When to Say “No” to Raising Support

By on September 15, 2020   /   Leave a comment

When I met Jessie, everything indicated he would be a star in his ministry. The ministry he was aiming for was at the center of his passions.  It was in worship and his creativity came alive in the church context. His church body loved his contribution and his family was all for it. 

It wasn’t long before Jessie was avoiding me and donor phone calls; paralysis had set in.  The situation surprised me. Each coaching call increased my own sense of anxiety as I perceived the situation was eroding his well-being rather than building him for the future. Ultimately, Jessie was side-lined and didn’t move into his sense of calling. It was hard on all of us.   

What happened? How did we miss that while he was supremely suited for the ministry he envisioned; he was greatly mis-fitted for support-raising?

Evaluating someone for their ministry position is something that many churches and ministries already do well.  However, when the road to that calling travels through the ministry of raising support, we are on shakier ground.  It’s easy to think support-raising is not the real battle that someone’s calling needs to prepare for.  Yet, sequentially speaking, it is the first battle. We have found that we need to give attention to readiness for support-raising. 

We’ve discovered hidden roadblocks and want to make sure that the candidate will make it through this initial season and arrive at their intended ministry. These identifiable markers should make us say, “wait” when we find them. Most are basic, easily discovered, and addressed.  Yet, unless we attend to them, support raisers end up like Jessie. 

Key Factors to Assess for Support-Raising Readiness

  • Emotional & Moral Stamina
  • Duration of Calling
  • Availability to Raise Support
  • Personal Finances
  • Established Network
  • Support-raising atmosphere 

Emotional and Moral Stamina

Let’s consider the daily fund-raising experience from the perspective of rejections. In our organization, we typically see new staff needing to approach up to 900 individuals in order to gather their team of 60-100 supporters. That means one can expect at least 800 rejections before the budget is funded.  If the missionary is aiming for completion in 6 months, that’s 230 rejections a month.  Potentially, that’s 10 rejections per day of support-raising.  Whew! Most people who encounter circumstances that eat at their sense of worth and well-being make a fast track backwards to their most recent crutch.  

We have learned that new habits of victory (in realms of food, porn, spending, self-image, inner peace, etc.) need to be grounded in hard cement.  If the habits are just forming, the fund-raiser is highly likely to end up back in their pathway without victory.

It’s tempting to imagine fund-raising is “quieter, less battle-like” and a good place for overcoming a recent struggle. In Jessie’s example, he had recently lost his job. It left him very hesitant to expose himself to people.  His inner sense of self was at one of his lifetime lowest points and that derailed him.  

When to say“wait”:

  • Habits of victory are still being discovered or tested at the time of application
  • Survey for other life changes in case the cumulation has the same effect (moving, changing jobs, upheaval in family structure.)

Duration and Clarity of Calling

I got a call from an excited missions pastor about his developing international team. On a summer mission trip, a woman surfaced as a “great fit”. He wanted to mobilize her to the field ASAP.  Providential circumstances seemed to support the major change. 

As the candidate arrived for training, prior clarity was turning to confusion. There had been several iterations of her location and role focus. The candidate and pastor were not in agreement on her role as she trained for support raising. Pressure, tears, and ultimately division followed.

When support-raising begins, the missionary needs to be able to confidently express their aims and the impact they hope to achieve.  Without basic clarity and confidence, potential donors also have mixed feelings about joining in.

How long has the missionary been exploring this role and been in relationship with their ministry leadership? Our rule is that the length of time for exploration needs to match their first term of service.  That’s 3-6 months for a seasonal role; it’s 2+ years for a long-term assignment.

When to say “wait”:

  • Role description is in the design phase and subject to change
  • Relationship between the worker and ministry leadership is quite new
  • Your organization cannot yet provide a budget

Availability to Raise Support

The idea that things important in life happen in the margins leads many to think they can gather a support team during evenings and weekends without interrupting their status quo. Getting funding accomplished takes focused effort.  People need time and space to establish momentum and consistency.  There are plenty of ministries who try to keep their star ministry players engaged in current responsibilities, rather than helping them clear the decks to exclusively minister as a support-raiser for a season. 

On average, someone giving full focus can see their funds developed after 4-6 months. Those who fund-raise half-time, need to more than double the duration. Those who truly do things in the margin usually fail to develop any momentum and don’t complete the task. The ideal is full focus.  When the fund-raiser needs to maintain other income, we seek a minimum of 20 hours per week, and they must drop all other ministry responsibilities.

When to say “no”:

  • Support raiser isn’t  released from other ministry responsibilities
  • Support-raiser has work plus multiple endeavors that require their time
  • Support-raiser’s current job can’t provide consistent schedules for planning purposes

Personal Finances

Since support-raising might leave a gap of income, we look for the support-raiser to have 3-6 months of living expenses in savings before starting the process. We also run a credit check to ensure that positive patterns of handling credit and debt are present. We believe financial duress exposes itself when a support-raiser is seeking donors, and that undermines them.

When to say “wait”:

  • No personal savings
  • Current debt payments have fallen behind
  • Active debt collection is present
  • Bankruptcy is in the picture  

Established Network

While our training effectively helps people to expand their network of relationships, there has to be a solid starting point. Experience and data tell us that when a fund-raiser exhausts their list of names, they have a significantly harder time reaching their goal.  We aim for 100-200 people that our new support-raisers can reach out to. We also want to see that they enjoy meeting people and involving others in partnership.

When to say “wait”: 

  • Fewer than 50 contacts
  • Lack of joy at the prospect of meeting people and involving them in their ministry

Support-Raising Atmosphere 

Atmosphere relates to both the concrete tools needed for support-raising and the morale supporting environment needed to sustain. 

Many support-raisers are adaptable and high in faith, willing to jump into battle from corners of bedrooms and offices. Still, there are essential resources to secure: A quiet location for “phone” calls and virtual appointments; uninterrupted internet; a good phone; a computer administration and presentations. If they will meet in person, they need transportation.  

For morale we explore whether their living situation provides moral support and encouragement.  If a spouse has major concerns or is against their spouse entering ministry or raising support, that is a significant concern. 

When to say “wait”: 

  • Lack of basic tools 
  • Close family member is critical or undermining— a parent, a spouse, or child 

The Waiting Process

Assessing candidates in these specific realms adds clarity about whether they are ready for this task. It also helps ministry leadership support their people better. Being specific about needed objectives and tools helps when we tell someone they are not ready.  The best situation is when we can outline together what is needed to move forward, and when the fund-raiser hopes they can have that ready.  

  Take time to assess and get the timing right – it is worth it.



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