Benefit Balance: How to Breach Faith in Front of a Mixed Donor Crowd by Lauren Anderson

YNPN Chicago Board of Directors Speak!

“I hate how they spring religion on me like that,” my friend said after a moment of prayer during a benefit dinner. To me it seemed like a muted statement of religion, the speaker introduced it as an “invocation” and it was fairly short, but my companion was offended.

The first point to make about religion in fundraising: too much or too little is very subjective. I have talked to organizations based in Lawndale, a heavily African American neighborhood of Chicago, and have been told it’s not unusual to pray before a school basketball game.

It’s hard to assess how many religious-based charities exist (there is a lack of categories in Guidestar and CharityNavigator). Although slightly misleading because charity can also mean the act instead of an organization, the following table breaks down Google results for “charity” for the five most prominent world religions.

Religion Google Results for “____ charity” Religion as a % of world population* Charity results per 1,000 people of that religion*
























*Based on the CIA World Fact Book 2009 estimates of religion and July 2011 estimate of world population (6,928,198,253).

There are some nonprofits whose very intent is to serve a specific religious community, but it is misguided to block non-religious donors. I posit that most people, despite any religious inclination, still describe themselves as moral and can still see the value in an organization’s mission even if it includes statements of faith. With that in mind, here are some suggestions on how to have a cross-based appeal:

1. Be true to your organization. You have a religious basis and that is nothing to be ashamed of. This is who you are and these are your core values. If someone wants you to change one of those then they are not someone you should be involved with.

2. Make the case for why your organization’s model helps the greater society. Show why your organization’s work is fulfilling a religious calling, but also what the benefits are to your target community. For example, an agency that provides mental health services at a reduced cost, may be fulfilling a religious mission, but it can also make the case that it is helping people get the support to maintain their needs, housing, food, etc., which ultimately saves them from a life of homelessness and depleting state resources.

3. Fundraising expert Lauren Dillon emphasizes not to use fundraising events as a time to preach. Sometimes religious organizations, through the lens of justice, compassion, and mercy think they can or should convert souls from within their constituent base. The focus of fundraising should be to highlight your programs.  The impetus for the organization may be religious in nature, but that can be explained to inquisitive attendees, in printed materials, or on a website.

The point I’d like to end with is Lauren Dillon’s – fundraising is about a relationship. Just as you have friends with different faith perspectives from your own, your organization can attract donors from different backgrounds. You wouldn’t do something in front of your friend that may be offensive, so why would you do it on a stage? Let your program or model shine.

Lauren is currently the Development Manager on an International Labor Organization contract. She recently graduated with a Masters degree in Health Management from Columbia University and hopes to continue to advance programs that address community and international health. Her previous experience includes working as a Public Health Fellow in Finland at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, utilizing social media to market an electronic health information exchange, and working in development at a Legal Aid Clinic in Chicago.

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One Response to Benefit Balance: How to Breach Faith in Front of a Mixed Donor Crowd by Lauren Anderson

  1. Pingback: Postings Elsewhere « What sounded interesting

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