Several hundred BGU students have taken courses and seminars on how to build resourcing relationships with local sources of donations or fees as an essential part of their ministry. Many BGU students have read the books When Helping Hurts (2009) and Toxic Charity (2011 – authored by BGU Regent Bob Lupton). These books describe how donations from western nations to certain parts of the world have created dependency that has hampered the Church from being strong, innovative, and impactful in their regions.
BGU students tend to be advanced, experienced, national leaders with the calling, gifts, intelligence, godliness, experience, and native cultural knowledge to lead ministries in their nation better than almost any outsider. Yet they find themselves competing with well-intentioned leaders from outside who have access to western funding. Being well-funded is rarely a good motivator for people to be great listeners, equippers, and collaborators. The situation is much more complex than “good people and bad people.” In the end, even with wonderful intentions and good work from all sides, significant opportunities are lost.
The BGU discussions about this problem are vivid and urgent. These sometimes strident debates in the classroom often spill out into healthy collaboration in cross-continental projects both before and after graduation. A few principles have emerged from these collaborative projects:
The solution is not to stop giving or investing money due to the fear of creating dependency. God calls donors to steward money well. Money is powerful and brings significant change, especially in non-developed economies. It is not wrong for a western donor or equity investor to request that recipients report results in ways that they can understand and to exercise authority by asking good questions, providing sound advice, and expecting clear, timely responses.
Two guidelines donors in these BGU courses have learned:
- Proactively listen … ask 10 questions for every piece of advice offered, and
- Be ready to be surprised by the genius of other cultures.
Sometimes it takes asking the same question three different ways for it to be understood, and to convince people used to being talked at to see you are serious about listening. And if you are watching for it, often a cross-cultural way of doing something that at first appears backward, wrong, or confusing may actually turn out to be astoundingly impressive, especially as you understand the context of that culture.
The solution is not to only pursue western funding, nor to engage in the too prevalent practice of telling misleading stories that feed the desire of a donor to feel their gift has more significance than reality. The language and logic of reporting requested by donors may seem confusing at first; however, the hard work of learning it is essential to build mutual trust and respect. And most importantly, fundraising is not a solo work. Perhaps the most important principle is to build a team to help, engage coaching from those who have gone before, and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know. Help me learn how to do it right.”
As a fundraiser, you need to fight the lie that makes you see yourself as a beggar. That attitude hinders healthy relationships and makes you and the donors you approach uncomfortable. You have the privilege of being part of God’s work in discipling others in what may be the most sensitive area of their life … their money. You are able to significantly help a mission you care about thrive, and you have the joy of sharing the stories of what you are most passionate about in ways that are contagious to others.
Often finding local funding sources is extremely complex, but it is essential to pursue. People in North America are accustomed to long-standing cultures, traditions, and even tax policies to promote philanthropy. Many other cultures have significant obstacles to philanthropy, even, in some cases, cultural taboos that go back thousands of years.
BGU’s Fundraising Training:
One of the highlights of BGU’s fundraising training is the personal coaching of Rob Martin and Zenet Maramara. As the long-time former executive director of a large U.S. foundation, Rob has extensive experience with fundraising grant requests. Rob teaches key principles of local, relationship-based fundraising, gives detailed instructions on how to write a mission story well and personally reviews each story. Finally, Rob coaches each student within the context of a peer group in candid, comprehensive video-conferencing sessions.
Students have reported changes in their attitude, the building of healthy teams to help them, and growing relationships in what Rob calls “The Communion of Giving and Receiving” with both local and distant donors. And with these relationships, students have reported greatly increased resources for their work. It is hard, sustained work, but this coaching provides a new hope and reduces a sense of futility in the midst of so many cultural obstacles.
This spring there are opportunities for BGU students, alumni and partners to join this fundraising coaching in either a course or seminar format. Additionally, BGU is networked with organizations such as Generous Giving and Generosity Path that provide safe places for donors to have candid conversations about their challenges as philanthropists. For more information, please write to HERE.
This year, the North American-based BGU Board of Directors has generously provided a $50,000 grant for the rest of the BGU family, partners, and friends to match. BGU’s globally-dispersed Regents, alumni, faculty, staff and students from 65 nations are responding with generosity in kind from their part of the world. Through tuition and donations, leaders throughout the world are taking responsibility for BGU’s financial health. Matched donations to BGU can be given at https://www.bgu.edu/giving/