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The way a steward leader talks about finances tells a story. Recently, I have heard a number of nonprofit and faith-based leaders making a pitch for funds. Many of those conversations start off something like this: "Our expenses are rising, but our main funders don't seem to realize that - they're cutting our funding from their budgets. We need money to pay staff, keep up facilities, and run our programs. We're running short, so we're asking you to help."
This same speech, or variations thereof, can be heard in appeal letters, video clips, newspaper ads, and news stories with near-constant certainty. The problem is that it sends all the wrong messages, over and over again. Here are a few things that people hear in these contexts:
- Our primary funders (donors) are shortsighted people who are incapable of helping us. Give us money and become like them!
- Even though we are subject to the same economic pressures as everyone else around us, we're struggling to make ends meet more than everyone else. We aren't capable of managing what we have well.
- We're having trouble prioritizing what to spend (y)our money on.
- We can't tell you why we're valuable to you if you don't already believe we are valuable.
- A big gift doesn't matter. Just a few bucks will get us to the next paycheck. Do you have a few pennies?
- We're poor - even though thousands (or millions) of dollars pass through our hands.
- We're ungrateful for what we have, and we'll drag your name through the mud if you quit giving to us. So please, give us something!
- Our business model isn't working and we don't know how to fix it. We're not entirely competent.
- The primary solution to our problem is to throw more money at it.
- You should feel guilty because you don't give us enough for us to do our job.
Who is going to give to that?
No, that's not what we mean to say. Of course that's not what we mean to say. We don't mean to say that all about ourselves, our donors, or our constituents. Unfortunately, that's the story that people often hear when we start the conversation with increased expenses and decreasing revenue.
The story that people hear is that the donors, who should be helpers, are really opponents - getting in the way. And yet we're asking our audience to become donors. Will we be considered helpers or a hindrance?
If we want to strengthen our financial future, and increase our capacity to do the work we know to be important, we need a new starting point.
When asking for money, begin with the vision:
We believe the world can be ________.
Then with values:
This is important to us because we believe ________.
Then with mission:
To that end, we do _________.
Finally, need and action:
We see that the world needs ________. To address that, we'd like to do _________. Will you join us?
How does this make our donors sound? What messages from above seem to recede into the background?
Steward leaders have the capacity to change the tone of the story by starting with vision. And vision will draw others in to help so that valuable work can be accomplished.
I'd enjoy hearing your steward leader story - click the button below to send it to me!
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