Jim Stigman is Head of Institutional Advancement at Hope Academy in Minneapolis, MN.
“Each one should give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” — I Corinthians 9:7
I want to tell you about cheerful giving. I want to tell you about joy-filled, extravagant, giddy, can’t-wait-to-help, smiling from ear-to-ear, laugh out loud radical generosity. Not the kind of giving where you drip on people until they are so annoyed by you that they finally give you money. Nor the kind where you hold a big event and you invite your friends, and by the end of the event they are just writing checks so that they can get out of there. Not the kind where you probably will never hear from them again, but you made your annual fund goal.
The challenge that you will have as you head into starting a new school is that from the very beginning you have to get your mind right about giving. How is God calling people to give and what does true cheer-filled giving look like? It probably is not what you have experienced, and in many cases it might not be what you are currently doing in terms of development work.
Let me tell you about what is happening at Hope Academy.
This first graph below gives you a picture of the last seventeen years of student enrollment growth, and the number of Partners that have committed to help make this education possible.
We connect students with what we call Sponsorship Partners. These are people who are coming alongside students and are making a major gift on an annual basis to support a student and to make sure that they can receive an education at Hope Academy. Currently, the Partnership amount is $7,000. Some people give $7,000, some people give half of that, and some people give twice that. Some people give five times that because they support five students. But this represents the connection between our enrollment growth and our partnership growth. It is essentially the model that the founding leadership of Hope Academy started with from day one.
The second thing to see is the growth of our tuition and giving.
From day one, 10% of our expenses have been covered by tuition for our operating fund and the other 90% has been money that God has provided through our annual fund. This last year you see a dip in the chart. For some schools that might be a concern. Let me explain our situation. The prior year (2016), the Lord provided $700,000 more than our goal for the annual fund. Then in 2017, we reached our annual fund goal in April, and our fiscal year ends at the end of July. So as of April 2017, we stopped inviting generosity for the current fiscal year and began to focus on the next fiscal year. At the same time, we were also in the middle of our Growing Hope Capital Campaign to prepare our facility to serve 700 students by 2026. As of this writing, the Lord has provided nearly $8.5 million in commitments.
Six Things — A Kingdom Mindset
I want to share with you six things that we believe are radically different about the way that we view Development work and the inviting of financial support for the mission of Hope Academy.
1. Ministry vs. Money
Our job is to love our partners, helping them to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus, discern between worldly thinking and Godly thinking, and become joy-filled givers who are rich toward God.
At Hope, we actually aren’t focused specifically on the dollars. Our job is to love our Partners. I can’t tell you the number of conversations we have with Partners that are not actually about money. It’s about their lives and what’s happening in their families. We regularly pray for our Partners and it’s really a beautiful thing. For us, it is a ministry. It is the ministry of the development work.
2. Abundance vs. Scarcity
Instead of competing with other ministries for scarce resources, we see through the lens of faith, co-laboring with other ministries, and rejoicing when our Partners give to other ministries.
Someone recently reminded me of the verse, “God owns the cattle on a thousand hill,” and they added, “And the hill!” There isn’t competition between our ministry and the ministry down the street. God owns it all! And he owns a lot! He is going to provide how He’s going to provide for His work. Sometimes we will have a Partner who feels Gods calling to do something else. And our response is, “That’s great! I am so glad. Tell me more about that. That is amazing!” That is an abundance mentality for what God has in store for his work.
3. Eternal vs. Earthly Treasures
We help our Partners see the surpassing riches that are being laid up for believers in the age to come, and the vital link between giving and faith.
The Bible says, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to go to heaven.” There is ministry in those words. There is loving people in those words. We want to help people to see the beauty of laying up treasure in heaven. Jesus gives the ultimate advice. He is the ultimate investment advisor when he says, “Lay up treasure.” He doesn’t say don’t lay up treasure, but “Lay up treasure in heaven.” We want people to see that laying treasure in heaven is ultimately what we are hoping to see them do.
4. Solutions vs. Needs
Hope Academy provides a proven solution to the problem of inner city education. We don’t have needs; we have solutions.
We often say that we don’t really have any needs as Hope Academy. But we do have solutions. We believe we have an approach that solves a critical problem in our city.
5. Sustainable vs. Sporadic
We strive to facilitate sustainable funding by linking Partners to the long-term mission and vision of Hope Academy, and by tangibly connecting them with this mission through Partnership with a student.
