questions about college ministry support-raising (or however you get your cha-ching)

Whether you happen to raise all, some, or none of your salary and operations budget personally, I encourage you to check out today’s questions, offered humbly to all of us. Because we all have to get financed from somewhere.

I haven’t written much about raising support, in large part because it’s something I’m not particularly acquainted with. But I recognize – and we all should recognize – that most college ministers personally raise their support from individuals and groups. Let us who live in helpful financial arrangements (because of our region, our branch of college ministry, or something else) not forget that fact. Support-raising is the norm.

But I try to limit myself in this blog and in conversations to things I’ve studied or experienced, and fundraising doesn’t fit either category too much. However, I did have the fantastic opportunity to sit in on some lengthy support-raising discussions yesterday, among none other than Campus Crusade staffers in the Northeast (who doubly know something about the need to raise funds – or participate in Ministry Partner Development, as they call it).

That certainly doesn’t make me an expert, but it got me thinking about what I have been able to see around the country in this area. The first of my questions today, with more to come.

1. When raising support – whether it’s financial, prayer, organizational, or any other kind of support – do you focus on connecting people to the mission or only to you?

That was the big point of my friend Ryan McReynolds’s portion of yesterday’s presentation: Don’t just win people over to supporting you; bring them into the wonderful idea of participating (with you) in transforming college students’ lives. And this applies to intangible support, too – which might make all the difference in keeping your job, growing your ministry, and impacting a campus. (Read more on that here.)

2. Regardless of how you’re presently paid and the work is supported, could God have other means in mind, too?

If you don’t have ministry partners… could you? Should you? Even a few? Even in church college ministry or Christian college spiritual life?

If you do support-raise, are there any alternate options for financing alongside that? Even a little bit?

We shouldn’t dismiss options simply because of inertia and a good argument or two for “the way we’ve always done it.” What if God has something surprising in mind? Would you even give Him a chance to show you?

3. How much (and how quickly) are alumni connected to your ministry after they graduate, as prayer support, moral support, and perhaps even financial support?

This seems like low-hanging fruit to me – again, even for church-based and Christian college spiritual life, not to mention for campus-based college ministry and collegiate churches. Having gone to Texas A&M, I’ve seen a great picture of alumni outreach in a secular environment; sadly, it doesn’t seem like this happens much in college ministries. But it could have benefits both for college ministries and their alumni!

This discussion continues in the next post!

Meanwhile, do you have any thoughts – or questions of your own? Many of you know more than me about this – I’d love to hear your wisdom, links, etc.

written from Charlottesville, VA


[Click to comment or see any comments on this post!]

Exploring College Ministry Road Trip 13: Day 50 recap
recap: More of Campus Crusade’s NE Regional Staff Conference in NY, then a 10-hour drive to Charlottesville (see all explorations so far)
T-shirts: the Prof (!) tribe of Rowan University
monday: exploring the University of Virginia!


  1. Benson–
    thanks for raising this important issue. From my vantage point (in the Northeast), support-raising remains a HUGE part of what we campus ministers do.
    I would love to see a study on the opportunity cost of support raising. Many organizations require their staff to be at 100% before they hit the field. It’s not uncommon for new staff to languish for even a year as they raise support, not doing any actual college ministry.
    For others of us, it can still consume much of our mental energy and time during the week. When your SR is weak, it will impact your ministry.
    I also think that uncertain & low pay is often the primary reason many young campus ministers leave the field. They get tired of the grind and want the steady paycheck.
    So take the typical, 24 year old campus minister. They’ve been essentially working for a few years well under the desired level of activity because of SR anxieties, and then leave staff because of it. How many gifted staff are lost to our field because of these dynamics every year?
    When SR is having that kind of impact, what is the net effect on ministry? What is the opportunity cost, in terms of things we could be doing better or differently?

    I also have deep concerns about this model of funding ministry in a post-Christendom world. I think the next 10 years–when many estab. churches will disappear, when the WWII generation is gone, and Boomers move to reduced incomes–will fundamentally reshape the landscape for support-raising.

    General giving patterns are also changing. My mother-in-law works for the United Way. They have seen a huge shift in how people give charitably–and old-school orgs like United Way are losing out. These days, donors want not only access, but specificity and control. It seems that people are increasingly not content to let their gift be a drop in the bucket. They want to know exactly what it will be used for.

    So I’ve toyed with the idea of “itemized giving.” Instead of simply asking for the old $50 or $100/month gift, to ask for $1000 for our “resources” fund–X amount of books or what have you. How then do I get my salary? Tack on a percentage to each of these line-items to fund at least part of my salary. I’ve yet to actually try this, and I’m not sure how it will work. Anyone tried it?

    So where does that leave us: The overall donor base will shrink, and competition for funding–already pretty tight–will increase. Not to get all Darwinian on you, but only the strongest and most adaptable will survive. I’m seeing this right now: those who are good communicators, good vision-casters, who are self-disciplined and can put in the work, who can demonstrate why their ministries are good investments, who are clearly entrepreneurial in nature–these people will not only survive but thrive.

