While faith-based community foundations are commonly affiliated with their faith leaders and have a shared mission to serve their community, many foundations question how to engage these influential leaders in their philanthropic activities.
Faith leaders often become familiar with the work of faith-based community foundations when partnering with nonprofits that have received a grant from a foundation or through lending relationships. Although the step from familiarity to engagement can be challenging, enlisting these trusted and respected leaders to help build donor relationships can have a significant impact.
One of the primary ways congregation leaders can support your foundation’s activities is through storytelling, an integral component in every step of the constituent journey. By sharing examples of impact and helping connect donors to your foundation, faith leaders can play a vital role in your foundation’s successful grantmaking, endowment creation, and donor-advised fund development.
Many donors are inspired by past examples that demonstrate the impact of giving. As gifted storytellers and trusted figures, congregation leaders are uniquely qualified to share the tangible results of many types of opportunities, including endowments, through their regular contacts and conversations.
Some foundations have proactively created endowments to streamline the process once someone decides to give. In one example, a faith-based community foundation opened endowments with zero balances for all of the parishes in a diocese. Recognizing the long-term benefits, some of the parishes developed an initiative to increase the offertory and then dedicated the additional funds to seeding the new endowments.
Estate planning is an important element of endowment building. When discussing estate planning, it is particularly helpful to use past examples to communicate the value of gifts that live beyond a donor’s passing. Your foundation can enable faith leaders to help share these stories by providing guidance and examples they can share with potential donors. Explain how today’s needs can be met and supported in perpetuity by a donor’s legacy, and share examples of how the church is stronger today because people who have passed on are still giving as they were in the past.
Scholarships and Memorials
Faith leaders may have a deeper understanding of what will resonate with individual donors based on their circumstances. Faith leaders who understand a donor’s motivations and your foundation’s opportunities can help create connections between the two and build an important basis for the donor-foundation relationship. This is especially true for scholarships and memorials.
For example, a faith leader helped introduce a gentleman in his congregation to a faith-based community foundation when the man expressed interest in honoring his son-in-law after his passing. The foundation helped him start an endowment in his memory. He used an IRA to fund an annual scholarship awarded on his son-in-law’s birthday. Every year, the gentleman shares a link on social media so others may contribute in his memory.
His message explains that if his son-in-law were still alive today, he’d be going out for a drink with those who knew him—so why not give that amount towards the scholarship? Through his personal story, the donor is promoting both his scholarship fund and the foundation that manages the endowment.
Events can be another important point of connection, providing a space for direct partnership and communication between faith leaders, community foundation leaders, invited congregants, and the community at large. Ideas for events may include hosted scholarship award ceremonies or competitive grant celebrations. By including congregation leaders, recipients, and the larger community, the event provides a perfect venue for sharing the inspiring stories that engage donors and help them develop a deeper understanding of the foundation’s mission. Events also provide an opportunity for foundation team members to build personal relationships with potential donors.
Smaller-scale events inspired by unique giving opportunities are also effective. For example, one foundation held multiple check granting ceremonies with recipients and foundation board members. The small events were built around a program that allowed the board members to give dollars to nonprofits and churches they identified as needing support. Being directly and personally involved from the funding decision to the check presentation can motivate both faith leaders and community foundation board members to become more active.
While foundations are great at providing funding, they aren’t always as good at sharing the results.
Communicating about your foundation’s impact can be as simple as providing an update in your newsletter (or the newsletter of a faith organization) about an individual impacted by a program featured at a foundation event.
There may also be opportunities to amplify your story through press coverage. For example, one foundation made a grant to a school program for children with developmental learning differences. Though it was a smaller dollar amount, the foundation highlighted the grant in a press release to local news stations around the time of Giving Tuesday. The resulting news stories created more community interest and outreach from other religious school leaders interested in starting the same program.
It is important to tailor your approach to storytelling and the communication channel (i.e., newsletter, traditional media, social media) to the story itself. Consider which channel could help generate an appropriate level of demand for the funds available, reach under-resourced organizations, or welcome different voices.
Your faith-based organization and faith leaders share a mission to serve your community. Building a partnership with these leaders and engaging them in your foundation’s philanthropic activities can help you both achieve your goals. Taking the time to educate these leaders about your foundation’s opportunities and thoughtful stewardship, as well as sharing impact stories that they, in turn, can share with their congregations, can help them create important connections between your foundation and potential donors. Once you have made that leap from familiarity to engagement with faith leaders, you can work together to maximize your foundation’s impact through successful grantmaking, endowments, scholarships and memorials, events, and other opportunities, creating new impact stories along the way.
This article is based on conversations held in our faith-based community foundation MeetUp group. We sincerely thank all attendees for their participation and willingness to share their experiences and learnings with our readers.