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.

This is the second of two articles connected to research around major financial donors who give to the cause of Bible translation through the Seed Company. Published in the Spring 2015 issue of JACL, the first article began with the story of Jim and Barbara, whose lives were transformed through their giving. The sense of transformation they experienced is not uncommon—it is a value worth striving toward in the work of development. It reminds me of two other families whom, for the sake of anonymity, we will simply call the Smiths and Johnsons.

We had come to know the Smiths through the Johnsons, who were already significant donors to the cause. In the Seed company, the most prolific way we have met new major donor prospects is clearly through existing major donor peers. The Johnsons had introduced many of their peers to the ministry of Bible translation, and this introduction was a natural extension of those connections. The relationship between the Smiths and Johnsons underscores the value of friendship and community in the world of financial development.

The Smiths were responsible for inherited and earned wealth. They were not new to the world of business or charitable giving, nor were they naïve in either area. After learning about the cause and meeting key leaders of the Seed company, they became significant partners with the organization, providing the proverbial gifts of “time, talent and treasure” to the work. The opportunity to make a difference seemed important to them, and their investment of “treasure” quickly surpassed the $100,000 level. Then, after becoming donors themselves, they went on to introduce the work to their sphere of friendships.

The Smiths’ connection to the ministry seemed deeply meaningful to them. Their involvement had moved beyond any sense of transaction into the realm of transformation. Further, they identified with the work at a core level, using inclusive language of “we” and “us” when talking about the organization.

Discussions with them were also profoundly spiritual. We had a revealing meeting with the family soon after they committed their first $100,000. the meeting took place over a meal at their country club’s dining facility. Early in the discussion, we shared a report about the impact of their gifts. They were visibly moved; Mrs. Smith was choking back a waterfall of tears. We began to express our gratitude, but Mrs. Smith interrupted the report: “No, please don’t thank us. It should be the other way around. We should be thanking you for giving us the opportunity to join God in what he is doing through this ministry.”

We agreed together that the best plan of action was for all of us to simply thank god for letting us serve together. The Smiths have given time, major financial gifts, and significant organizational benefits through their business. Over the years, we’ve come to realize that they feel closer to God as they reach out to others through the ministry. They feel a sense of personal impact, growth in their spiritual life, and identification with the cause. They feel that their lives have been transformed, even as Bibleless communities are being impacted. As we will see, hearts tend to follow treasure.

Fundraising as Ministry
Schervish and Whitaker (2010) point out that wealthy individuals are motivated to give for reasons that are spiritual, but not necessarily religious in the sense of being the obligation of a particular religious activity (Schervish, 2012; Schervish & Whitaker, 2010). The idea of ministry connected to major donors through fundraising may therefore extend beyond organized religion; it may include a spiritual component, whether done in a particularly religious context or not.

However, having said this, the Bible explicitly encourages Christians to give through personal and organized aspects of their faith. They are to give for the care of the poor, widows, orphans, and the sick; to feed the hungry; to provide help for the imprisoned; and to support religious aspects of the faith related to worship, mission and discipleship (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; 6:1-7; 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 9:1-18; 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9; Luke 10:7; 1 Tim. 5:18; Gal. 6:6; Rom. 15:24; and Phil. 4:10-20). These verses related to stewardship are not isolated topics in the New Testament; rather, this understanding flows directly from Jesus’ emphasis on the subject. As Grimm (1992) reminds us, Jesus spoke more about stewardship in the gospels than any other topic:

If we were to strike the comments of Jesus about money, we would reduce his teaching by more than one-third. Sixteen of Jesus’ approximately thirty-eight parables dealt with money. One of every seven verses in the first three gospels in some way deals with money. In fact, Jesus spoke about money more than about any other single subject, except the kingdom of God itself. Perhaps this was because Jesus understood how money itself can become a God. His assertions, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt 6:24) and, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:21) indicates his awareness of the preemptive role played by money in the lives of people. (p. 19)

The practice of personal philanthropy in today’s Christian culture is frequently described as stewardship (Jeavons & Basinger, 2000). Psalm 24:1 reminds us that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (NLt). The concept of biblical stewardship is derived from the premise that God, as creator, owns everything in the universe (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1-4) and that we, as his creatures designed to reflect his image, are responsible to manage creation for the greater good. In this sense, Christians do not act as owners but rather as stewards of God’s possessions, sharing his joy in the process of giving.

