Development Work Like Pastoring

We have a unique opportunity to partner with people in areas of their passion. In our culture, money is often a taboo topic, yet as fundraisers it is something we talk about often. Where we give or do not give our money often says a lot about us and what we believe in. In conversations with donors I’ve often heard, “I wish I could give more.” I’ve had donors tell me, with sadness in their face, that they are not in a place to give. These are opportunities to bless a person by helping them understand the difference they have and are already making in your organization. This is the essence of pastoral work, talking with someone about building life direction and leaving a legacy. We can come alongside donors to encourage them as they accomplish their heartfelt goals.

I’ve been reading Ask Without Fear by Marc Pitman, great book with some quick and easy tips on fundraising– I’ll write a bit more of a review in a future post. I’m not sure he would share my theory that development work is like pastoring, but he had a story that I think still illustrates my point. Marc speaks of an experience when he went on a solicitation call to an individual that had previously been very generous to his organization. When he asked for the individual, the wife came to speak with him instead and he learned that the day before the husband had died.

“This is one of those sacred moments we get as fundraisers. I stayed with this widow for three hours, hearing about their life together, the trips they had recently taken, seeing her pottery kiln, listening about her kids. I was able to minister in a way that few others could have.”

I’m not making a claim that pastors are like development officers, only that there are some similarities in the way we work with people. What do you think? Have you ever had these kinds of conversations with donors?


7 Responses to Development Work Like Pastoring

  1. Leanne says:

    Back in 2005 I was given the book, The Ministry of Development by John R. Frank. A fundraising consultant the mission sending agency I had just started working at as the first person in their new development department, thought I might like it.

    I took to that book and the ideas of development being a way to “minister” to people like a duck takes to water. What I found was very much the same thing you are musing about re. pastoring your donors. What we do as fundraisers matters and when we see the donor as another person we have been given the privilege to connect with, the possibility to give back to them by joining and supporting them in THEIR interests toward our organization is when real giving happens.

    That this has broad implications for the entire field of fundraising and development, rather than just something that is faith based, is an idea whose time has come.

    There are many non-profits realizing this and making a change in how they approach their donors and their work in development but there are MANY MORE that still need to see development is a symbiotic work, not just another way to raise money.

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. I’ve not worked in development for over a year now, knowing that I simply cannot serve in any capacity unless this same view of fundraising and development is actively practiced and honored in the organization I am with. Having not found it yet, your post gives me a bit of hope that it IS out there and that people ARE starting to shift the way they think about things.

    This was good for me to read. Thanks, Jason.


  2. Janice Chan says:

    I once got a Google Alert for the obituary for a former volunteer who had asked that donations be made to the charities she had supported. I knew both her and her husband from when I had managed volunteers (though they were also donors), so I gave him a call. At first he thought I was a telemarketer trying to ask for a donation. I explained to him that I had remembered him and his wife as volunteers and had just wanted to express my condolences. Like with Marc, her husband just started talking about his wife and how they’d been married for 50 years and how she had always managed so many things, like their charitable donations…it was heartbreaking. I had initially hesitated calling him because saying “I’m sorry to hear about your wife” sounds really trite for someone who just their partner of 50 years. They were one of those couples you hoped to be someday, the kind who still made each other light up.

    …I’ve kind gone off on a tangent. I’m glad that I called. Turns out it matters more that you reach out than what you say, since he did most of the talking anyway. I guess what I was trying to say is I agree that there are similarities between development and ministry in that both fields work with people and discuss matters close to the heart (one’s purpose in life, reasons for giving, legacy, etc.). In both fields, you need both the interpersonal skills to discuss these topics and the ability to build that kind of rapport or trust. And when you are the type of person who makes people feel comfortable opening up, they tend to tell you more than most.

  3. Leanne says:

    Exactly! Because you saw the human element, the connection between these people and you/your organization, there was an impetus stronger than “get that bequest” behind your call. You were able to validate and honor this woman and her gifts of time and treasure, which in turn was probably the biggest gift you could have given to her grieving husband.

    More people need to do this, more stories like this need to be told WITHOUT the addendum, “And that ended up increasing the gift/donation by “X” amount of dollars.

    I know it’s probably a bit of a personal soap box, but it seems to me that there is a trend in fundraising to always tell the RESULT of simply being human, as if that’s another “tool” to use to solicit bigger gifts.

    In truth, when you do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do, the outcome doesn’t matter because the outcome wasn’t what you were attached to anyway. The only agenda was to connect and as Janice’s example demonstrates, that’s exactly what she did (and both she AND the husband sound the better for it).

  4. Janice Chan says:

    Leanne, thank you for saying that. Because a little part of me felt like I’m maybe I’m not cut out for for development since I am not able to end the story with “And that ended up increasing the gift…” But that would’ve made me feel like an awful person. Of all things, working for a good cause should be the last thing to put you at odds with your values. Good for you for sticking to your guns!

    As for the whole results-driven thing, I think that people are just being short sighted. Long term results matter, too. And a good salesperson (service provider, company) understands that it’s not as much about getting the sale as it is about gaining or keeping a customer. Retention is significantly cheaper than acquisition. For example, my dad is always recommending his mechanic (free advertising!) because he’s the kind of guy who will tell you when it’s not worth it, the kind of guy who refuses to take money for that half an hour he spent checking your car because he didn’t actually fix anything. The mechanic feels this is the right thing to do. This isn’t a marketing tactic. But people always worry about getting ripped off by mechanics and so a trustworthy mechanic is priceless. I’ve no doubt this guy will have work and customers until he decides to retire.

  5. tom roepke says:

    Great post, Jason. Having entered into vocational ministry after two decades of fund development work i couldn’t agree more. Since development work really comes down to relationships. A development officer who understands their place will truly have a heart of pastor in meeting the needs of their donors. It is “doing life” in a sense. A development officer gets the privilege, must like a pastor of helping people find their place in the Story and then helping them to leverage it with their time, talent and treasures. I’ve got numerous stories of having walked along side a spouse and/or children as they grieve or celebrate milestones in life. in the end, relationships are the key. one of my last clients before becoming a pastor to students was with a local non-profit. a local dr. was dying of cancer and so to was the manager of the non-profit. the non-profit’s facility was in desperate need of renovation and renewal. Together in partnership the ground work was laid for a challenge grant and a new revitalized program and “tool shed” was established. Though both men died before the project was completed. Their friendship and partnership leveraged a whole community. One the biggest milestones was a new board that was encouraged to invest and many made first time gifts that secured more than 15% of the total project cost of $2 million.

  6. Hi Jason,

    Great post and great comments. I totally agree that there’s a pastoral aspect of fundraising. It’s not a proactive pastoring, but the moments are there if we keep our eyes open and ask God to show us.

    (Full disclosure: I went to school to be a church planter and sort of fell into fundraising. I did pastor a church plant for four years here in Maine too.)

  7. Jason Dick says:

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments. I have been meaning to respond as this post was close to my heart. I didn’t realize that so many people shared my views on development work having a pastoral component to it. Leanne & Janice I love your focus on long-term success. Tom that is a great story about the manager of the nonprofit.

    I find that this view can be a hard one to sustain when things get really busy. But this kind of deep relationship building is what I enjoy about development work. In what other industry do you get to talk to people about what matters so much to them and how they personally can make a difference and see impact.

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