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By Bernardo Sámano

Have you ever faced the challenges money brings when leading a non-profit institution? It has happened to me in various circumstances. The challenge has been always there for me, as pastor, administrator, principal, and recently as a full-time fundraiser. There is a plethora of books that offer the last-minute recipe for fundraising success, but I do not have a magic formula. It would be impossible to say I have the right formula for your specific case. Nevertheless, there are certain basic principles that can work in every case. They are rooted in spiritual principles.

Admit that you do not know what to do. This is easy. However, pretending that you have the solution to every financial problem will limit your ability to explore the many possibilities that exist to help in your particular case. When King Jehoshaphat faced the intrusion of his enemies in Judah’s territory, he agonized before God with the solemn prayer, “We don’t know what to do.”[1] It is okay to acknowledge your limitations. The disciples had been fishing all night. They had failed on their endeavor. Their knowledge or experience was not sufficient. When you admit you do not know what to do, then you can put to work the next principle.

Ask for help. The rest of Jehoshaphat’s prayer was, “But our eyes are upon You.” Fundraising is a spiritual responsibility. Whenever you ask God for help He will guide you and come to your rescue. It was 8 a.m. when the school treasurer came to my office. I knew that something wrong. She asked me “What do I do? We do not have enough money for the upcoming payday. I told her, “I do not know how to solve this, but we can certainly do one thing – pray.” We knelt in my office and asked God for help. By noontime the same day, she approached me again with a smile on her face. “Pastor,” she said, “we got a donation that will help us meet the deadline for payroll, and we have $1,000 extra.”

Acquire the necessary tools, and follow the voice. Like Jesus disciples, if you want to fish, you need a net. There are resources that can provide you with the necessary skills to improve your job. But, we still need to know where to cast the net. Jesus told his disciples to “cast the net on the right side of the ship.”[2] Joining an organization such as the Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP), reading books on the subject of your interest: capital campaign, donor retention, etc. will certainly provide you with lots of tools (nets). It is also important to network with other fundraisers in both the public and private sectors.

You must bring to your side those that have walked the walk before you. This will make a big difference in your fundraising efforts. Philanthropic Service for Institutions coaching has been a great blessing to my ministry. PSI publications, onsite visits, state-of-the-art training and advice for specific situations, have shaped and given direction to my professional experience as a full time fundraiser. If a certain credit card is priceless, I believe PSI expertise is invaluable. I heard someone say that “many of us try to invent orange juice”. Well I have learned PSI discovered orange juice long time ago.

There is a lot to learn, but your ears must be attentive to know where to cast your nets. As a result, the story of the miraculous fishing says, “They were not able to draw the net for the multitude of fishes” they had caught.

Set a plan. What is your mission and vision? Where do you want to put the greatest emphasis in your institution? Is your immediate need to pay off your debts? Is it a building project, setting an endowment, feeding your worthy student fund? Whatever the case, keep in mind the adagio, “Donors do not give to bricks and mortar.” They want to support a vision. With the advice of your immediate supervisor, or board of directors, organize a development committee that will help you with ideas, resources, and direction. Developing your case with an expert’s advice will make possible to reach out to those that will back you up financially.

Stick to the donors’ purpose. This item is crucial. Once I received a call from an upset donor who wanted to know why the school had not paid for the services of a contractor. The institution had received a substantial donation for that specific project. After consulting with the financial administrator, I found out that the money had been used to complement the payroll remittance to the local conference. Of course he had done it without consulting with me – the principal. I decided to visit the donor in person, informed him of my findings, apologized for this embarrassing decision on our end, and assured him that we would honor his donation immediately. After mercifully listening to my speech, the donor smiled and accepted my apology. He surprised me by grabbing his checkbook and writing another check for an equal amount to the one we just had misused. I learned a lesson. If we blow it, we must be transparent, assume full responsibility, and do our best to repair whatever mistake we commit as we act as faithful stewards of the funds entrusted to us. Donors will honor this kind of attitude.

Be ready for the blessings. That specific year was filled with blessings. A generous foundation donated to us a refurbished coach bus. But there was a problem, we did not have money to pay the state taxes and license which were not covered by the donor. We needed $19,000 before moving the new toy. “Providentially” we had received $19,000 dollars to remodel the girls’ dormitory. What a temptation! We could use that money to solve our immediate need. Nevertheless, I approached a donor with the check in my hand and said: “You promised you will help with remodeling the girls’ dorm this coming summer. I got this money from a donor, but I need money to pay for the bus expenses. I can use this money now but I want to be sure you will help us in the summer. I was not sure if my reasoning was correct, or not. But as a result, the donor said, “I will certainly help you in the summer, and please save the donation you just got. I will pay for the taxes and license.” Just as the lame man of the story in Acts, I left that office jumping and praising the Lord.
I began my philanthropic experience “playing it by ear”, and using the simplest tools. After all these years the Lord has proven to be faithful. Yes, I have added to my portfolio several other tools that have been very efficient. But at the end of the day, it has been God who has shown His glory through almost one million and a half dollars brought to His treasury.
Bernardo Sámano has experienced fundraising in his roles as a principal and pastor. Curently he serves as the development director at Calexico Mission School in Calexico, California
[1]2 Chronicles 20:12 The Message
[2] John 21:6