RESPONSES TO MIKE TOUPIN’S ARTICLE: RESPONSE II
Editor’s note: In the Spring 2015 issue of JAcL, we published an article by Michael Toupin titled “Characteristics of Major Donors for Bible Translation.” That article reported research showing the relationship between giving and major donor categories based on age, education, marital status, and financial capacity. The most significant finding was that donors with the highest sense of involvement tended to give at the highest levels. Stated another way, those with the highest levels of giving reported the greatest levels of participation in the community of donors associated with the work of The Seed Company (an organization that supports major Bible translation work).
Because of the importance of development work, we invited two individuals who are heavily involved in fundraising to respond to Toupin’s article: Lilya Wagner, Director of Philanthropic Service for Institutions, an internal consulting group committed to Seventh-day Adventist philanthropy; and Albert Reyes, President and CEO of Buckner International, a global Christian ministry that provides humanitarian aid. We were especially interested in adding to the understanding of what makes development work effective. Finally, we also asked Toupin to continue sharing his thinking on the rationale, nature and basic biblical grounding of philanthropic work.
Albert Reyes, Ph.D., is President of Buckner international in Dallas, Texas. Buckner is one of the oldest and most unique faith-based social service organizations of its kind, serving hundreds of thousands of people each year in the United States and around the world. his most recent book, The Jesus Agenda: Becoming An Agent of Redemption, empowers us with the knowledge that as Christ followers we must reconcile conviction with compassion, sanctification with service, and truth with love.
Dr. Michael Toupin has done an excellent job in sharing his story in fundraising and development. His story of the conversation with Jim and Barbara mirrors many of my experiences in fundraising at Buckner international and formerly at Baptist University of the Americas. I have found that when the passion of a donor intersects with the mission of the organization I lead, exciting stewardship emerges. By the same token, I have known very passionate Christian philanthropists with astounding resources that they could contribute to our ministry, but our mission and their passion did not intersect. Dr. Toupin describes a very nice intersection that produced financial resources and kingdom results for the ministry of the Seed company. The work of fundraising, also referred to as development, is a ministry as valid as any other. It requires a keen focus on building relationships and wise stewardship of those relationships for high impact. Several years ago, I was encouraging a young minister to consider this field of ministry. His response to my encouragement sort of surprised me. “No, I am not interested in that type of work,” he said. “I don’t want to become a professional beggar.” I was disappointed that he viewed the work of development in this way. My view could not be further from this perspective. I see development work as stewardship. It is a sacred stewardship of the relationship with the donor and the potential financial resource, as well as the gifts, abilities, and time available from the donor. I see my role in development as solving the challenge of what to do with discretionary and excess resources. Many of the donors I work with see their gifts as “Kingdom investments” and they have an expectation of a return on their investment.
The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it” (2:21, NIV). Wise donors know they must carefully choose how to invest excess resources for Kingdom purposes that may continue producing results after they have passed away. My role is to invite them to be a part of the Buckner international ministry to transform lives and change the world. Far from the idea of begging, I raise a challenge, perhaps even the notion of a calling, to collaborate with us to serve the needs of vulnerable children, orphans, and their families. We are on a mission and we invite generous people who are motivated by their faith to make a difference in the world.
Donors who contribute to Buckner tend to have a deep passion for the well- being of vulnerable children, orphans, and their families. They are compelled by their faith. Donors interested in funding foster care and adoption long to ensure that children who have suffered abuse, neglect, and abandonment have an opportunity to grow up in a healthy family. Donors who fund Family Pathways have a passion for mothers that suffer domestic abuse and violence or find themselves in difficult economic conditions and need a hand up. I have heard countless stories of domestic violence and mothers with very little hope for the future. These strong and brave women turn to Buckner for help, and within two years most graduate from the program with a sense of mission and purpose, an associate degree, and a way to maintain their family finances. Donors who fund families through Buckner Family hope centers have a passion to see the total redemptive potential of a family become reality. These programs fund case managers to plug the gaps in the lives of families to preserve the family unit and prevent the disintegration of the family. In turn, this protects thousands of children from entering the child Welfare System. These programs are found all over texas and in eight countries around the world. Donors joyfully give to these programs because they can see and read stories of redemptive transformation.
