What’s the Deal with “Support Raising”?

Why missionaries keep asking you for money and what it’s like on the other side.

So you get a long facebook message or an email with a “prayer letter” attached that is—in other words—asking for money. It starts off something like this:

“Hello [Your Name], how have you been? I have some exciting news. I’ve been given the opportunity to serve with [insert missions agency] doing [some kind of wonderful ministry project or gospel work) and I would like to invite you to be part of that… “

They might skirt around it or they might be direct but they are doing something—a mission trip, joining an agency, becoming a ministry worker—and they are asking you to pitch in some of your hard-earned cash.

What has your experience been with this kind of thing? What’s your initial reaction? I know it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some people are new to the concept and are confused, others were taken aback by someone you barely know being so bold, yet others have donated and it seemed like their money disappeared without a trace to a thankless project they never heard back about.

Well, I want to shed some light on this strange and sometimes awkward dance of asking and being asked. From the perspective of someone who has raised support (as a job requirement), let me tell you a little bit about what this journey looks like and why we (those raising support) do what we do.

Hopeful Beginnings

Despite being required to raise support a couple of times previously for more short missions/ministry work and finding it quite difficult, I was strangely optimistic stepping into raising support for a more long-term assignment. Before my Asia internship, I had raised amounts in the ballpark of a few thousand buckaroos. It was difficult even then, but things came together and so I went.

I suppose my optimism was due in part to a book I had read on the topic called, “The God Ask.” The basic premise of the book is represented by this diagram:

It is pretty self-explanatory. The “Ministry Worker” asks God for provision and then invites the “Potential Supporter” to consider supporting their ministry. The “Potential Supporter” looks to God to determine how to steward his/her resources, then, in turn, responds to the “Ministry Worker.” I think this is actually a great foundation and perspective—we see the process as God-directed. So the pressure is off because whether a “Potential Supporter” responds with the hoped-for “yes” or with a “no” we know that it’s in God’s hands and that HE is ultimately the provider for both these parties.

“The God Ask” also provides a lot of biblical basis for raising support, practical advice, real-life anecdotes, and encouragement. After reading, though a bit daunted by the whole task, my overall attitude was, “Yes! In faith, I can do this and God will provide abundantly (and quickly) for the ministry He has called me to!”

But then I learned the number. I had come to our intern training so very prepared—I read the book, prepared my materials, I was raring to go. But when they passed the budget spreadsheets to us I almost fell off my chair; I was wholly unprepared for the “grand total” written at the bottom. That’s close to $50,000! How am I ever going to raise that much money? Somehow, over the course of the training, I recovered from the shock and countered the intimidating goal with unreasonable optimism.

First Calls

Preparing the punch the first phone number in and request an appointment I was in a weird place: fear, excitement, apprehension, dread, forced confidence, and whatever else mixed together to create a little nausea. The recommended process for raising support is: (1) send out letters telling people about the ministry, the need, and requesting an appointment, (2) call them up to get that appointment, (3) give a ministry presentation during the appointment followed by a straightforward ask for support. I had completed step one with the first round of people—emailing out the letters was pretty easy. But step two—making those phone calls—was so much harder.

I was awkward. I wanted to be peppy and confident. Instead, I read off my script (thank God I had actually prepared one) and fumbled my way through the call. “Yes,” came the answer—I was so relieved! I suddenly regained my excitement and hopefulness. I spent hours sitting on an old flower-print couch in our cluttered back room ineptly (and somewhat reluctantly) making call after call and slowly settling into a more natural approach.

The first few appointments I had were with people I knew well (that’s who I started with). Though I had a presentation and script prepared, I was a little disjointed the first few times. The hardest part was “The Ask.” After sharing about the financial needs of the ministry, we were instructed to use the exact phrasing from a script we were given. It was something like, “I would be honoured to have you on my team. Would you financially partner with me for $100, $150, $200 or another monthly amount you feel comfortable with?” Then, silence. That part was the worst. After a question like that, there’s this strange urge to jump in if the other person doesn’t answer immediately, but we were instructed: don’t say anything until they respond. The silence that ensued felt like a black hole that had opened up—and sometimes I would have rather disappeared into it. 

Pressing On

Despite the awkwardness of talking about money, and even more asking people for money, I pressed on. “The Ask” was an important concept of “The God Ask”, and because  I believed God was calling me to Asia I was determined to continue. I spent hours upon hours every day repeating this process of letter, call, appointment, ask. I worked tirelessly, over 40 hours/week (all unpaid), sometimes without a day off. My motto was “prayer and diligence.” My motivation alternated between hopefulness in God’s provision/excitement to do missions work in Asia and the threat of “if you don’t have the finances, your team will fly without you” hanging over my head.

Things are a little blurry, as this was years ago. At first, most of the people I asked were positive and many donated. But the farther I went down my list of names, the harder it got. I was contacting people I barely knew. At some point, I started reaching out to the referrals I got, and then I was meeting up with people I didn’t know. As the weeks went by people responded more slowly, the people I met gave less, and I started to panic. I was running out of options and desperate. I broke down in tears after a meeting with my coach when his advice was, “I don’t know what else you can do.” One of the most frustrating things was that despite doing more prep and working more hours, every other member of my mission team was ahead of me in meeting the financial goal.

Provision in the Eleventh Hour

I arrived at the mission launch orientation about $4000 short of what I actually needed. I was making calls in between and after our sessions. I was sorely disappointed that I had worked so hard and done everything by the book and that God had not come through as I had expected—I wasn’t supposed to be struggling up to the last minute and finish short of my goal. No! I was supposed to have finished weeks ahead of schedule, amply provided for, maybe even having received a little extra as a buffer! It was a feeling of great disappointment and quite a bit of confusion.

On the final day, a staff member approached me with good news: “two staff who have extra in their accounts have volunteered to each give half of your outstanding need.” And just like that, I had all the finances I needed to go to Asia fully-funded. Strangely, I was not that happy about the news. I was upset with God: After all my hard work, I finish like this? Two staff who have extra just split it? That’s too easy. Why couldn’t I have just raised it all the normal way? You, reader, being able to consider this from an outside perspective probably realize how irrational this was. However He chose to do it, God did provide—so what’s the difference?

I think the difference was that I had made support raising about me. I worked hard. I prayed hard. I did all the right things in the right way. I expected God to provide—which is a good thing, but I had predetermined what God’s provision would (or should) look like. So, at first I saw the contributions from other staff to cover me as my failure and God’s lack of provision. Eventually, I humbled myself and realized God’s gracious provision—He provided even when I did not work for it at all. 

And that’s just my experience from the first year. Read Part Two to see whether “Round 2” was any better and ride the emotional roller coaster with me.

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