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Where the Money Is

As we head into the fall, catch our breath from the full summer season, and reflect on the direction of our camps and conferences, we must recognize the significant role that giving can play in the budget and pulse of our organizations.

No doubt fund raising is hard work. It can create hassles and headaches before it brings in cash. But it's also essential to the future of our ministries.

Today, we can prepare for tomorrow's donors with the knowledge of trends, behaviors, and methods. We can ready ourselves to tackle this challenge, which comes packaged with a nonprofit ministry, with tools and solutions that will enable us to raise money wisely, relate well to givers, and reinvigorate our ministries.

Read on to discover developments and strategies in the world of fund raising that will equip you to boost your budget-and to touch lives in greater measure.

Preparing today for the donors of tomorrow


A camp will succeed or fail in the future based on its relationships with its donors. That seems like a bold statement to make when you consider that decades of past camping ministry have been all about seeing lives changed and seeing God miraculously provide.

But I believe donors will play an increasingly vital role in the future of your camp or conference. A look at stewardship today, givers' motivations, and the future of development will paint a clearer picture of where donors fit into camping ministry in the years ahead.

Why Do They Give?

As research indicates, motivations for Christian donors are no different than for non-Christian donors. We can no longer assume that someone is giving to the camp just because it is the Lord’s work.” They will respond to some of the same strategies that other nonprofits use, such as relationship building and segmentation.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of biblical teaching in stewardship on churches. Our pastors often teach stewardship as if it is an annual tithe talk or just about church budget. Many are afraid to teach on stewardship as an integral aspect of the Christian faith (2 Cor. 8:7). A recent study by the Barna Research group indicated that only 7 percent of born-again adults gave 10 percent or more of their income to chuches in 2003.

The next generation of givers to ministry will have little, if any, understanding of how stewardship is a component of Paul's teaching to the New Testament church. How, then, will they decide whether or not to view our camps and conferences as ministries worthy of their support?

A great concern to the next generation of givers will be how their giving connects not necessarily to the annual budget, or to numbers, but to the front lines of the ministry. While donors will want to have accountability about spending, what they will really want to know is the return on their investment in kingdom work.

Donors will want their giving to tie to your vision for ministry. And they will ask you to prove that you did make a difference. Ministry measurements will be asked of everyone.

Generation Gaps

Recognizing generational giving is another key to understanding the changes in donating to camps.

The builder generation came out of World War II with faith, a tradition of stewardship, and belief in their leaders. They built many of the camps we have today. Their giving was consistent and faithful-and still is. A study by the Barna Research Group indicated that 93 percent of builders gave to nonprofit organizations in 1999, donating an average of $1,326.

But the boomers came along and wanted everything now. Credit cards, fast food, and customer service are integral to their way of life. Generally, in their giving they are not loyal, struggle with following leadership, and want results tied to their giving. They would rather give locally than nationally or even overseas. Often self-centered, many want to be recognized for their giving. But they do give, according to the Barna research. Boomers donated an average of $1,248 in 1999, despite being the wealthiest of the generations.

The busters, or Generation X, believe the previous generations have messed up everything. They throw out anything traditional, preferring to volunteer before they give. In fact, the Barna study reported that only 21 percent of busters made monetary contributions to non-profits in 1999, with an average yearly donation of $589. Granted, many Gen Xers are not yet in their prime earning years, but they are all about wanting to know if their giving will make an impact. They reject many of the proven marketing strategies; Internet relationships are very comfortable to them.

While boomers and even builders will continue to donate for several more years, we must begin now to prepare the way for Gen X donors.

More Than a Number

Regardless of their generation, donors do not now, nor will they in the future, want to be considered a number on your database. They want their treatment to be based on who they are and what kind of relationships they want with the ministries to which they give.

Donors of the future will want to know that you will listen to them, their opinions, their thoughts, and their concerns. They will expect that you will be donor-focused, just as a business is customer-focused.

This emphasis on the giver should produce a segmented approach to your development strategy. Instead of using the one-size-fits-all system of mailings, special events, or other communication strategies, your donors will need to be divided into various groups so that your messages will be appropriately targeted.

Donors want a relationship with their ministries. Whether they give through a mailing, special event, or personal contact, they want to believe that you really care about them. They want to know that you will listen to them, provide honest communication, and be accountable to them. These are the basics of any relationship. Why should a donor expect anything less?

Solid Leadership

We must respond to our under-standing of future donors' behavior with solid camp leadership. The styles and abilities of tomorrow's leaders must include sensitivity to donors, their characteristics, their motivations, and their role in the future of our camps. Giving individuals will expect leaders who understand who they are and who look at the ministry from a marketing perspective. In other words, we must know the market.

In the past, some ministries have been arrogant and have taken an internal viewpoint. If the board, executive director, and staff thought that the camp should do something a certain way, then it was done that way. No more. The ministry that demonstrates an internal focus in decision-making and communication will likely not succeed in fund raising. The donor of tomorrow will not accept that as good leadership. This is not to infer that leadership by consensus will be the order of the day. but it does mean leaders will need to clearly demonstrate they are connecting with their supporters.

The issue of leadership is complicated by the same generations that influence how donors give. What good leadership looks like a decade from now depends largely on Gen X. Men and women of the builder generation lead in a certain way. The boomers have brought change to management teams and boards. Will busters serve on our boards? Will they volunteer for our development committees and capital campaigns? Will they accept proven development strategies or want to try it their own way?

These generational leadership issues are already being felt in our camps today and will only intensify in the next 5 to 10 years as our builder-age board members and donors retire.


Budget Boosters

With strong leadership, we can begin to determine how tomorrow's financial supporters will affect the bottom line. For the vast majority of camps, the main source of income is camper registrations and guest group fees. In the last couple of decades, registration fees have been increasingly used to cover program costs, and donors have contributed mainly to scholarships, capital campaigns, and the like. Yet according to a recent survey or eel/USA members, we still rely on donors-and. indeed, we may rely on them for a larger percentage of the budget in years to come. Contributions for operations comprise 14 percent of the average camp's income, while guest fees are the source of about 70 percent of a typical camp's income.

Although today many camps use development strategies strictly for extra needs or wish lists, this may not be possible in the future. Depending on the market niche you serve, development support may be needed to balance the budget. We must ask ourselves if the need to keep camp affordable will mean our ministries will require a greater number of gifts from friends and supporters, and then strategize where we will obtain these gifts.


Constant Change

The one constant of the future will be change. We know that technology is modified daily. Our camps must be willing and able to change and adapt to camper and donor needs. And we may have to say no to some changes and deal with the consequences.

The changing issue of donor trends can cause much frustration and even resistance. Are all of these changes biblical and honoring to the Lord? The answer is no. But as with any change we face in ministry, we must ask if we are hesitant because of a genuine issue of character, integrity, or biblical mandate, or if it is merely our slowness or unwillingness to react that will hinder our ministry's effectiveness. We must be wise to know the difference.

Yes, we must hold fast to the truth of God's Word and what He has called us to in the ministry of camping. But we must also understand that the journey of stewardship to which lie calls each believer involves our ministries. When we can connect with donors, their prayer support, and their giving to our camps and conferences, then God will be honored, our organizations will have funds for success, and those who give will be blessed by their relationship with the ministry.