My Five Worst Fundraising Fails

I hear it all the time from people considering a YWAM DTS“Where’s the money going to come from?” My testimony after 16 years of servings as a YWAM missionary is this: God has never left me hanging.

And to be honest, there have been times when he’s provided for me despite my best efforts to keep people from giving. I’ve never intentionally tried to keep people from donating, of course.  But fear, inexperience, and laziness have contributed to some classic blunders. 

And I don’t think I’m alone. See if you can relate to the worst mistakes I’ve made.

1. Not Asking

When I was a student in my Discipleship Training School, I wrote a newsletter describing my upcoming mission trip to Mexico and asking for financial support. It was a terrible newsletter. I now coach others in crafting effective newsletters, and that one broke every principle I’ve since taught.

But I made a worse mistake: I never even sent the letter.

That’s right. I chickened out, draining my savings account to pay for my DTS mission trip. Which meant that when God called me to the next phase of YWAM training, I had no way to pay the tuition.

Occasionally God specifically directs people to simply pray for his provision and not make their need known. But I’d like to suggest that it’s not a more “spiritual” or faith-filled approach. In many cases I’ve observed, it’s motivated by fear and pride rather than obedience to God’s leading.

The main reason missionaries don’t get the support they need is because they never ask in the first place.

Do you have the humility to acknowledge your need? Can you trust God by daring to ask someone to come alongside your ministry financially?

The fact is, it’s not bad newsletters or stingy Christians that keep missionaries from being fully funded. The main reason missionaries don’t get the support they need is because they never ask in the first place.

2. Hint Dropping

“Please pray for God’s provision.” “Pray for us to be fully funded.” You’ve probably read similar nudges in missionary updates. My early endeavors certainly committed this cardinal error.

Those aren’t really prayer requests. Whoever wrote that wants donations! They’re dressing up their hint with churchy language, but everyone can see right through it.

Dropping hints betrays the fact that we’ve allowed a dichotomy in our minds between “spiritual” requests, like prayer, and “practical” requests, like finances. If you think it’s unspiritual to ask for support, then the apostle Paul, King David, and the prophet Elijah must have been unspiritual as well!

Don’t be that guy. Ask for prayer for genuine needs, but when you need finances, ask for financial partnership. Have enough confidence in the vision God has given that you’re unashamed to appeal to people to take part in it.

3. Online Pleading

There’s a time and a place for crowdsourced fundraising. I’ve watched friends successfully use social media to raise finances for adoption fees or the expenses of a last-minute disaster relief trip.

But I’ve also seen countless hopeful missionaries blast their social networks with desperate appeals for financial support. And it doesn’t seem to be very effective. The closer you get to your deadline, the more frequent and frantic those status updates become. You may find your social network clicking “unfollow” rather than “give online.”

Here’s my theory: raising missionary support is about building a team, not just coming up with some cash. People support those they care about and believe in. But they also support those who take the time to ask them personally. And a Facebook post is about as impersonal as it can get.

Raising support is about building a team, not just coming up with some cash.

There’s actual science to back up my theory, too. Scott Morton, author of Funding Your Ministry, reports a success rate of less than .1 of 1% when crowdfunding, as opposed to 70-80% effectiveness when asking people face-to-face.

The moral of the story: don’t take the path of least resistance. It’s scarier and it takes more time, but if you invest in personal relationships with people, you’ll have more success over the long haul.

4. Flopping the Follow Up

I finally did it! God had been tugging at my heart for months to ask a specific family friend to join my support team, and I finally worked up the nerve to call him and ask.

He was positive and encouraging, but needed to talk to his wife first. I thanked him and hung up the phone, breathing a sigh of relief that I’d gotten that step of obedience off my chest.

They loved me and were excited about YWAM, and I’m sure they had every intention of supporting me. But I never heard back from them, and even though I knew it had most likely slipped their minds, I was too nervous to follow up. Several years went by before we discussed it again and they jumped on board.

Don’t even think about leaving the ball in someone else’s court.

Don’t drop the ball like I did, and don’t even think about leaving it in someone else’s court. Follow-up is faithfulness. It helps people finalize a decision when you say, “I’ll get back in touch with you. Is Friday a good day?” It also gives you the opportunity to walk them through the logistics of giving.

5. Thanklessness

Even in the day of digital communication, don’t underestimate the value of a handwritten thank-you note.

I’ll confess, I haven’t always been diligent about this. It’s easy to let thank-you’s pile up, especially when I’m traveling. So I’ve learned the hard way that poor communication with supporters can contribute to them moving their financial support elsewhere.

But every time I sit down to make a list of what’s been given and write a personal note to each giver, my heart is filled with gratitude. I’m reminded again of all that God’s given me and the privilege it is to serve him in missions the way I do. I’m humbled by those who give, often sacrificially, to make this ministry possible.

A thank you note is a holy thing. No matter how busy you are or how sloppy your penmanship, let God use this simple act to grow gratitude in your own heart and stronger connection with your supporters.

Those are the pitfalls I’ve overcome and am overcoming. Do you have more to add? Feel free to comment!

For more fundraising resources, check out:

thorngate-libbyLibby Thorngate was a part of the  staff at YWAM Louisville and has been with the base since the very beginning. Her love and passion  for the Lord have taken her to different countries and have filled her with many stories of God’s faithfulness and redemption. 

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