4 Steps to Approaching Large Donors in the midst of COVID-19

Image by HeatherPaque from Pixabay.
Image by HeatherPaque from Pixabay.

There have been conversations among church leaders about asking donors to help churches financially during this crisis. Many leaders are feeling that it’s not a good time because everyone has been impacted in some way by COVID.

Sheri Meister, president and CEO, Dakotas UM Foundation. Photo courtesy of Dakotas UM Foundation. 
Sheri Meister, president and CEO, Dakotas UM Foundation. Photo courtesy of Dakotas UM Foundation.

I’ve heard from some that it seems insensitive to ask for financial help from our largest donors. Through this pandemic we must remember, we are all going through the same storm, but we’re all in different boats. We should not project how we may think our donors will respond, or what position they are in to continue to give to our causes and to our churches.

It’s important to make the contact to the donor and let them determine if the timing is right for them to support our ministries. I’ve outlined a few steps to help you connect with the financial leaders within your congregation and make the ask.

Make an assessment and plan

  • This will become your temporary “case of support” when you talk to donors
  • Take stock of immediate financial needs, plus the spirit and morale of your church. This is the rainy day we’ve always talked about.
  • Come up with a "continuity plan." Look at several scenarios: a month, three months, a year.
  • Come up with NUMBERS! And be ready for questions about your needs. People are passionate about their church. Share your mission and explain the needs you have to ensure it continues.
  • Do you have immediate capital needs, and what can be deferred?
  • What are your real cash needs for the next 90 to 180 days?
    • Be sure to include the losses you may face.
    • Involve your whole staff and church leadership in this exercise.
    • Move with speed and accuracy.
    • It does not have to be a perfect assessment; aim for near perfect.
    • Remember, an educated projection will suffice.
  • Set a purpose. Set a goal. Write a 90-day plan to raise the money.
  • To communicate your needs, create a one-page document that summarizes the new budget. Why do you need money? How are you going to use it?
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash. 
Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash.

Now is the time to reach out and connect with your top donors.

Use Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc. to connect with your donors. If video conferencing isn’t comfortable for some people on your contact list, pick up the phone and give them a call.

  • Ask how they are doing. Put your relationship first. They are our organizational family. Let them know you are available to listen and will always support them.
  • Listen and be a calming and stable presence.
  • Tell your story-—mission, mission, mission. They believe in you and what you do—they give because of the mission. They don’t need and probably don’t want anything in return, but to know they are helping you survive this. Share your long-term vision for the congregation to let the donor know your plans beyond the pandemic.

Phone calls and videoconferencing are preferred ways to communicate with a prospective donor. However, if you have a difficult time contacting donors by phone, send an email, but make it very personal. Use language such as this. “I hope you are all doing well in these difficult times.”

Prepare talking points for your call.

  • “Hello _______ how are you doing?” Then listen without interrupting, listen with compassion, and listen closely. This is the heart of stewardship, and if the conversation ends with just their sharing, it may just open the door for future  conversations about financial support.
  • Ask about their family. They maybe have family members who have been affected by the coronavirus—as frontline providers, or through isolation, separation or job loss. There also may be other family concerns they have not shared.
  • Remember they still care about the church and its members.

If the door is open, let the person know what your church is doing. TELL YOUR STORY!!! KNOW YOUR STORY! Share a testimony and an impact story. How have you been making a difference? Share some successes.

  • “Ms._________ , amidst all that is going on in the world, we have some great things happening Best Church UMC. Do you have a few minutes for me to share these ministries and fill you in on how we’re continuing to do ministry and spread the Good News?”
  • Be transparent, we’re all concerned, maybe even scared. This is a challenge, a journey with unpredictable outcomes, acknowledge that.
  • Once they hear your story, they may want to know how they can help. This is when the door opens for you to give options they have to help.

Not every phone call will end in an ask. If it doesn’t seem like an appropriate time to discuss a gift to the church, thank them for their time and let them know you’ll be back in touch with them soon to check in on them and their family.

Strengthening your relationships with the donors of your church will help to keep the church in the forefront of the donor. Presenting the church’s goals, impact stories of how it serves others, and the mission of your church will help connect the ministries with the donor. During the pandemic, people will be thinking mainly about hospitals, frontline workers, and basic needs. By telling your stories and connecting with your donors, you are reminding them of the needs of the church, the people you serve and those you are connecting with to spread the Good News.

In times of uncertainty, people strengthen their relationship with the church. Now is a perfect time to reach out to parishioners for a variety of reasons. An additional gift of financial support is just one of the many possible outcomes that will come from a conversation that starts with simple words of kindness and compassion. It’s all about building relationships.

Sheri Meister, president and CEO, Dakotas United Methodist Foundation

United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about the generosity of United Methodists click here.