How do you make it sustainable? This is going to be the biggest challenge you will have, whether you are starting a school or any ministry. How do you not have a situation where you are scrambling year after year – one more bake sale! – to make the annual fund?
We are linking Partners to the long-term vision and mission of Hope by tangibly connecting them with the students. The growth of partners lines up with growth of students. This last year, we added 45 new partners, each of them contributing $7000, $21,000 or $3,500, to support this mission. And these are people who are committed to do that year after year after year, as long as the Lord provides.
6. Team vs. Talent
Sustaining and growing our charitable support is a team effort, drawing upon the talents of several people versus a few talented people doing everything.
This is the idea that you don’t just hire someone who you think is going to be the savior for the financial side of the school. It is a team effort. I’m not just talking about staff. All of our partners know that this is a team effort. We bring someone on a tour of Hope Academy so they understand that they are part of a team that’s going to help to make this mission happen. We ask a partner to bring someone to an evening event at Hope Academy so they understand that they are part of the team to introduce someone to Hope. In the fall we have a group of kindergarteners that do not have partners and we know that God will have to bring partners for them. So we ask our existing Partners: Will you help us to find partners for them? They are part of this team.
Seven Practical Tips
In addition to the six development mindsets above, here are seven practical things to understand about our particular approach to development at Hope Academy.
1. Warm Tours vs. Cold Calls
We invite others to experience Hope Academy during a one-hour monthly experience called a Tour of Hope. Each month we hold a tour of Hope. We invite people to invite people. People join us, they are on-ramped to the vision and they hear about our mission. We haven’t made one cold call. We are a school – we do show and tell! Bring people to the school so they can see what’s happening, and be spurred on to radical generosity.
2. Invite vs. Cajole
We follow up with tour attendees by asking, “Do you see yourself getting involved in a particular way?” And then engaging them as they have requested. If they say, “I would love to learn more about becoming a Partner for a student,” we say, “That’s great!” If they say, “I would like to be a volunteer,” we say, “That’s great!” If they say, “I don’t really feel like I’m supposed to be involved,” we say, “That’s great! God bless you.” That is the response. There is no begging or cajoling people, no compulsion.
3. Partners vs. Events
Since the vast majority of our families have a financial need, we seek sponsorship Partners for each student, and a handful of larger supporters to help fill the gap.
A lot of organizations get into a cycle of fundraising events, thinking if we just had another big event maybe we could raise a couple hundred thousand more for the annual fund. But it is a time intensive effort to try to do event after event after event. Our focus is on keeping people engaged with our Partnership model.
4. Meaningful Contacts vs. Bulk-Rate Mailings
We purpose to make two or three personal contacts with each partner during the year. Instead of the dripping concept, thinking if we just drip on them enough eventually they will give, we focus in on someone that has indicated an interest. If they want to be a Partner or a day sponsor or a volunteer, we do our best to build a meaningful connection with them. It is not about us, it is about connecting them with the mission of the school, getting them involved in the classroom by teaching kids how to read, or coming back for an event. We have Partner Day events twice a year where our Partners are invited to reconnect with our mission and spend time in the classroom with the student that they support. That is part of the meaningful connection.
5. Master vs. Methods
While we follow a defined development process of planting and cultivating, we trust the Master for the growth, not the methods.
We are not remarkable. It is not about the methods, it is not about all the clever ways we put together a development calendar and pull it together. We keep our eyes on Jesus. We are certainly doing some work – we plant some seeds, and pull some weeds, and water some things, but He’s ultimately bringing the harvest. The moment you forget that is a challenging moment indeed.
6. Stories vs. Programs
We believe that programs don’t help people, but people help people. The best messaging involves stories around those people, and how they are changing people, and the people that are being changed. Storytelling is a critical part of this.
7. Dependence on Him vs. Dependence on Them
We strive to express appropriate, timely, and frequent gratefulness for the financial gifts of our Partners and supporters, mindfully pointing to the ultimate provider of every good and perfect gift.
We are very careful not to thank people too much, yet we want to thank people appropriately. Here is the interesting thing that happens over and over: we are thanking someone, and what do they say to us?
“No, thank you. Don’t thank me. Thank you! I am so honored to have gotten involved. I didn’t even know about this. Thank you.” And that is a beautiful result.
Note: If you are interested in learning more about starting a new God-centered school for the children of your city, apply for our fellows program by clicking here.