    But those who lack the ability to communicate why they do what they do beyond platitudes, who don’t have much to show for their time on campus, who are not disciplined and lack the energy and fire to take initiative–these people are already falling by the wayside. I’ve written on my blog about sustainability issues in our field–this is probably the biggest area of concern that i have. Of course, maybe we NEED to be pruned a bit (?)

    Benson–you advocate looking for other potential sources of income. The obstacle is that most campus ministries explicitly forbid holding another job while you’re on staff. There are some good reasons for this: time management, conflicts of interest, PT job income being a crutch when you should be support raising. But I do think this will have to change. Because the ones who stick around doing campus ministry will be more entrepreneurial in nature, and will seek out these opportunities; and we’ll need to find those other sources of income.

    I would suggest that the entire field of campus ministry needs to become more bivocational in nature, and that we should look first to people already on our campuses: faculty and staff whom God has already burdened for lost students, and who are uniquely positioned to reach them.

  2. I agree with much of what Steve has said above, consequently here are three things we have initiated as part of our strategy in Boston (one of the most expensive cities to live in the country, further complicating things)

    1. Almost all of our staff began bi-vocational and hopefully work their way into a full-time position. This allows them to build a sphere of influence, understand their long-term role, and fundraise over two years. Typically they must meet 50% of budget raised to begin working.

    2. We have begun using Seth Godin’s book, Tribes, to cast a vision for building your tribe as a support raiser. This, for us, includes a twist on a typical cocktail fundraiser. A celebration support-raising kick-off party. People share stories, cast a vision for ministry, and have a great time together. Then, come back and do it again the next year.

    3. Creatively leverage alternative forms of campus/collegiate ministry like using local alumni and young adults to host groups (small, community, life, etc).

    4. big fan of Steve’s recommendation above of itemization. Part of this might include pulling out compassion projects and funding them separately.

    5. More partnership with local churches for sharing resources. Office equipment, audio/visual, etc.

    6. Less concentrated responsibilities. More part-time staff doing fewer things.

    I do think campus ministry as we have known it for the past 50+ years is changing underneath us and is in need of revitalization. These conversations help us all.

  3. Tim, we need to meet over coffee soon.

    All, I’m more sanguine about support raising for these reasons:

    1. SR as you call it, MPD as we call it is “ministry”. It requires faith, it models faith, it shares faith, it encourages faith, it points to faith in Jesus. Some new staff languish in support raising, but most actually begin their ministry when they begin raising support because they are calling people to put their faith in the Good Shepherd to fulfill the Great Commission, and therefore give generously. This is an idol smashing, faith building, faith sharing venture.

    2. SR is effective. In Seth Godin’s new book “Tribes” he says that most big donors don’t like to take risks. To prove his point he says to look at the top 25 on the “Philanthropy 400”; they haven’t changed in 50 years. His point is that The United Way, Harvard University and The American Red Cross are the big boys with all the credibility and donors want to play it safe so they continue to give there. However there is one addition to that list in the last 50 years: Campus Crusade for Christ coming in at #22 if memory serves. This is astounding considering the majority of the millions raised comes through good old fashioned individual SR. After 60 years of SR for tens of thousands of Campus Crusade staff, I think it is possible to say that the model actually works pretty well.

    3. SR is effective because it’s personal. Ironically it’s because donors don’t trust big organizations any more that the hey day of SR might be upon us. When people join my support team it’s because they trust me, and maybe Campus Crusade but not always. This is actually what has made SR effective from the beginning. When donors give to me, they know where it goes: to me and my family and our ministry with Campus Crusade. They know what I’m doing and where. They can ask me for more information anytime. It’s a high trust environment that leads to high commitment. This is why giving can be down for The United Way and up for those doing SR. Because, “These days, donors want not only access, but specificity and control. It seems that people are increasingly not content to let their gift be a drop in the bucket. They want to know exactly what it will be used for.” Thankfully SR provides all of this and therefore it might be more effective now than it was 60 years ago.

    3. SR is a diversified portfolio (which is supposed to be safer). If I’m bi-vocational then half of my income is in one lump. If I lose this I’m really hurting. With SR, my income is spread out over many streams. I can lose some but its usually gradually. This is a buffer that is actually a great boon to financial security.

    4. SR focuses the mind. As Sean Connery famously said in The Hunt For Red October: “When Cortez, came to the New World he had his men burn their ships so that his men would be well motivated.” More to the point, I’m in a group of Non-Profit COO’s here in Boston. They are not Christian or even religious organizations. When I explained to them our funding model in Campus Crusade their jaws literally fell open. It was clear to me that these COO’s were amazed by and desirous of employees who have the passion and commitment to raise all of their own salary to join a non-profit. It is this high bar of commitment that prepares a person for a missionary lifestyle that has many challenges and conflicts.

    5. SR is hard. SR therefore produces a high level of esprit-de-corp. SR also develops the skill set required for ministry: faith in God.

    SR or MPD is not perfect, it’s not all-good, it’s not easy and it has drawbacks to be certain. But it has tremendous, documented advantages.

