May 16, 2014

Putting the Fun in Fundraising

It's hard to believe that exactly one month ago we were back at the place we called home for eleven years--the island of Saipan. And it's all because of the most thrilling--and even enjoyable--fundraising campaign I've ever done.

The truth is I've always hated fundraising. Which is ironic because I've spent much of my adult life engaged in some type of fundraising activity.  There always seemed to be a reason to pass the hat around--8th grade class trips and drama tours have been annual events and we always need help to make those events happen.  Selling hot lunches and snacks or holding car washes was easy enough, though often stressful because I never knew how much we were going to make and the return was usually small per event compared with the thousands we were usually looking to raise.  The most effective means of fundraising was also the one I dreaded the most: direct solicitation.  The letter writing campaign became the backbone of our funding for REAL Christian Theater for years when were in Saipan.  I had about twenty people who were regular supporters of the team.  I solicited them once way back in 2002 and then for the next seven years simply kept sending them quarterly newsletter updates on the troupe, always with an enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope as a gentle reminder.  And they came through, year after year sending hundreds individually and thousands in total.  That support team made REAL Christian Theater possible.  One donor, Dr. Vernon Luthas, even went further, making it his personal mission to raise funds for us to have our own sound system to take with us on tour.  What a blessing it was!  I came to feel that rather than merely asking for something from my donors, I was offering them the opportunity to be a part of something truly special.  To  me they really were more than just sources of money, but actual partners in ministry.

In Saipan, the 8th grade class used to sell snacks, mostly purchased from Costco from the counter in the lunchroom.  Now at CAA we have the snack cart, a rolling bounty of goodies regularly stocked from the shelves of Sam's Club

This will look familiar to any of my former 8th grade students from 2007 onward.  We started the all important inventory after we realized we were losing a lot of money from what's known in the retail business as "shrink."  Product and even cash somehow wandering away, often sad to say, with the help of the very people who were raising the funds!  The inventory helped cut down on shrink and the students who used the inventory experienced record-breaking fundraising years.

Still fundraising has remained difficult for me.  I always feared I might be bothering potential donors--after all people put up those "No soliciting" signs for a reason right?  And I feared the dreaded "no".  Nobody likes rejection and in asking for funds I was setting my self up for that awful feeling of being refused.  Still real monetary needs always seem to be at hand so I've pushed through my fears and kept writing those letters, kept asking, kept trying.

There are a couple of things I've kept in mind that have made fundraising, if not exactly fun, at least bearable over the years.  These principles guided me in this most recent push for the Saipan trip as well.  And just as the amount of money I had to raise and the short time frame I had to do it in made this fundraising effort the most daunting ever, the principles that have always guided my fundraising were also magnified.

I always ask myself how I would feel if I were solicited.  This always helps boost my courage because I never mind being asked, even if I'm unable to give.  I often have this irrational vision of people from whom I solicit support becoming enraged at my temerity in even asking.  I remind myself that this has pretty much never happened, and that in fact most people are like me.  Unoffended by the request and often wanting to help.  Granted I know there are those who feel "pressured"when solicited but I think that comes more from a feeling that they must give to every request and thus feel aggravated when it seems that there's always someone raising money for something.  I often want to give to every request that comes my way but I don't feel guilty if I am unable to do so.  As such the requests don't bother me.  I like to think most people feel the same way.

When it came to raising funds for our mission trip to Saipan this was easy.  I thought of all the people we came to love from our time in Saipan; people who like us have left their island home for a more ordinary life here in the States and I knew that I would joyfully lend my support to help any one of them return "home."  I trusted many would feel the same about me--and they did!

I don't take it personally--whether people give or not.  I've received donations from people who I barely know and never received donations from some of my closest friends and family.  Either way it's not personal for me.  I don't make someone's giving a referendum on our relationship, nor do I feel that those who give "like me" better than those who don't.  While I always have a deep appreciation and gratitude towards those who do give, I never think any less of those who don't.

With this Go Fund Me campaign, one of the greatest rewards was the connections with people that I made in the process both among those who gave and those who didn't. Much of my individual solicitation was through Facebook messaging and the best thing was when people wrote back.  I was able to reconnect with former students and colleagues, high school and college friends--all kinds of people that I hadn't had regular contact with in years  Often it was people who couldn't give, writing back a regretful explanation.  But those so-called nos became wonderful "catching-up" conversations that meant more to me than any donation.

Our GoFundMe page.  I came across this fundraising website through my good friend Pastor Chris Thompson, who was using it to raise support to fund his PhD program. I found it unbelievably easy to use and gave a little on the spot.  So when it came time to start raising funds for our return to Saipan, GoFundMe seemed like the perfect tool.  I researched the company, confirmed it was legit and set up my own page.  I've been very pleased with the site. It made it easy for me to keep my pitch in the public eye through Facebook and e-mail posts and giving was just a few clicks for our supporters. You do lose a bit on every donation as the GoFundMe does take their cut, but I found by setting my goal a little beyond what I actually needed more than made up for the loss.  I was so happy with our results from the Saipan trip that I set up another one to raise some more funds for this year's 8th grade class trip!

I offer an opportunity; I don't just ask for money.  Throughout the years I've always believed that what I'm fundraising for is something my potential supporters will want to be a part of.  Just as I feel a sense of ownership in organizations as diverse as Adventist Frontier Missions and NPR that I've supported over the years,  I want my supporters to feel like they are part of our project.  So I send them a postcard or a newsletter--something that enables them to see where their money went and how it's being used.

I had a strong sense that I was taking our donors "with us" on this trip.  Each person who added a donation was one more person "going with us" to Saipan.   I determined to share a lot through Facebook on the trip so that our supporters could feel they were experiencing this epic adventure with us.

God sends the money.  Donors are His means of doing so.  This has kept me from the sense of desperation; that any given donor must help.  I know I'm not really depending on any one specific person, so if they are unable to give it's no big deal.  Because one way or another I know God will bring the funds.

This campaign for Saipan has truly felt like a miracle.  Once I signed up for GoFundMe I'd get occasional e-mails from the organization trumpeting this or that person who raised $3000 or $4000 for their cause.  It made me realize who huge my goal really was.  If they were using amounts less than what I was trying to raise as promos in their e-mails (when it's given that the fine print disclaimer "results not typical" generally holds true), how on earth was I going to raise $5000.  The whole thing seemed like an impossibility.  But of course God specializes in the impossible--and by His grace and through the generosity of dozens of giving people the mission to Saipan became a reality.

And when all is said and done, the best thing about fundraising is always how I feel at the end.


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