Contained in the poem, Judge Softly, by Mary T Lathrap, is the familiar phrase, “Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.” It is a poem about knowing and understanding a person by experiencing what they have experienced.
In preparation for cross-cultural ministry, I was taught that it was necessary not only to learn the language of a people but also to learn about their way of life. One of the best ways to get to know and understand people, after learning the language, is to share a meal with them in their home environment.
We were taught that an important key to financial and prayer support for missionary work is relationships. As a pastor, I learned the importance of developing relationships with individual members of the congregation, as well as with people in the community.
Webster’s online dictionary defines “relationship” as, “The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.” Another definition says it this way: “The way in which two or more people or organizations regard and behave toward each other.”
In preparation for my missionary appointment, I was required to take several classes in cross-cultural ministry, fundraising, and communication. I remember one of the teachers, a long-term career missionary in a class discussing fundraising, state three keys in fundraising: Relationship, Relationship, and Relationship.
Developing good relationships with donors is not just about having a goal of raising money. It involves having a heart of genuine concern and being willing to listen to people’s needs, as well as their complaints. It is about ministry! A good relationship involves getting to know people in their environment, remembering where they work, remembering their names, and remembering the names of their children. These are keys to developing long-lasting relationships.
Too many missionaries think it is an obligation for pastors and churches to financially support them. They feel that because they are part of a larger organization, and have been appointed by the organization to be cross-cultural ministers, that individuals and churches are obligated for their financial support. For the donor, it is often quite difficult to invest resources in a ministry or person that is unknown and perceived to be uncaring about the current needs or experiences of the donor. Because there is great competition for charitable donations, it is always a benefit to be well-known by the donor.
Following are some of my ideas that long-term career missionaries and new candidate missionaries might do to improve their relationship with the donors.
- When scheduling services either in person or over the phone, take the time to interact with pastors or mission coordinators. Don’t rush into a request for a service, a meeting, or for support. Ask the church leaders about their families, about their work, and about their ministry. LISTEN to them, be genuine, and allow them time to express themselves. A few minutes on the phone may make a great difference in developing a long-term relationship. Take notes of the conversation, and even if they refuse your request for a service or donation, assure them of your prayers, then make a note to call them back in a few weeks.
- Although not always possible, it is a good idea to attempt to meet with the pastor, mission representative, or perhaps the mission committee before a mission service. Invite them for a meal or for coffee. Always make an effort to pay for the meal or the coffee; don’t expect them to pay for the meeting. Rarely will a pastor or church mission representative allow the missionary to pay for a meal, but when they do, then the missionary should consider it an investment and an opportunity to be a blessing.
- Communication is very important in developing relationships with donors. Print newsletters, donor letters, letters for special gifts, phone calls, digital newsletters, and social media are good tools for effective communication. It is always good to make a personal contact, either through a phone call or personal letter, when there is a new donor, new church donation, or an above normal offering sent to the missionary.
- Follow up communication is also important. Whether there is a donation or not, it is important to maintain contact with pastors and the people with whom one has spoken or made a request. It is not necessary to always personalize a letter or email, but it is most certainly helpful for the relationship, when possible.
- Keep a contact list. Learn and remember names, churches, cities, and states. Impossible? No, not really. Each month, read over your donor list, read through the contact list, and make a note of names from the contact list that is missing from the donor list. I have a list of people who have contributed to our ministry over the past 35 years. It is quite lengthy, but each time I read over the list, I am reminded of their faithfulness and a story that is connected with that donor. Of course, I can’t remember every story and every gift they have given, but I do notice and remember their names when I read over my contact list.
These are not new ideas to long-term career missionaries; they are a way of life. One doesn’t get to be long-term without knowing and practicing some or all of these ideas. I pray these few words will be a blessing and a help to new missionaries and a reminder to veterans. We, as long-term career missionaries, depend on God for our financial, material, and health needs. We also know that God uses churches and individuals to provide needed financial support. The faithful and consistent monthly contribution is the lifeblood of missionary support.