We Can’t Afford That!

Written by Dr. Bryan Easley

Head of School | Midland Valley Christian Academy

I’m not a fundraiser! Most of us have said that at one point or another in our educational career. Perhaps you’re convinced that fundraising isn’t your gift and not something you are good at doing. The challenge is that as leaders of Christian schools, we must be, by definition and by necessity, fundraisers. In fact, we are the chief fundraiser in our school. Sooner or later, every Christian school must raise money if it is going to survive and thrive. Whether that be for shoring up annual budget deficits, expanding and enhancing programs, or building new buildings, raising money is a necessary part of our school’s long-term future.

Raising money is hard and takes training, hard work, and experience. In over 20 years of Christian leadership and education, I’ve learned that success in fundraising begins with how we think about the task. If we see it as a necessary evil, we’ll likely never embrace it enough to experience the success we want. On the other hand, one fundamental task of leadership is managing our resources to accomplish the vision and mission God has given us. In other words, stewardship.

Approaching fundraising as a leader’s stewardship can bring about joyful success in fundraising for our school. Biblically speaking, fundraising is a form of leadership that joins together God’s work and God’s people for the sake of the kingdom. Seen this way, fundraising means the privilege of being a divinely placed conduit between the redemptive work of Christian education and the people whom God has blessed with wealth and a call to invest.

Let me offer three realizations that have fundamentally changed the way I think about fundraising in Christian education. These are not necessarily new or earth-shaking insights, but together provide a powerful reminder of the eternal significance of the task of Christian education. How we think about fundraising grows out of what we think about our vocation.

First, the school is God’s, not ours. The cultivation of a biblical worldview and the rightly ordered love of God and his world is what makes Christian education distinctly unique. We all recognize that a school provides overwhelmingly more opportunities for discipleship than almost anything. Because we see students as made in the image of God, most Christian schools emphasize the development of the whole person, body, mind, and soul. Accordingly, our schools are outposts of God’s kingdom to our communities. They do not belong to us, our administration or faculty, or our churches. Rather, they are God’s, and he has entrusted us with the responsibility and privilege of running the school. The very work of a school is a matter of stewardship because it is of eternal significance to God.

Second, the vision is to be God’s, not ours. If this is God’s work, God has a vested interest in that work bearing fruit and bringing about transformation in our students. God wants things, including our schools, to grow, bloom, and flourish. Being good stewards means putting ourselves daily in a place where we prayerfully discern and then act on God’s vision for our school. God’s vision, like our Christian witness, is not to be hidden away. Lift it up so all people can see what God is doing! Long before any conversation about money, fundraising begins with a passionate embrace of what we see God wanting to do. Our pursuit of God’s vision for our schools should be powerfully compelling and shared with others.

Third, the money is God’s, not ours. God does not call us to a task only to leave us on our own to figure out how to fulfill it. Throughout Scripture, God promises to faithfully provide for what he commands! If this is God’s vision at work in our school, the resources needed to realize that vision belong to and come from God. He already has the resources and people in place we need to accomplish that calling. Our job is to obediently and faithfully invite others to invest their God-given money in God’s vision.

Our approach to fundraising must rest on a biblical understanding of stewardship. Like the man with the one talent in Jesus’s parable (Matthew 25), we shouldn’t financially think and act primarily out of thrifty caution. Simply put, Christian schools do not save (low rates, low salaries, bare-bones expenses) themselves into financial health and growth. We might avoid losing the money, but we haven’t produced a return! Instead, biblical stewardship is about wisely investing – and giving others the opportunity to invest – for maximum return of the master’s money. And God’s vision for growth and fruitfulness requires such financial growth.

Here are 4 things that will maximize our returns through fundraising.

1. Tell compelling stories that show how God is moving and the difference our school is making in the lives of our students. People want to invest in things that make a difference and are going well. Fundraising is storytelling.

2. Build relationships with donors of all giving levels, including large-capacity donors, to offer them the opportunity to learn about your school and become a part of that story themselves. Regardless of giving level, people give to things they care about and are convinced are worth it. Fundraising is friend-raising.

3. Invite those donors to invest in the vision and work of your school to help it become even more abundant and fruitful! Celebrate and thank them for their support when they do give. Help those donors know they matter! Fundraising is opportunity-giving.

4. Ensure that resources, strategic plans, and financial and operations are wisely built for growth and longevity. We need to demonstrate that we’re a good investment. Our financial policies lead to long-term sustainability, not just making budget. Our community knows who and where we are. (Don’t be the “best-kept secret” in your town!) Instruction and operations use up-to-date technologies. Our buildings, even if older, are well-kept and presentable. Our staff is trained and professional. We balance program and faculty growth with meaningful financial assistance to families. And we have partnerships that help us excel at all the above. Fundraising is future-securing.

Do you want God to really pour his blessings out on your school? Change the way you see and think about fundraising. Instead of the first question always being “can we afford that?” start with asking God to show you his big vision. And then ask him for his help to step out in faith towards that vision trusting him to give the resources he already has in place. Not recklessly, not foolishly, but prayerfully and passionately. After all, our schools belong to God, and he wants to grow them using us!