Fundraising, Two Brothers & Fire From The Sky
Updated: Sep 6
Jewish storytellers tell of an incident early in their history where two brothers brought gifts to God. It was the custom that, if the gifts were pleasing, fire would shoot from the sky and consume them (read the story here).
Brother number one brings his gift, sets it down, and very carefully steps back, anticipating the fire-bomb from the sky. BOOM. Fire shoots down from the sky, and in an instant, nothing is left of the gift but ashes and smoke. It was a public demonstration of divine affirmation.
Brother number two brings his gift and very quickly steps back to avoid the fire from the sky.
And he waits. And he waits.
Some people gathered around begin to murmur.
Now, everyone knows that his gift didn't make God happy. It was humiliating. It was public humiliation.
Embarrassed, brother number two, so envious of his brother's apparent success and his so public affirmation, kills brother number one.
What was so different in their gifts? Brother number one gave a more costly gift. His gift, being a shepherd, came from the firstlings of his flock. He kept the old, diseased and lame sheep and gave the strong, young firstlings to God.
But, brother number two, being a farmer, merely gave some produce. You see, he ate and sold the first veggies of the season, the stuff that sold for more. This brother kept the good and expensive stuff and gave the second-rate veggies to God. Here in Georgia, the first watermelons of the season sell for $5 or $6 dollars. But, after the season comes in full, you can buy those same watermelons for a dollar! Brother number two kept the good and expensive stuff and gave the second rate stuff to God.
The Jewish God demanded that first things be carefully noted and given to Him. Celebrating first things is a large part of Jewish storytelling. They celebrated, made a big deal out of, and gave to God:
What might this have to do with fundraising?
Here it is: Successful fundraisers notice and made a big deal out of a person's first steps into their orbit. This is never more evident than when a donor gives for the first time. First things matter supremely!
Fundraising gold nugget: Noticing and celebrating a donor's first steps into your mission will get you more money.
A pastor friend and I recently read through Fusion, by Nelson Searcy. The book is about how Searcy, a fledgling church planter in New York City, began to harness the power of first-time guests at his infant church.
A powerful realization struck Searcy in an extraordinary moment. He began to see his first-time guests as divine gifts that he had failed to notice and celebrate with thankfulness.
Searcy noticed and then dreamed about the people who visited his church for the first time at his church of fifty.
He began to see their first-time visit as a gift that he should notice and celebrate.
He determined that the average number of guests in his church each week was 1.5. "I was struck by the realization that our little congregation could more than double in a year if we were able to keep every first-time guest God was sending us."
"I [began] to realize that my response - or lack of response - to a gift speaks volumes to the giver. What you do with a gift you have received speaks volumes about your level of appreciation." - Nelson Searcy
Fundraising gold nugget: What you do with a gift you have received speaks volumes about your level of appreciation.
Searcy began to dream of what his church would look like if he would make the all-out effort to receive and celebrate these first-time guests as extra unique divine gifts.
What would it look like if he received each guest as a providential gift from God?
Could he, with intentional effort, make a plan that would more honor these guests as divine gifts? Was there a plan his church could follow that would inspire his guests to make that elusive second visit?
With a new perspective of these first-time guests as gifts, Searcy contemplates:
"I have come to understand that receiving a gift always demands some kind of reciprocity. I've also begun to understand that my response - or lack of response - to a gift speaks volumes to the giver." - Nelson Searcy
Fundraising gold nugget: Receiving a gift always demands some kind of reciprocity.
Searcy concludes that not having a well-thought-out plan to integrate his first-time guests into the life of his church was a snub to the giver of these gifts.
"What you do with a gift you've been given speaks volumes about your level of appreciation." - Nelson Searcy
Selah. Pause and think about that.
You should know that today, Nelson Searcy's church has grown into thousands, with campuses all over New York City and Boca Raton.
"My slips have taught me that failing to say thank you to the right people at the right time leads to embarrassment." - Nelson Searcy
What can nonprofits learn from Searcy's journey?
Like Searcy's first-time guests who never returned, most first-time donors never give a second gift. Let me say that again: most first-time donors to nonprofits never give a second gift. In fact, studies tell us that only two out of every ten first-time donors ever give a second gift. That means 80% of your new donors this year will not be donors next year.
MOST FIRST-TIME DONORS NEVER GIVE A SECOND GIFT.
Why is that?
THE NUMBER ONE REASON FIRST-TIME DONORS DON'T GIVE AGAIN IS THAT THEY ARE NOT PROPERLY CELEBRATED.
"How you respond when you've been given a gift - and what you do with the gift itself - proves just how much you really appreciate it." - Nelson Searcy
Fundraising gold nugget: Know how you will thank first-time donors before you ask them to give.
Most fundraisers spend far more time asking and far less time thanking.
PLAN AHEAD. Before you ask, make sure you have brainstormed how you will celebrate donors when they give to your nonprofit for the first time.
Just this week, I was looking over a list of major givers with a client. On the top of their list was a donor who gives five-digit gifts. Looking at his history, we were shocked to see his first gift years ago was $25!
Somehow, this donor felt SO good about his initial gift that he gave again and at a much higher level.
Um... Hello? Major gifts flow from minor touches.
THE biggest giving program globally, Harvard University, has more million-dollar gifts than anyone else in the world. The majority of those givers' first gifts were less than $100. (Read More Here)
Fundraising gold nugget: How You Respond To First-Time Donors Can Determine If They EVER Give Again.
Develop a Welcome Packet
Make a welcome packet that includes:
A welcome letter from you that says a heartfelt thank you and outlines the donor's impact.
A past newsletter
Any other marketing collateral from your nonprofit
Case for Support
Involve your board in the welcoming process.
Get your board to help you write thank-you's to first time donors
Educate your board to the power of celebrating first-time gifts
Give your board great examples of good thank-you notes they can follow
Just recently I gave to a local charity for the first time. I WAS BLOWN AWAY BY THEIR RESPONSE! Kristoff Cohran and Mission 3E responded to my first-time gift with a welcome packet that made me glad I gave and inspired me to give again!! Kristoff has given me permission to share their welcome packet with you. FREE, a gift from me (and Mission 3E!). Use Mission 3E's packet to inspire your own. JUST DO IT!!
I want to see you fully funded!
P.S. Don't miss the free downloads in this post. I am in the process of changing my content servers, so they won't be available shortly.