Meeting the challenges of faith-based fundraising

Chatting Fundraising with David Lawson, Christian World Service, MFINZ
By Eleanor Cater

Christian World Service was formed in 1945 from the Churches in New Zealand which were aligned with the World Council of Churches. Today it's the official emergency aid, justice and development agency of many Churches including Anglican, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Currently Christian World Service's main income is from a Christmas appeal that many churches and individuals respond to. The first appeal was a whopping 75 years ago, where donors responded to a call to help refugees entering Greece after World War II. Currently their income is around $1.7million, and this is used overseas in around 20 countries in many areas including providing clean water, health, food security, AIDS care, and refugee settlement. The charity receives a small amount of MFAT government funding.

David Lawson joined Christian World Service in October 2014 to help build relationships with church leaders and major donors in the business world (particularly in Auckland where, he says, their profile was not strong).

He says that Christian World Service has a relatively traditional income portfolio. "This is made up of direct mail, regular giving, wills and bequests, disaster response, our Christmas appeal, and some special events." They know their donors; 60% female and 75% of them are over 65 years of age. Their annual Christmas appeal is their biggest income source, however this income has been slightly reducing over the past few years. "This is a reflection of the age of our donors and that 80% of our donors are from the mainline churches in New Zealand. Numbers attending church are declining, they are mainly older. Our challenge for the future, is how to grow a new, diverse donor base."

David says that one of the main benefits of an older constituency is the wills and bequests potential. "Our income from gifts in wills is between $50k and $300k, depending on the year. We see many organisations are puttin a lot of effort and resource into this income stream and we are also starting to do the same, revamping our programme with a new bequest video." The short film clip will be fronted by Chris Nichol from 'Praise Be' on Sunday mornings (TV One).

As part of Christian World Service's strategic plan they identified the need to diversify their income with new donors from the 'Post Church' generation. In June 2016 they piloted a new programme called Operation Refugee, the concept was to live off the rations of a Syrian Refugee for five days and get people to sponsor participants. The money raised supported Syrian refugees who were living in Lebanon and Jordan.

The charity had 75 people registered to undertake the challenge, and 80% of these were new supporters. The programme raised $39,800 David says that 547 people donated through their friends, and 73 of those opted in to receive further information from Christian World Service. "The return on investment from the challenge was 1:6.5; we are still analysing the results but the potential is huge to bring in a younger, new to our charity, social media savvy audience."

David believes that faith-based organisations could face an uncertain future, for a number of reasons. "Many organisations are fishing in the same pool for their income and this pool is shrinking. As New Zealand moves from sacred to secular, adherence to faith is declining, more people identify themselves as having no religion. Church attendance is declining generally and those that are in church on a Sunday are generally older. Those in older church buildings are facing increasing costs in maintenance and earthquake compliance, this is forcing churches to close or amalgamate."

"Fundraising has changed as society has changed in its diversity in many areas. As technology has changed, the world is only a click away on our phone. There are now business partners that can do your telephone campaigns, trust applications, provide lead generation etc. For smaller organisations the upfront costs of these services can be prohibitive... as I started in my career I did a lot of these things myself!"

David says, however, that basic tenet of fundraising has not changed. "Building relationships with people and inviting them to participate in something bigger than themselves. This gives life significance for both the donor, and those receiving."

So what is the biggest challenge? David says, "In my opinion the biggest game-changer is getting people who have donated to your organisation into a regular giving programme. This gives an organisation sustainable growth."

David Lawson's career began as a Laboratory Technician and moved to managing a financial service brokerage for Tower Insurance. He joined the Board of Tear Fund in 1990 and in 1993 went to work there to help them with their Child Sponsorship Programme. He moved on to being CEO "and everything else you do in a small organisation". In 1994 he completed a FINZ 101 Training Course, 'The Principles and Techniques of Fundraising', and from there has continued fundraising management in the not-for-profit sector, working mainly with Christian organisations. David is currently a FINZ Board member.

Meeting the challenges of faith-based fundraising



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