social service

When you hear the phrase “faith-based fundraising,” you might immediately think of churches, congregations, and similar organizations. However, many social service nonprofits operate from a mission filled with faith, often representing collaboration among a variety of supporters, regardless of their particular religious affiliation. We spoke with several colleagues in these nonprofits to learn the opportunities and challenges in this type of philanthropic development. 

One opportunity for professionals in these organizations is building and strengthening relationships, not just with the nonprofit itself, but sometimes making an impact in the faith-lives of their supporters.

“We get to help those associated with this ministry as donors and volunteers to grow their relationship with Christ,” said Bob Hershey, executive director of the Cleveland Pregnancy Center. “We help them in growing in prayer, in their service, in their generosity, and in their knowledge and understanding of the ministry.”

Ashley Brigham, director of operations for Wells of Life, a Christian nonprofit based in California with operations in Ireland and Uganda to provide water wells in rural villages, also said their faith-based mission allows for building deep relationships with donors

“We are included in their personal celebrations and challenges,” Brigham said. “Prayer requests are a common occurrence from our donors.”

In fact, the depth of these relationships often leads to additional gifts to honor the memory of loved ones. Wells of Life launched a memorial well program in 2020, which allows donors to dedicate a well in someone’s memory. 

“With the end of life, many people seek faith and hope,” Brigham said.

In the day-to-day operations of a faith-based social service agency, opportunities also exist to impact the spiritual health of clients, said Erica Boone, executive director of ABC Pregnancy Care Center in Garden City, Kansas. 

“Jesus came to bring life, and not just physical life, but abundant, spiritual life. That is an important aspect of what we do,” Boone said.

For those working in organizations which are affiliated with multiple denominations, the opportunity for professionals to learn is another plus, said Susan Murphy, executive director of Interfaith Action of Evanston, Illinois. 

“I have learned so much about different faiths – how they differ and how much they are alike,” said Murphy, whose organization works with representatives of 41 faith communities in the area. 

Additional ways for these organizations to share their mission and gain visibility exist within faith-based media, such as print publications, radio and television, and social media. 

Just as there are opportunities uniquely available to those working in a faith-based nonprofit, challenges also exist that are different from those faced in secular nonprofits. One challenge can be securing corporate and foundation support.

“Many large companies are hesitant to associate with a nonprofit tied to any sort of religion,” Brigham said. “We have also found the same challenge with grant applications; we are disqualified from many due to being a religious organization.”

For organizations providing client programming from both a religious and secular perspective, like Kingdom Kidz, a puppet ministry based in Central Pennsylvania, the past year has brought an increase in requests for non-religious presentations, said Donna Bridge, founder and fundraising chair. 

Boone added that simply being a faith-based nonprofit can present challenges for fundraising within the community. 

“Because we are faith-based, the nature of what we offer is not seen as a universal good by all,” she said.

2020 also brought challenges to all nonprofits with the COVID-19 pandemic. How did these organizations adapt? Like many secular organizations, creative and virtual fundraising, and an enhanced focus on communication, have been key to success. For example, Kingdom Kidz has shifted to nightly Facebook page presentations in lieu of in-person programming. ABC Pregnancy Care Center worked with a local drive-through coffee shop to implement a day of giving, which they promoted on social media (proceeds were donated and matched by the shop), and they also created a private Facebook group for supporters.

“It’s been a great way to stay in touch and ask for specific prayers and communicate our needs,” Boone said.

Flexibility is key, said Brigham. “Since the future was such an unknown for most of the year, our team worked very hard to keep our messaging as relevant as possible and be flexible with all the changes as they were presented,” she said, adding their organization saw wins with implementing text messaging, enjoying high open and response rates. 

And as before the pandemic, colleagues in these organizations should not be afraid to make the ask, Bridge said. “People are willing to give when they ‘see’ and ‘hear’ what their dollars are doing.”

Keeping the focus on relationships is a top priority, Hershey said. “That goes from the board, to the volunteers, to the clients, to the staff, and anyone associated with the ministry. Each one makes a difference.”

Those interviewed also strongly encouraged colleagues to network with each other, and to not lose faith in the process of fundraising for your mission.

“No matter what challenges are ahead, it is a great reminder why we are all here and the purpose of our organization,” Brigham said.

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Lisa M. Chmiola, M.S., CFRE
Lisa M. Chmiola, M.S., CFRE, has nearly 20 years in philanthropic development experience. She has served in major and planned giving roles in education (public and private) and religious institutions, following initial career experience in event-based philanthropy. An AFP Master Trainer since 2014, Lisa has presented at four AFP International Conferences, and a variety of AFP and other industry association regional conferences, chapter meetings, and webinars. She also serves as an adjunct instructor in Rice University’s Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. As Chief Fablanthropist for Fablanthropy (the intersection of fabulous and philanthropy), she is available for consulting, training, and speaking opportunities. Lisa also is an active volunteer, serving on the board of the AFP New Orleans chapter and the U.S. Government Relations committee for AFP International, a board member of the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners (and past president of the Houston chapter), a sustaining member of the Junior League, and a graduate of Leadership Houston. Additionally, she has co-authored several pieces for AFP’s Advancing Philanthropy magazine. Lisa is the proud mom of Ava, a Mini Schnauzer with her own social media presence (@avalynndog).
Lisa M. Chmiola, M.S., CFRE