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Fearless Fundraising #22: Knowing “why” matters

Fearless Fundraising #22: Knowing “why” matters

“Fearless Fundraising” is a series on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising and now, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-making. For more information, videos and model documents go to


Knowing the “why” or your “case for support” when raising money – and then being able to effectively communicate it to the people whose gifts you seek for the project or campaign – are absolutely essential and skipping these steps is the second most common mistake when raising money in churches and non-profits.  (The most common mistake is not making the time to cultivate and ask for gifts.)


One of the hundreds of resources developed for Project Resource and which is now on the Fearless Church Fundraising website of free resources from the design and founding of that project, is a list of 31 essential tips for raising money in churches and non-profits.


The “why” statements (or “case”) tell the donor (or prospective donor) why this campaign or major gift initiative is of importance.  Your donors have many compelling voices asking them for limited resources.  Very large organizations have resources which make the case visual, beautiful and accessible on many levels and in many media the way companies use massive resources to sell products, of course.  But really, one person, speaking to another person about a project which is essential to the beauty or wellness of the planet is all that is needed for a major gift donor to say “yes” and write that check.


For the best video to teach your board or vestry about the “why” of a campaign case, watch this


Too often this work is not done well in the church and in many non-profits.  The clergy or leader will delude themselves with thoughts such as:

  • “They love me, they will give me whatever I ask.” (terrifying but too common.)
  • “This is a gift to God, they HAVE to give! It is their duty!” (only a tiny bit less terrifying.)
  • “They should know this is important without me having to go on about it. We NEED a new organ!” (umm…you sound sure …but are they? Is it more important than a homeless shelter in January? Because that is the other request on their desk and homelessness is a meaning-making issue for them… as the homelessness fundraiser knows from many visits to their home for conversations about giving…)


So, long before you try to raise money for a project, make sure you have included your donors in the drafting of the “why.”  If THEY are INVOLVED in drafting and discerning, then the donors and donor-prospects will recognize the important of it when you come back to them later to ask for the gift. Indeed, they will feel included from the “ground up.”  And that is essential.


Here is one of the essentials in the list of 31:

Essential 21. “Never assume your major gifts prospects really understand the vision for which you are asking major gift support. Vision-casters will need to be very clear—great communicators of clear vision or donors will not be able to understand the case, and the askers will not be able to clearly ask or develop the case with moves management conversations. It is not just the donors who need to understand the vision; the people around them must also. Everyone must be on the same page—this takes time.”


On my writing desk I keep a cup for nourishment (water, tea, scotch…depends on the time of day.), candle to represent God’s presence and my need of it, a folder for notes and letters, a computer for writing, and some favorite books for inspiration and resource.  There’s also a red pen, and a good chair with a high back.  These are needed to write and re-write the case – the “why.”  The fastest way to fail in a campaign is to neglect to include your donors and donor prospects in the development of the vision and the resulting “case” material drafts.  Write, yes!  But listen; listen 75% of the time but only write 25% of the time.


Remember.  Jesus came to us as “the WORD” not “the idea.”  So write the vision, but listen for it first, and test it to see if it is an act of narcissistic-empire-building or if it is a compelling calling-into-being by The One Who Is and Is To Come.


There is an unearthed cornerstone in Capernaum dedicated to the Zebedee family who gave a major gift to the synagogue.  It is an archeological proof that this is old, good work, this fundraising.  But it does require great care in its process.


Listen.  Then write the vision.  Then meet individually with your prospective donors, looking them directly in the eyes so that they see yours, make your “why” and ask!  It is simple.  It is ancient.  It is the only effective way.  And it takes time.


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