Numerous Christian authors attribute a ministry-type of transformation that occurs within individuals who participate in the area of stewardship (Gravelle, 2014; Grimm, 1992; “The Lausanne Movement,” 2011; Lindsay & Wuthnow, 2010; Nouwen, 2004). Willmer (2008) defines this transformational process as a five-stage pathway to generosity that begins when individuals acknowledge their own nature and ultimately, through a process of growth, reflect Christ’s nature of generosity (see table 1). From this premise the apostle Paul admonished Christians in Corinth to strategically follow through in their pledges to give financial aid toward the needs of poor believers in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 9:7-15).

Notably, within this passage, the apostle Paul describes giving as ministry. The connection between givers and ministry reveals the spiritual importance of giving for both the donor and the fundraiser. Jeavons and Basinger (2000) reflect this scriptural admonition when they say that Christian fundraising “must also be concerned about nurturing the spiritual life and participation in a spiritual community, out of which generosity may grow” (p. 34), and that fundraisers “should be creating relationships with donors wherein the act of giving can become for the donors an occasion both to feel and to celebrate their faith, their sense of God at work in their lives” (p. 35).

Author Henri Nouwen (2004) was emphatic about the connection between fundraising and ministry, as expressed in a sermon with family friends which was converted into a booklet after his death. Nouwen spoke to the spirituality of fundraising:

As a form of ministry, fundraising is as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry . . . . Fundraising is a very rich and beautiful activity. It is a confident, joyful, and hope-filled expression of ministry. In ministering to each other, each of us from the riches that he or she possesses, we work together for the full coming of God’s Kingdom. (pp. 6, 47)

I agree wholeheartedly with the authors above. You may recall the experience of Jim and Barbara in the preceding article (Toupin, 2015), or the Smiths and Johnsons from this article. Their stories are not unique among major donors. They demonstrate the kind of joyful spiritual growth that many stewards experience. The activities around stewardship can also provide a joyful experience for the organizations that serve them. Jim and Barbara, the Smiths, and the Johnsons all felt That they were given a precious gift from God through their stewardship. Ministry-based organizations have the privilege of serving these major donors in their journey of faith. This reality has led me to define the ministry of development as a focus on financial stewardship in which we help connect God’s people to God’s work in godly ways.

Starting Well—Growing Well
Several implications for enhancing development practices for organizations arise from the findings recorded in my first article (Toupin, 2015). First, the leaders in the organization should start with an honest assessment of their philosophy for development. Do they see the work of development as a genuine act of ministry and treat it with that kind of priority? Or do they view it simply as a means to a desired end? Serving from a solid biblical foundation will enhance the experience for everyone concerned.

Next, given the high value for communities of participation, organizations should consider staffing their development team with individuals who have specific gifts or skill sets in the area of building community around the major donor segment. Whether it is development representatives, event specialists or other staff, it seems that an immediate enhancement to development programs will be realized by hiring and training staff to help build community.

The “cultivation cycle” (Smith, 1993), perhaps the best known and most frequently adapted approach to donor relationships practiced by nonprofit organizations, is based on the “Five I’s”: identification, information, interest, involvement, and invitation (see Figure 1). customization of the approach provides numerous opportunities to enhance your development service.

Identification is the first need when starting a development program. Organizations must identify a significant pool of major donor prospects in order to grow the donor base. My study (Toupin, 2015) reveals that high-level donors tend to leverage their influence to invite others into the experience. Programs that promote peer-to-peer introductions between major donors should be an ongoing priority for the organization. The options for improving your identification strategy range from development representative training to ambassadorial programs specifically designed to attract peer-to-peer prospecting and acquisition. The organization’s public relations materials can also focus effectively on the community experienced between donor peers.

The information aspect of the cultivation cycle requires gathering of demographic data and interests for each major donor. Development representatives can provide great value through sensitive queries around donors’ concerns and perceptions of the organization and its practices. Documenting these insights along with publicly available information is essential. Conversely, managing information flow to prospects and donors in light of their preferences will help build donor participation and passion.

