Every pastor dreams of what it would be like to receive a financial gift that would transform the future of the church. For many large institutions a legacy gift or transformative gift is considered to be $1,000,000 or more. A study conducted by Indiana University, Lily School of Philanthropy, focused its attention not on motivations of the key donor, but the characteristics of the nonprofit institutions that receive large gifts. (Here is a link to the report if you are interested.) I took the time to review the research and convert the learnings into the church world. I have been a part of many projects that have received million dollar gifts. It may not surprise you that I have seen them come from long time members with a deep relationship to the pastor, church, and community. But I have also seen more than one come from non-members, new members, and non-resident members as well.
As leaders, it is easy to underestimate the potential of people to be extraordinarily generous. When you are wired and able to give, you actually enjoy the opportunity when it is presented. You may be thinking that a million dollar gift is not in your sights. However, I promise that their are people that you know who are looking to be more generous than you ever imagined. Hopefully, my thoughts below will inspire you to step out in faith creating a culture that is ready to receive a transforming gift.
Here are the findings that I think you will discover to be important.
1. A long tenured pastor increases the opportunity for a transformative gift.
Relationship, security, and integrity over time mean everything to a key giver. The long term pastor that is able to consistently articulate a powerfully clear vision that connects both the passions of the giver and the results of their gift are critical. Church vision needs to be actionably clear, faithfully consistent, or inspiringly large enough to engage a big thinker.
It may surprise you to learn that high capacity leaders find it very difficult to connect in a significant way to the vision of the local church. They have big dreams and unique passions that are not easily channelled thru common church leadership structures. They also have very specific passions. I key giver will give a tip when asked, but they will release a flood when engaged via their passion.
I firmly believe that every lead pastor needs to have a list of 10-50 high capacity leaders that he consistently engages in a mutually meaningful discipleship relationship. This ministry will result in learning that goes two ways, increasing both the confidence of the pastor and transforming leader.
2. A church that has a demonstrated track record for success.
Waste, failure, inconsistency, or lack of clarity hurt churches. I have sat in many church finance and leadership meetings with lay people who are frustrated by financial mismanagement. It typically revolves around historic church loyalties that over fund ineffective ministries, regularly over spend, or do not have solid practices tying expenses to results. Nothing will chase away a transforming leader like failure, laziness, and incompetence.
A powerfully clear and engaging vision should be tightly aligned with ministry direction, programming priorities, and staff accountability. Remember that key leaders exist in the business world and are held to a high standard of productivity. They are also consistently solicited by significant nonprofits for support. You have real competition and a standard by which you are measured.
Learn to be a strong organizational leader. Have a clear vision, align your priorities, spend wisely, and demonstrate results.
3. The larger your support base and size of your organization the greater your opportunity for transforming gifts.
This is both a statement of quantity and quality. The larger the church, the more members you have, and the larger visionary needs you present the greater your chance of receiving key gifts. Givers do measure their gift size based on the size of the need. Smaller and medium size churches rarely have multimillion dollar needs. If your church does have a multimillion dollar need a key giver desires to participate, but not personally write the project off.
Every church regardless of size and need has the capacity to increase the size of gifts. It is not uncommon for me to interact with a church where 50-60% of its annual gifts are less than $1,000. Now, if you are personally giving $100-1,000 annually to a nonprofit you are demonstrating belief in the cause and are happily pursuing its mission. When I see these numbers I am typically in a church that is not in an impoverished area or struggling locally with massive unemployment. Their constituents have nice homes, cars, and jobs. They just have not been discipled towards financial freedom and the generous life. If you want to increase both your average gift size, number of givers, and volume of larger gifts, then create a comprehensive discipleship strategy for all members. Everyone has the potential to grow toward a greater level of generosity! We are never done growing.
4. Increased investment in staff and long tenured staff.
The healthier the staff the better. The staff needs to be committed to each other and the long term vision of the church. Silos and competition are not your friends. When a staff is supported, trained, and continually refreshed it will have positive results. Your business plan should provide for bonuses, raises, and upward mobility within your organization. If a staff member has to leave to discover a more personally rewarding position it will consistently hurt your organization.
While generosity strongly rest on the desk of the senior leader, a wise pastor will inspire, invest, train, and support his staff. Each staff member should be a powerful visionary in their own right. They should have significant relationships with key leaders and be able to strongly support the overall generosity ministry of the church. It is not uncommon for staff live as if the pastor needs to preach more about money and the administrator needs to keep others from spending so much. This is a very low view of stewardship.
5. A healthy financial position produces a future.
The church is not a for profit business, however it needs to demonstrate the highest level of financial success. Churches that consistently spend less than they receive, have a growing amount of cash reserves. They are readily generous to causes beyond their own institutional gain and are in a great position to expand their influence. While key donors are viewed as having an excessive amount of resources, they are highly evaluative where they invest. They are not interested in losing money any more than the next person.
Be public about how you run the business of the church. Have policies, practices, and consistent results that are worth sharing. There are churches that actually run their business so well that they pay cash for major projects, are prepared to respond to emergencies, and never find themselves in a negative financial posture. This type of margin only increases generosity potential. It does not hinder it.
6. Create a dynamic experience for attenders and members.
The leadership culture and financial practices are critical. But we should not overlook how important the weekend experience is to the giver. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. The most powerful ministry for the local church is its weekend worship experience. It needs to be positive, truthful, and life giving from the minute people drive onto the parking lot. We all know the difference between the environments of a fast food chain and fine dining experience. The intangibles of the environment matter in the quality of the meal, training level of staff, and willingness to linger are all real experiences.
Do everything you do with power and excellence. Extravagance is not the bar, but excellence is. Pay attention to the condition of the lawn, parking lot, sidewalks, and interior of the building. Start and stop on time. Have a hospitality team that can’t stop loving people. The intangibles of your culture are undeniable. They speak of God’s active work. Your values will be caught. They are more powerful than your music or sermons.
I want you to be more and more confident that your church can experience transformative giving. However, you need to prioritize the basics of an engaging vision that is big, financial practices that avoid a position of pressure, a committed leadership team that works as one long term, and a strategy that produces measurable discipleship results in a life.
Have you ever taken the time to think about all that goes into a giving moment? There is actually an undeniable decision making and spiritual growth process occurring in many micro-moments. Download our free ebook, Why We Give and Why It Matters.