along the way?  

GRANT: 1. God provides! 2. We need to ask! Asking needs to done winsomely, and a few won’t like it, but donors usually have several pockets – one for church, one for staff support and one for the poor. Ask 😊 everyone—you never know whom God will choose. 

Also, present a unified message. Your electronic media should match your hard-copy publications. And staff need to be aware that this is the national top priority. 

Invest wisely and don’t spend all the returns.  We had a Board Member who steered our investments and the Lord has blessed our returns making a significant contribution to reaching the goal.

Scott: Other advice for ministry leaders?  

GRANT: Stay focused. Don’t give up. An elephant is eaten one bite at a time. It took several years, but this was my focus during that time. Seeing progress helped us realize God was working.

In parallel, we have been teaching our staff to raise 100% of their support. It takes time to change a ministry culture, and we have been working at this for about six years. The staff are coming closer to 100%. As they realize God has provided this endowment fund, He can provide for them too.