Friday, March 02, 2007

Donor Attrition

Last night I received a call from a colleague. He was “ticked off” at a supporting pastor because he, seemingly, has dropped their monthly support. He was not so upset with the action as much as he was with the process. The pastor of the church has not written him about dropping they’re funding and this, to my friend, is unethical. Quoting my granddaughter I told my friend he needed to take a “chill pill.” Getting irate, incensed and writing a nasty letter to the pastor wasn’t going to help things. My advice to him was to pick up the phone or write an email or letter to the church and just make a casual inquiry about the fact he has not received financial backing from them for past two months. From there we talked about the reality of donor attrition.

One of the reasons this unhappy colleague called me was because I told him over lunch a couple of days before that I was in the states to shore up my donor base. Throughout the course of a year we generally lose one or two donors and I recounted that I had received a letter from one donor congregation stating they were going to discontinue their support, which reflected 5% of our budget. Living in a country where the inflation rate is over 10% a year, a significant drop of funding can result in a serious financial situation if there are not new streams of resources in the pipeline. If a vocational missionary is not actively raising support they are passively moving into deficit.

As I told my caller last night, because we depend on the freewill gifts of others we must recognize donor support will always be in a state of unrest. Churches often change pastors who don’t know our work or me. Congregations change mission philosophy; donors lose their jobs or there are economic downturns in the community. Sometimes people just don’t like what I do, or even my personality. I have lost support for all kinds of reasons; some don’t make any sense at all. (Like the pastor who said he can only support people through his denomination, as it’s too much work for his secretary to make out two checks every month). Donor attrition is a reality; it just comes with the territory.

Since I have been in the business over thirty years, I am no longer surprised or even angered when a church or individual ceases to discontinue their financial backing. It’s never fun to lose support and sometimes there is a temptation to take loss of funding as personal rejection. I have friends who are very generous in supporting other ministry projects, but for some reason don’t even think about our ministry. (It’s probably "A prophet is worthy except in his own country" syndrome.) It would be easy to feel hurt that those closest to me and my wife would think so little of what we do that they don’t perceive our work as an eternal investment. However, I refuse to dwell on that line of thinking, as it is a snare of false validation.

For me, and those who share my vocation, we must keep things in perspective as it relates to finances and ministry. While I must continue a posture of maintaining support due to donor attrition, funding is merely a means to an end. My role in God’s grand scheme is to promote and facilitate the taking of the message of Christ to those who have never heard. To get uptight about who is or who isn’t backing us is pointless. To try to analyze why someone has ceased to support us is a waste of energy. Focus on the reason why we work and Who we serve. Donor attrition is serious and sometimes painful, but it’s a historical reality. Our Lord is a pretty good example of one who lost support. Rather than becoming angry with those who left Him in His greatest need, He focused on His purpose. My advice is to keep your eye on the goal, not the financial bottom line.