The Uncomfortable Ask

Written by Matthew Zoller, International Training Specialist Advisor

After 17 years as a full-time missionary I understand how difficult raising financial support can be. I also understand that 80% of that difficulty is mental. I would fill my head with all kinds of reasons why I should not ask for support: 

“It demonstrates a lack of faith in God to provide”
“All my sources are already tapped out”
“That person is struggling financially and couldn't possibly give”
“I'm afraid asking will affect our friendship”
“I don't like begging”
“Asking is just a form of manipulating them to give”
“What if they say no?”

Raising support can and should be an enriching and rewarding experience. It is not difficult to buy in to the theory about giving to missions. Giving is biblical; it is a valid form of serving. God calls some to give and some to go. Inviting someone to join you in ministry is a form of discipleship; it challenges the giver spiritually and deepens their relationship with God. But when we are on the side of asking, believing these truths seems to be more difficult. When we are able to honestly recognize that our end goal is not raising funds but offering a means for someone to fall more deeply in love with Jesus, we realize our asking is neither begging nor manipulative.

Reflect on your own giving

Moving past these mental hurdles isn't always easy. When I coach support-raising missionaries going to the field for the first time I ask them if they regularly support other missionaries. If they do not I recommend they begin supporting someone regularly, even if it is only $5 a month, so that they can experience giving. Reflect on your own giving. How does it affect your relationship with the person you are investing in? Have you ever experienced a deeper relationship with the Father as a result of your participation through giving? When someone you know and care about asks you to give, do you feel offended? One of the most important things you can do to pass the mental hurdle of asking is to reflect on your own giving. 

Going from the theoretical to the practical is the next step of faith. There are many books written on support raising. I'll list a few at the end but the one that has been the most helpful to me is People Raising: a Practical Guide to Raising Funds. The premise of the book is that people give to people they know, trust, and care for.

Giving is relational

People generally do not give to missions programs, projects, or organizations. When I transitioned from one organization to another, 95% of my supporters followed me. You will do well to remember this as you think about the impact of your support raising strategies. You should use all means available in your efforts to raise funds but think carefully about where your time and efforts will be the most wisely invested. Here is a list of the most common means of support-raising, ordered from least effective to most effective:

  • Mass print mail
  • Mass email
  • Social media solicitation
  • Large group event
  • Personal letter or email
  • Small group event
  • Phone call
  • Personal one-on-one meeting

This is not to say that you shouldn't send out a general letter to your contacts or take the opportunity to speak to your church. These are great opportunities, but invest more in the opportunities that will have a deeper impact relationally. When I would speak to a church group of 300-500 I would generally receive 10-15 small one-time gifts and maybe one or two regular monthly donors. When I would sit down to coffee with an individual, not only would seven out of ten of them begin giving on a monthly basis, but the relationship deepened immensely. Their investment became much greater than their financial gift. 

Do not forget to ask

I have listened to many people present their ministry either in church or personally and know there is financial need, but often times have not given for one simple reason—they never actually asked!—I did not know what they specifically needed from ME. I learned this the hard way. I met with a very wealthy relative to share about my ministry—he could have easily covered the entire amount that I still needed to raise. After my presentation he asked, "And how can I help?" I responded with "whatever you are able." A couple of days later I received a check in the mail for $300. If I had asked him specifically for $5,000 he likely would have written the check on the spot, but because I wasn't clear with him he didn't know if I was asking for $100, or $5,000 from him! If I had asked him for $5,000 and he felt he could give $300, he would not have been offended that I asked and I would have been equally grateful. 

Now when I invite others to invest I always explain the total amount I need, how much I have already raised, and I invite them to consider a specific contribution of $25, $50, $100, or $500. Sometimes I ask for one specific amount and other times I may mention three amounts and allow them to respond with how God may lead them. Remember, you do not need to persuade or convince anyone to give; that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Your only responsibility is to clearly present the opportunity

One last thought: Do not forget to say “thank you”. Thank them for their time. Thank them for considering a gift. Thank them when they invest. And then thank them again when you report back about the trip and the results of their investment. 

Helpful Support Raising Resources

People Raising by William P. Dillon

Friend Raising by Betty Barnett

Getting Sent by Pete Sommer