  4. Ryan,
    I agree with much of what you’re saying here. I’ve done all of the above, taught on it, and coached others to do it. My assumption is that we’re having an internal conversation here, among people who get the many positives to SR that you mention.

    And lest I be misunderstood, I”m not saying “let’s junk SR completely.” Rather, I’m advocating some tweaks and not continuing the same old/same old mentality just because that’s how we’ve always done it. And I think we too often squeeze people into the wrong mold.

    I disagree that SR is more effective these days. My point about United Way is that increasingly, people aren’t even content to dump money into someone’s personal salary–they want to spread out their giving, and give to a very specific initiative, something tangible. Think KIVA.

    But my main question remains “What about the opportunity cost?” It’s higher than we let on. Many staff are still sitting on the sidelines or departing for greener pastures. The struggles of SR for many staff, I’ve found, do NOT lead to higher morale, but confusion and distraction from the mission.

    If the blessings of SR that you mention, like diversification, and building faith and focus, were unmitigated, wouldn’t we be seeing many more pastors raising support? I’m not saying that the reasons you cite aren’t real; only that there are serious drawbacks as well, and we tend to gloss over them.

  5. Steve, your last comment about pastors is significant. Pastors do raise support, when they are going to a “mission field” Benson’s thesis of treating Campus Ministry like tribal missions is relevant here.

    Most pastors don’t raise support because they don’t have to: they have a group of people who can and do give back to directly support the ministry that they are benefiting from. However, as Benson has noted, students are not able to support a campus minister directly so like a foreign missionary, they raise support to begin and sustain an outpost of ministry. Even when that outpost is established on campus, those who benefit matriculate and the campus minister is inevitably in a position to raise support.

    I think this is why campus ministry and foreign missions are uniquely positioned to benefit from the SR model, even with it’s opportunity costs, because the benefits can outweigh the costs.

    I heartily agree with SR being reformed and always reforming. However I think the Kiva model is more like SR than not, and therefore supports the idea that SR is perhaps more effective than ever.

    Kiva seems to be about giving to entrepreneurs (I’m not an expert, but this is my perception of Kiva). The projects are simply the metric of the entrepreneurs effectiveness. SR is like Kiva in that it is a process of spiritual entrepreneurs gathering a “tribe” who will believe in the entrepreneur and sponsor their plan for spiritual “profit”.

    Kiva is a “for profit” model in that the projects funded are expected to generate enough profit to repay the loan. A quick browse of the Kiva entrepreneurs list has these projects: Embroidery, Tailoring, Solar Power, Cattle, Bakery, etc. These all generate profits. Where are the non-profit projects like: “Symphony”, “Food Pantry”, “Homeless Shelter”. These would be the equivalent of “Campus Ministry”. Kiva can’t work with these kinds of investments because the return is qualitative and much harder to measure. The point of all this is that I believe that Kiva has applied the SR model to the “for profit” world: individuals casting a personal vision to other individuals for investment in a fruitful project.

    People don’t give to Kiva, they give to an individual entrepreneur. In the same way, people don’t give to Campus Crusade for Christ (usually), they give to an individual campus minister who they trust will take their investment and make it fruitful. Individual projects are and important part of SR but it’s the baseline of trust for the individual “entrepreneur” that makes the project look attractive, whether it’s Kiva or CCC. Yet where “profits” are intangible and qualitative, the support raising model is perhaps the best way to generate the necessary funds.

  6. Tim Hawkins


    Let’s meet up sometime…i’ve left my email here.

    To your point…I did a survey of the 50 largest churches in our tradition this year, 35 responded.

    One question was, “What would most influence your decision to support college ministry work?”

    1. If the staff come from our church (no matter what organization they would be working with).
    2. The past success of the person/organization.
    3. If the work is on campuses close to us.

    This is especially significant for us, because historically our campus ministries ( have been birthed from churches in our tradition, much like the relationship between Chi Alpha and AOG.

    So, if churches from our tradition are more likely to support someone from their church who is going on staff with CCC or IV, than a start-up work by someone they don’t know BUT SHARES THEIR TRADITION

  7. Tim Hawkins

    (continued from above: inadvertantly submitted ;-)

    Given the above, it is clear that SR is still largely an individual trust.

    However, I think it is the changing nature of collegiate/campus ministry that is changing rather than the SR paradigms.

    In the ACM we have more than 25 staffers who have been working on their campus for more than 25 years…I wonder if individual SR has that kind of sustainability? I don’t know…someone from IV or Crusade could probably answer that question. My experience has been that moving beyond 2-4 years of building, maintaining and growing support is hard to sustain.

    I know there are exceptions to this, especially depending on how well a support raiser communicates, involves, appreciates their donors. But, my experience has been that people building from individual support rather than multiple sources have a shorter ministry span that those drawing from multiple/more sustainable partnerships. Though, my experience could be skewed.

    One great thing about organizations like CCC and IV is that they bring trusted brands to the table for people who are building from their individual relationships.

Leave a Reply