There is a powerful old saying in the development world: “If you want money, ask for advice. If you ask for money, expect advice.” In the Church, the role of stewardship and development professionals is of course far more than asking for money. This adage is best translated as: “If you want engaged donors, engage them in conversation.”

One of the highest compliments a person or institution can pay to another is an invitation for dialogue. If a request for feedback and dialogue is honest and forthright, the resulting conversation can indelibly strengthen the relationship between donor and organization. And, as stewardship and development professionals will be quick to share, contributions of significance generally follow extended conversations on donors’ thoughts, dreams, and expectations of their giving.

This should come as no surprise. Donors to the local Church, just like those to any other institution, are investors sowing and stewarding precious resources likely built from a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work. Donors will not part quickly or haphazardly with these resources, nor should they.

Financial gifts are an extension of donors’ identities, families, and hearts. Parting only comes with great care, attention, and purpose. It is only logical that a prospective gift is first weighted by the potential concerns the donor has with the organization – that a financial contribution to a
mission, including the Church’s, is ultimately measured by impact

During this season of the life of the Church, inviting authentic dialogue can feel like fraught territory, particularly in situations where there is a record of wrongdoing. It need not be so.

The key to open, honest, and meaningful exchange between donor and organization is authenticity. An invitation for dialogue cannot be contrived, and the feedback shared in return must be taken to heart. Absent either of these variables, a donor will sense an organization’s insincerity and potentially disengage.

Conversely, if both parties commit to faith-filled, mission-oriented discussion, a productive and relationship-affirming conversation will follow. The dialogue may be difficult. A challenging conversation often highlights a path forward to a deeper relationship.

In inviting a conversation, the initiator does not need to feign a position of authority or decision-making. When offering their advice, donors will likely share concerns that go far beyond the scope of the stewardship and development office. What is most important is that the concerns are heard, and that the input is shared with those who are in the positions to make necessary decisions.