Ask boldly, Because you Believe in the Mission!
I met my friend Zach while working in Juarez, Mexico running mission trips for church youth groups in the early 2000’s. Each week we had a new group of 60 teens and adults that came to serve and learn in the community. It was a blast! We met so many great people in the community who opened their homes and lives to us. It truly was a life changing experience for the mission trip participants and us. This experience lead Zach and I to start our own non-profit. We wanted to continue to serve communities in Mexico by providing homes, school scholarships, and support to start small businesses. Of course, with any dream, it takes money and Zach and I were not flush with it, so we had to begin fundraising.
Over the years, we have had some successes and failures, and I like to think we learned some things along the way.
It might be my “Minnesota nice” upbringing because, at first, I was horrible at asking for money and resources. I had the tendency to be apologetic when asking and because of this, I was really struggling to gain support from the people I was asking. My lack of boldness was giving off the impression that I did not really believe in what we were doing. Would you give if you thought the leadership of the organization did not believe in the mission? Probably not! It took some time, but I had to retrain my brain to not undersell what Zach and I were doing. In reality, we were accomplishing some really cool things! Through the help of some volunteers, we started by building small, safe homes for some of the most needy in our community in Juarez. In our first summer there, we provided housing for five families! Even as I write this, I am still fighting the urge to downplay this accomplishment, but I should be proud that those five families now have a place to call home! Once I stopped underselling our accomplishments, fundraising became a bit easier. When I asked for support, people started to believe in me and were willing to support the efforts. Believe in the work you are doing and boldly ask for the support of those around you.
Be direct and stay focused
When Zach and I started to have some success after our first summer, we were so excited to get people involved and engaged with the ministry. Ideas on how we could help the community were abundant! We would sit for hours at our favorite taco stand and do some serious brainstorming. From these sessions, we would end up with a million new ideas that all needed major time and effort to implement. Although it was fun to dream, our lack of focus caused issues when we were fundraising. We had so many ideas, and when we would sit down and discuss what we needed, our donors would walk away confused and not sure on how they could help. What we needed to do was prioritize our dream and figure out what was going to be best for the community and our donors. We started by identifying the areas where we needed the most help. We needed volunteers for building homes and we needed cash for school scholarships and business development. It turns out this was a nice combo for us since it gave us a couple of areas to focus on, and we could approach each potential donor with limited options for engagement. Before we would meet with someone, we would do some research, and see what might interest him or her. During our meeting we would ask questions about their passions, and listen. Only after we were confident in how they might best be involved, we would make a direct ask for support. If they were a youth leader, we might ask them to organize a mission trip for the following summer, or if we learned they were passionate about education, we would ask them to sponsor a number of kids at $600 a year per child.
With all types of fundraising at your parish, it will always help to be clear and direct about what the needs are, and to ask for a specific amount from your parishioners. When it comes time to raise money for projects around your parish campus, make sure you have clearly identified what the projects will be, why they are important, and how much it is going to cost. Before you meet with parishioners, analyze their past giving history and set an ask amount. When the time comes to meet with him or her, boldly share the needs, and remember to ask for the specific amount you identified before the meeting. We are asking every family to be equally generous, and that does not mean the same gift amount for everyone.
Eventually, Zach and I started doing work in southern Mexico in a small town called Chemax. It’s located in the state of Yucatan. We began construction on a vacation rental and community center that our friend Israel, a community member from Chemax, could operate as a business. He planned on hiring a few families that were neighbors to help maintain and service the property.
Storytelling is key
Across the street from the property is a family that has lived in the area forever. When Zach and I go to Chemax alone or with a volunteer team, one of my favorite parts is spending time with this family. There are currently 5 kids, that all live in the two-room house made of cement block, and other materials that they could find. A number of chickens run around on their property. The father works hard travelling back and forth between some of the tourist towns in the area and drives a motorcycle taxi for work when in town. This family is full of love, energy and happiness. We spend hours hanging out playing games and chatting, sometimes the kids join in on the construction work by grabbing a shovel that is way too big for them, and do their best to help. One kid in particular likes to make Coca-Cola runs for the teams if it means he gets one too! The relationship has been a blessing for us. Unfortunately, a few years ago their last child was born with some medical issues that will require long-term care. They came to Zach and me and very humbly asked for money to cover the recent medical bills and medications. I’m happy that we were there that day and that we had donors that were willing to step up and help. Even better, when the vacation rental is operating it generates income to help support the community and this family. It makes for a very compelling case when asking for money to complete the project.
Storytelling is an important part of fundraising. It helps connect donors to the mission and makes it real. When I ask people for money, I try to tell a story about the people it is helping and the good the money is doing. When I asked people for donations to cover the cost of the community center, I would tell them about the family across the street. Yes, the money is buying cement blocks, but it is also paying for the ministry that is happening out of the community center. At the parish when you are trying to raise money for a new roof, remember the money is paying for the roof, but in reality, the donor is helping create a safe, dry space to help care for the spiritual needs of your community.
Be direct, ask boldly and tell the story!