Since August 16th John Oliver has been trending. The host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight shared a piece exposing the practices of many televangelists. He shared his own experience with one televangelist who, over the course of nearly seven months, had sent Oliver’s team over twenty-six letters and received $319. Oliver makes sure to point out that most churches are not like this. They provide valuable services to their communities. Instead, he is focused on those churches “that exploit people’s faith for monetary gain.” Oliver then goes on to explain the predatory nature of the prosperity gospel and the “seed faith” movement. Despite his language and flashes of irreverence, his disgust at this practice is both palpable and understandable. At times the audience even gasps as they hear stories of a poor, older woman refusing cancer treatment choosing, instead, to send what little money they have to Kenneth Copeland’s ministry believing her “seed” of faith would cure her cancer.
What is fascinating about this story, first of all, is that an obvious non-believer (and his audience) finds predatory fundraising reprehensible. Secondly, it provides us with a fascinating lesson in fundraising in our increasingly post-Christian age. Generis consultant Julie Bullock said during her presentation during our May 2014 gathering that the lack of trust can be a hindrance to many people. Others, especially Millennials, may be opposed to giving to “institutions”. Julie offered us some great advice for raising funds without manipulating people, these points are adapted from her talk.
At the heart of the problem with many of the televangelists that Oliver points us to is a lack of trust. They make promises that are not theirs to make. Worse, they make promises for God that he has not made. When those promises are broken God is the one people blame!
So, do not make promises you cannot keep. Do not assure people that God will do something that he has not said he would do. Now, God has promised to meet our needs (Matt 6:26ff) and that he would bless us in real ways for giving generously (2 Cor 9:6-15). But that is not the same as “seed faith”.
Go above and beyond in your financial practices. Even if you are still building a core team find some trustworthy people to oversee the cash flow. If you need to sign a check, make sure someone else has to sign it also. If you do not have those trustworthy people, then ask other pastors from a supporting or partnering church to be your accountability.
Do whatever it takes to build trust. And do not wait to set your financial accountability plans. Begin with them. That way, when you make your first fundraising pitch you can say, “And here’s my plan to ensure that your money is used for the right purposes.”
That leads us to our next point.
Tell The Story
Often only those closest to you will give to you. The rest of us want to give to a story. Why else do you think the ASPCA got Sarah McLaughlin to sing some sad song over pictures of sad, caged dogs? Now, those commercials are manipulative. But you can tell the story of your church in a way that is real and compelling without being manipulative.
For example, HCPN Residency graduate Roswell Smith (Class of 2015), tells stories of the Church at U of H's work in Houston’s Third Ward. Their “Love My City” events provide real, tangible love to this impoverished and overlooked neighborhood. Roswell can tell powerful stories about lives changed and resistance melting (which he often does). Another member of the class of 2015, Maxwell Clark, had his sending church gift that week’s tithe to his church.
These are just two example of God working in powerful ways. Sharing stories like these communicates that God is already working. Telling the story of God’s work means that you are asking others to join what God is doing. Even if it is the early days of church planting and their support pays your light bill, they are still enabling you to lead the mission. They are still giving to what God is doing.
So tell anyone and everyone about what God has done. And your people will say, “This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps 118:23).
Get to Know Me
As mentioned before, Paul tells us the standard of New Testament giving is generosity and joy. In Philippians, which is a thank-you note, to a church that supported him. The church at Philippi was a church that Paul knew well. Acts 16:13 says that they “stayed in that city many days”. He spent time with these people. In Corinth Paul took another job to fund his work in that city. So, when he writes to these two congregations he is writing to people he knew.
There are very few people who want to be used for their resources. But, there are very few who will not do all they can to be generous when they know that you love them and care for them.