What Missionaries Can Learn From NPR About Fundraising

What Missionaries Can Learn From NPR About Fundraising

It is that time again – NPR is taking time out of every program this week for their fall fundraising campaign.  I love NPR.  I listen to it in the kitchen, in the car, while I work, all day.  Last year we began giving to NPR.  Before that time, I was tempted to whine inwardly when they embarked on one of these campaigns, but I have found that my attitude has changed since we began investing in our local station (90.7 KWMU!).  I shouldn’t be surprised by this; I have seen this same trend in our own support raising efforts.  Those who give money to our ministry tend to be those who are most interested in what we do, they are the ones who are most committed to praying for us.

NPR is not perfect.  But, I have found that they are a tremendous blessing in helping me learn more about the world that the Lord has made.  They pursue news stories all over the world and deliver them with excellence and creativity. This helps me daily tune my heart to God’s gracious provision for his creation.  As I began listening to the financial appeals on the radio this week, it struck me that those raising funds for ministry have a lot to learn from them.  Below are fourteen simple principles that I have noticed in NPR’s strategy.  Applied correctly, I believe these practices can help any church planter or missionary tweak their current support raising strategy.

  1. They ask clearly and give clear instructions on how to begin giving
    • There are no vague, “you can invest and partner with us” statements.  They ask very clearly for money.  Are you asking for money in your support raising efforts?  This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how common it is for missionaries to fail to actually ask for dough.  You simply cannot expect people to know what you need for your ministry.  It is not small or ignorant of you to ask for specific amounts.  Ask with clarity and give very specific instructions for how someone can begin giving immediately.  I recommend a web site where someone can fill out a simple form.  Here is an example.
  2. They use restraint, only asking twice a year
    • In the average week, one can enjoy NPR without hearing an appeal for funds.  Can your supporters say the same thing about your newsletters?  Do you ask for funds every time you communicate through letters, e-mails and phone calls?  NPR only asks during their campaigns two weeks a year, one in the fall and one in the spring.  That is less than 4% of the year.  The lesson here is to provide abundant content and fresh prayer requests regularly without asking for funds.  When you are raising support, use restraint in your timing.  Blast appeals out to the whole world in a mail chimp campaign rarely yield any fruit, and they only weary those who already like you.
  3. They connect giving to vision
    • NPR does a great job during their campaigns emphasizing the unique product that they deliver, as opposed to other news outlets. When speaking about donations, they emphasize concepts like partnership, investment and stewardship.  Are you lifting the eyes of your supporters?  Are you connecting the dots for them, showing them how their giving is helping you plant seeds that bear real fruit?  Are you telling the stories of real people who are being impacted by your ministry?
  4. They recruit local advocates
    • On the radio we hear regular giving testimonies from people like me.  Hearing from a neighbor helps me see how giving is realistic and normal. This is akin to getting referrals from friends.  Which of your current supporters can you ask to write a “giving testimony” for your next appeal letter or for your web site?  Which supporter can you ask to connect you with one of their friends whom you could sit down with to talk about your ministry?
  5. They are clear about how the funds are used
    • When I give to NPR I know where the funds go.  I know why they need the money and how the money is spent.  It is not vague. They are careful to point out how they also get funding from foundations, but that that only covers a small portion of the budget.  Do your supporters know how their gifts are spent?  You can build rapport with potential donors by showing them your budget, clearly explaining why you raise funds and how they are used.  If asked, could you explain from scripture a precedent for support raising in missionary work?
  6. They are committed to excellence in their craft
    • NPR offers a quality product.  It is abundantly clear that they are committed to doing what they do, really well.  Likewise, we must labor in our ministries with faithfulness and obedience.  It is simply naïve to think that you can slack off in your ministry and that it won’t affect your fundraising.  The lack of quality will trickle down, and your stories won’t carry the same punch.  Most people are much more likely to support a hard worker than a ministry they fear may fizzle out soon.
  7. They ask boldly
    • No one apologizes about asking for money at NPR and neither should you.  You should only be fundraising if you feel called to do so by the Lord.  If you’re called by God to raise funds for your ministry then you should never, ever apologize for faithfully pursuing his will.  This only confuses people.
  8. They work hard
    • Everyone at every local station is engaged in the effort. You hear about the fundraising efforts during all of the shows, local and national.  This is not something that just some of the shows expect the others to take care of.  They raise funds together and they are all committed with arms linked.  Is everyone on your team similarly committed to raising funds for your church plant?  Are you working hard?  Is your spouse engaged in helping? It is much more fruitful to take a specific season to work hard at raising support rather than trying to do it a few hours a week during a normal work week.  Take notes from NPR.
  9. They offer a return
    • You can often get an umbrella or tote bag with a gift to the station.  I don’t think most people give in order to get the gift, but it simply shows appreciation.  Paul did this too.  When appealing to the Philippians for funds, he writes, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit” (Philippians 4:17).  He is clear that they can expect a return on their giving, this will come in the form of “fruit.”  We don’t give travel mugs to all of our new supporters but we do try to send a simple Christmas gift every year to our largest supporters.  We do try to send nice gifts for weddings, new babies, and funerals.
  10. They show appreciation and thanks
    • “Thank you’s” are as numerous as are their appeals for support.  NPR hosts are are sincere and genuinely grateful when they express their thanks.  Do your supporters know that you are thankful for them?  Have you told them so explicitly?  Many times?  I’ve heard that the average person needs to be thanked five times before they really hear it.  This is a good rule to live by.  I am shocked by how many times we have given to a missionary and never received thanks.  To not thank is to fail to steward wisely the gift God gives you in your supporters.
  11. They maintain good relationships with those who don’t support
    • NPR hosts don’t generally resort to guilt trips and heavy-handedness in their appeals. Their excellent product is made just as available to you if you do or do not give funds.  In other words, they love you even if you don’t support them.  They communicate care and understanding, either way.  We should do the same.  I understand that not everyone we ask for support will support us.  I don’t expect them to.  As hard as it may feel at times, as missionaries raising support, we must refuse to think poorly of people who choose not to support us.  It is normal for some of your best friends not to become supporters and you should love them just the same.
  12. They don’t make your decision for you 
    • NPR DJs don’t assume that just because you’re in college that you don’t have $5 a month to give to something you love.  No one is “off the hook.”  Sometimes we’re tempted to make decisions for people as we look at our list of contacts to decide who we will ask next.  It really is true that the Lord will surprise you by who gives and who doesn’t.  Ask with impunity.  Don’t make someone’s decision for them.  Be quick to think the best of people, whether they decide to give to you or not.
  13. They use small, incremental goals throughout the week
    • As opposed to announcing at the beginning, “We need one million dollars this week!” they instead use manageable, hourly goals.  It seems more people are compelled to help them meet a $2,000 goal this hour than a six-figure goal this year.  We’ve had similar success doing this when we make support-raising trips.  We will pray about a certain goal we working toward if we have a week- or month-long chunk of time to give toward support raising, and we’ll communicate this goal when speaking with families and churches.  (This is also a good alternative to giving your total annual goal when meeting with people.  That number must often be accompanied with a long explanation.) When we visit churches I will say for example, “We’re trusting God to raise $1,000 in new monthly support this trip, and we’d love for you to consider being a part of his provision.”
  14. They emphasize membership
    • NPR only asks for ongoing gifts, although they will gladly accept one-time gifts.  This is an automatically renewed donation that is made via electronic draft from your bank account every month.  Not only is this easier for the donors, but it helps equip the station for long-term needs.  If your mission agency is not set up to receive gifts in the form of automatic bank drafts then you need to put an order into the IT department for this today. Automatic, recurring gifts are the kind of donations you want for your ministry.  When we ask for support, these are the only terms we use.  We plan on being in the field for a long time, so we naturally need ongoing gifts.

