The 5 Phases of the Faith-Based Supporter Lifecycle

June 21, 2017 Joe Garecht

Most faith-based organizations rely on supporters to fund their work.  Many organizations of faith don’t think of their supporters as “donors,” though.  Churches and dioceses think about “members,” while religious schools think about “students,” “families,” and “alumni.”  Other faith-based organizations talk about “donors,” but wonder about how to solicit donations while still honoring their higher calling.

Whether you are a place of worship, school, or other organization of faith, the truth is that you have donors, and you rely on them to keep carrying out your mission and vision.  Your congregation, the families who send their children to your school, and the supporters of ministry are all potential donors for your organization.  I have found that every donor to faith-based organizations follow a similar supporter lifecycle… and that it is important to understand that lifecycle in order to implement faith-based fundraising ideas that raise the money your organization needs to thrive.

The 5 phases of the faith-based supporter lifecycle:

Step #1: Getting to Know You

The first step in the supporter lifecycle is where the donor is getting to know you, and you are getting to know the donor.

For places of worship, this is the phase where a potential member attends services for the first time, or comes occasionally, while still attending another parish most weekends.  For schools, this is where the family takes a tour and starts looking at enrolling their children.  For other faith-based organizations, this is where the prospect first comes into contact with you through a referral, non-ask event, or other means.

Step #2: Getting Involved

The next step in the supporter lifecycle is where the donor starts to get involved with your organization, and you work to cultivate the donor and build a relationship with them.

For places of worship, this is the phase where the person/family officially becomes a member of your congregation.  For schools, this is where the family registers their children to attend.  For other faith-centered organizations, this is where the prospect volunteers, signs-up for your e-mail newsletter, or joins a committee.

Moving from the “Getting to Know You” phase to the “Getting Involved” phase often takes work on the part of the organization.  Many faith-based organizations don’t do a good job of asking people who express an interest in their mission (Step #1) to get involved (Step #2).

Step #3: First Gift

The next step in the supporter lifecycle is where the donor, who has gotten involved with your organization, makes their first contribution.

For churches, this is the phase where the person/family puts a check in the collection basket or signs-up for online giving.  For schools, this is where the family makes a donation to a fundraiser at the school (not when they pay tuition… that’s not a donation, that’s fee for service).  For other faith-focused organizations, this is where the prospect makes a donation via an in-person ask, online, in response to an appeal letter, through an event, or by any other means.

It is important to understand that most people won’t give unless they are asked.  While many church-attenders will put a donation in the basket without being specifically asked to do so, they won’t give as much as they otherwise could unless you make stewardship of time, talent and treasure the focus of a direct ask.  This ask can be done one-on-one or from the pulpit.  School families and supporters of other organizations generally won’t give at all unless you make a direct ask (in-person, online, through the mail, or by any other means).

Step #4: Donor Stewardship

The next step in the supporter lifecycle is the donor stewardship process.  This is the phase where your organization seeks to build an ever-stronger relationship with the donor.  You do this by thanking and recognizing them for their gift, communicating with them on a regular basis, and making sure they stay up to date on your activities.

For churches, this includes sending out thank you notes to your donors (most places of worship do not do this for weekly givers… even on an annual or quarterly basis) and staying in touch with them through an e-mail newsletter.  For schools, this means recognizing your donor families in a special way and communicating with them on a regular basis outside of regular school communications.  For other faith-focused organizations, this means using newsletters, phone calls, and other methods to stay in regular contact with your donors.

Step #5: Major Gifts & Donor Evangelism

The fifth and final step in the supporter lifecycle is asking your donors for major gits and turning them into donor evangelists for your organization.  Major gifts can include large leadership type gifts, donations to specific campaigns, and planned gifts to your organization.  Donor evangelism means that your donors are so motivated by your mission and vision that they actually go out and tell their friends and colleagues about your place of worship, school, or organization, and encourage those in their network to get involved.

Most faith-centered organizations never reach this step, because successfully entering this phase requires your organization to make personal asks to your members, families, and donors. In order to receive a major gift or to get referrals to new members, students, or donors, you will need to sit down with your donors and ask them to make a gift or introduce you to their network.  Don’t skip this step!  The most successful organizations of faith (including churches!) ask for major gifts and referrals, and do so in a way that honors both their mission and the deeply held beliefs of their donors.  You can too!

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