Exciting stewardship happens when the passion of the donor and the mission of the organization intersect in the context of a relationship of trust and confidence. Toupin underscored this truth in the Findings section of his article, under the heading “Alignment with Mission and Vision.” Another factor to consider is the personhood of the leader of the ministry and the development leader. Donors tend to give to missional leaders they trust, respect, and in whom they have high confidence. They also give to a compelling vision. A leader who can articulate a clear and compelling vision of the future of the organization and the kingdom impact their ministry will make will usually have success in attracting needed resources. In this article, Dr. Toupin provides a compelling case for support for the Seed company. He clearly states the need, the history, and the future of the Seed company and why generous philanthropy is needed to support his mission.
Finally, one of the basic principles in development is that one tends to obtain the next gift from the same source from which they received the first gift. That is, donors may become repeat contributors if the results they expected are executed with a high level of excellence. At Buckner international, we ensure that our major donors receive a stewardship report annually. This report outlines the impact of their gift and is an opportunity to demonstrate our accountability to the donor; it also sets the stage for an additional request for funding. Additionally, I have found that many donors would support our ministry but have never been asked or invited to do so. Toupin documented the impact of a “Direct request” in his Findings section.
Toupin’s study found an interesting factor referred to as “communities of Participation.” he found this factor to be the single highest discriminant value between donor categories. he also found that when “communities of participation” and the factor of “leadership” were combined, these two factors became the most powerful discriminant between donor levels in this study.
My experience in development at Buckner international and at Baptist University of the Americas confirms this finding. At Buckner, we find that people who tend to financially support our ministry do so because they are compelled by their faith to make a difference in the world. When our donors spend their time with other donors on mission trips, shoe drives, or trips where they place shoes on the feet of children, a sense of unity develops among participants. Relationships develop as they get to know other people who share the same values, vision, and passion through our ministry. In the past 15 years, Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls has collected 3 million pairs of shoes and has shipped them to more than 80 countries to bless vulnerable children. Many of these shoes were carried by volunteers who put the shoes on the children themselves. Many lifelong relationships have been developed within the context of serving “the least of these.”
About twice a year, I lead a group of prospective donors on a vision trip to one of the eight countries where Buckner serves in Africa or Latin America. Most recently, I led a group to Guatemala. I knew all of the prospective donors with the exception of one. however, they did not know each other. We visited Buckner work, government officials, Buckner staff, pastors, and local leaders as well as our clients. By midway through the week, members of this group became acquainted and built friendships.
Recently, I led a group of Buckner donors, friends, and prospective donors to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. global leaders from 130 countries and every state in the United States gathered as guests of the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States. Over a period of three days, we met several senators, members of Congress, chaplain (Admiral) Barry Black (62nd chaplain of the U.S. Senate), as well as ambassadors and government officials from around the world. I invited this group of Buckner friends to enjoy the National Prayer Breakfast but also to engage global leaders on behalf of Buckner during that week. In a matter of three intense days, members of this group became friends, like family. Why? they most likely formed friendships and a sense of community because we formed a community of participation around the mission of Buckner. Their commitment and passion for Buckner ministry grew dramatically in those few days. Several of the leaders who went to the National Prayer Breakfast as my guests made commitments to travel with me on future President’s Vision trips this year, during which I will introduce them, as new prospective donors, to Buckner ministry.
Toupin’s study is an encouraging and wise word to those who serve in development. Few experiences measure up to the joy of inviting donors to support work that makes a Kingdom impact. This is only surpassed by the joy of reporting excellent results and changed lives, and experiencing the joy of faithful stewards who share their resources to bring the Kingdom of God very near in the “here and now” as well as the “yet to be.”