NPR’s strategy is not a perfect correlation to raising funds for missionary service or church planting, but I do believe we have a lot to learn from them.  NPR makes only broad appeals over the airways (although I imagine they make personal appeals to large foundations and donors).  This is the main difference between NPR’s strategy and what I believe should be the missionary’s bread-and-butter methodology.  For most missionary families, your most fruitful support raising efforts are going to come in the form of making personal, genuine, clear appeals to families and individuals while you sit with them in their homes (or restaurant, coffee shop, etc.).  If you aren’t doing this, you need to start.

Another big difference is prayer.  Are you praying for your support?  Apart from praying daily for new and faithful supporters, Felicity and I have begun to intentionally pray together at least once a week specifically for our support.  I have noticed the Lord gently minister to us through this time. In the past six months I have been much less anxious about our financial needs.  He uses our prayers as a mysterious part of his sovereign, gracious will.  Please pray faithfully for your support. There is no silver bullet in support raising, but if one existed this would be it.

Support raising is always a trying season of ministry.  We can all stand to grow in these skills. Thankfully, the ultimate factor in our fundraising is not our superb technique or polished presentations.  We worship the Lord of the universe, the One who made all things.  It is his mission and he is more committed to it than we will ever be.  If he is the One who has called us to this ministry, then we can trust that he will provide in his timing.
Our job is to work hard, rest well, honor him, and seek to love people along the way.


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