Qualifying donors’ and prospects’ interest is the next step in the cycle. it is important to determine their interest in the organization as a whole as well as its specific programs. The organization’s relationship managers should be trained and encouraged to seek and document appropriate insights during purposeful visits and conversations with the donor. Ambassadors may also be trained to listen for clues as to the interests of their peers. The interest of donors and prospects must be qualified not only in terms of programs, but in terms of how they prefer to make their contributions. Some will appreciate the face-to-face approach more than others. Some will appreciate the opportunity to give through events more than others. The target should be to learn as much as possible within a healthy relationship.

The next step in the cultivation cycle is involvement. It seems that we touch on this aspect in almost every consideration of the work. Involvement provides a first-hand sense of knowledge and experience with the organization. An organization has a great opportunity to promote a mutually transformational relationship through shared experiences. In practical terms, this could mean developing meaningful programs to let prospects and donors see and experience the organization’s work in a variety of settings. These programs should include additional training for peer-to-peer and ambassador-type programs, with an intentional focus on events and activities that promote a sense of community. The variety of events should include many that are not specifically for fundraising, but rather for relationship building and exploring the qualification of the interest. The effectiveness of these approaches should be measured, with a particular focus on acquisition of new qualified prospects. The idea is to build an environment for healthy relationships between the organization and its donors as well as between the donors and their peers.

the final step in the cultivation cycle is the invitation to make a financial contribution. My study (Toupin, 2015) revealed that higher-level donors appreciate the value of direct requests as well as the possibility of leveraging donations through matching gift programs. Two effective approaches for the invitation are face-to-face requests and requests made in the context of a major donor event. Obviously, it would be wise to provide team training in both approaches.

In summary, the cultivation cycle represents a continuous pattern of growth for the donor’s relationship with the organization. giving generally occurs after the potential donor becomes attracted to the work and involved at some level. Generosity tends to grow over time as awareness and involvement increase. At this point, the passionate donor is often excited about introducing the organization to peers, which provides the most powerful context for new donor acquisition. The end result is a sense of active identification and involvement with a community of peers who share a similar passion for the cause.

For the organization that seeks to conceptualize and implement these practices, a primary focus should be to aggressively build programs that enhance a sense of community among major donors. These programs do more than build donor involvement; for many major donors, the programs provide a platform for deepening their experience of the other key attributes revealed in my study. Hearts tend to follow treasure. Friends tend to link arms with friends. Ministry and deepening spiritual life take place for everyone involved: the organization, the recipients of the organization’s services, and the unique giving community which propels the work forward.


  1. Gravelle, G. (2014). The age of global giving: A practical guide for donors and funding recipients of our time. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.
  2. Grimm, E. (1992). Generous people (H. Miller, Ed.). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
  3. Jeavons, T. H., & Basinger, R. B. (2000). Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  4. The Lausanne Movement. (2011). A confession of faith and a call to action. retrieved from
  5. Lindsay, D. M., & Wuthnow, R. (2010). Financing faith: Religion and Strategic Philanthropy. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 49, 87-111.
  6. Nouwen, H. (2004). The Spirituality of Fundraising. The Estate of Henri Nouwen. Retrieved from
  7. Schervish, P. G. (2012). Religious Discernment of Philanthropic Decisions in the age of Affluence. IN D. H. Smith (Ed.), Religious Giving: For love of God (pp. 125-146). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  8. Schervish, P. G., & Whitaker, A. K. (2010). Wealth and the will of God: Discerning the use of riches in the service of ultimate purpose. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  9. Smith, G. T. (1993). The Cultivation and Moves Management Concept. Paper presented at a seminar sponsored by the Institute of charitable giving, Chicago, IL.
  10. Toupin, M. (2015). Characteristics of Major Donors for Bible Translation. Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, 9 (1), 41-55.
  11. Willmer, W. K. (Ed.). (2008). Revolution in Generosity: Transforming Stewards to be Rich Toward God. Chicago, IL: Moody. 

Mike Toupin has served with Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Seed company for nearly 30 years. His service has spanned numerous areas in Bible translation, adult literacy, major donor fundraising, and organizational leadership.

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