Triumphing in Tough Time$

Ministry Leaders Offer Their Strategies

Restorer Editor, Pam Touissant interviews the Executive Directors of three CCD Ministries to get tips on how to keep their programs financially sustainable in difficult times.

Ministry Leaders Offer Their Strategies


Crissy Brooks
Executive Director, Mika CDC
Costa Mesa, CA
Approximate Budget: $500,000

“There is a constant discerning between wisdom and trusting the Lord. We’ve always had to be led by faith and be bold in asking. We did have to ask ourselves: ‘What is the most key thing we must do to fulfill our mission?’ and ‘What are things we just do because they’re good?’ The economic downturn has forced us to be more laser-focused on fulfilling our mission. I’ve had to hold our board more accountable and ask them to step up and reinforce that we’re all in this together. We had to clarify everyone’s roles and [in the course of that] asked, ‘How does what you do fit in with accomplishing our mission?’ This way people have a deeper sense of responsibility. Some staff are now part-time; some partnerships have shifted facilities. We’ve cut some rent and brought programs into the communities.

We’ve been dealing with people not having as many resources and being more tentative about giving money away. Before, if we wanted to do something, we’d just strategize who we’d talk to that would give to it. But now it seems that folks are holding on more tightly. Still, we’ve seen some new givers come in, just by sharing the stories and building relationships. Some have said, ‘We really love what you do but just can’t give as much as we have in the past.’ But their doing that it shows how much they feel engaged in our work. It was really helpful for me to hear their heart. A church partner made some cuts, but we haven’t really seen much more yet.

This guy called me up and said he just wanted to send us his whole tithe for 2008. Prior to that, he was a friend, but never a donor. We sent that donor a postcard that reminded him about us in November 2008. He didn’t respond then, but he did later. I learned from Larry Acosta—keep reaching out to people. We’re ministers. We’re in relationship with them, so we must care about them, whether they can give or not.

Our monthly income has never been the same as our monthly expenses, so we’ve always had to see how the Lord will provide. Nothing’s really changed—we’ve always lived like that.” —CB


Rodolpho Carrasco
Executive Director, Harambee Ministries
Pasadena, CA
Approximate Budget: $750,000

“‘Friend-raising’ is important. Get face-to-face with as many donors as possible. Keep strengthening relationships; don’t make a goal of asking for money. There should be an ongoing relationship even if you had a million in the bank. It’s when you talk that you find things out. Like many people will say, ‘I’d like to come help you. We need to get our people out of the pews.’ You may just want them to give (not come visit), but you need to position yourself to host them, and be willing and inclined to do so.

Make sure the core stuff that’s working, keeps working. There is stuff that we are doing already that brings in funds, [and] then there are the dream things. For us, it’s school tuition and rent. We saw that we needed to be better at collections. We rented out five home-like spaces we had reserved for visiting groups, and we’re now getting a total of $100K a year in rent. We now use the main space (called the Family Room, which is like a gym) for visiting groups. Managing the budget made me see this opportunity, and we already had the space in place. You already have stuff at home that you’re not using—these are your ‘birds in the hand’ (which are worth two in the bush).

Be careful of putting out a lot of energy for a tiny return. There are a lot of supporters out there who give small amounts and we need not ignore them, but to increase that group of supporters you have to have a huge economy of scale and a lot of volunteers. I recently had 20 significant conversations with a group of 20 people in a suburban church, in a five-hour period. For the time put in, I don’t know if that [trying to reach the small donor] would have been as valuable to do.

Strengthen your volunteer coordinator position. This is one of the things you’d think to cut out of the budget at this time, but Nooooo! There needs to be someone who can deal with folks who visit your ministry, because it’s important that they have a good, well-coordinated experience. I can draw people in with my speaking engagements, but now I have someone who can make sure that all types of visiting groups have a great time. There are often groups looking for ‘an experience’ and they know we do that sort of thing. This invariably comes out of the face-to-face. Many of these visiting groups then catch the vision and turn into supporters.” —RC


Art Erickson
Founder and Executive Director, Urban Ventures
Minneapolis, MN
Approximate Budget: 3 million

“Crises make you do things you should have done before, but didn’t. [You] have to look at your mission statement and make sure that it’s accurate and clear [and] make any revisions necessary. Ask: what are the things we do that contribute to our mission? Anything that doesn’t fit in, you must cut. What you’re left with will need more integration, so you will gain more internal connectivity out of the process. Every ministry needs to work together better. There will be some good ideas lying around that you never thought of, kind of like when you’re cleaning your garage, you say, “Ay, this could fit in right here, but I never thought of it.”

Network more with volunteers and work with other agencies—sometimes we’re all working for some of the same people, but we’ve been isolated. This will force us to get outside and meet folks. Our organization is gathering groups of pastors and heads of other non-profits who’ve been in this neighborhood for some time. Half of them don’t know each other because we’re so busy we don’t get out of our little box. People have been very amenable to these gatherings.

Look at your donor list and see if just a couple of funders have been long term with you (the ones who have deep pockets) and could understand that you need help for maybe four years. I raise the budget on a monthly basis now, two to three months in advance. Most ministries have a cash flow problem that they try to catch up with at the end of the year. We have to operate in a business model—businesses look at raw data and make cuts.

People are going to want a return on their investment now. We often don’t give real clear outcomes, we give more vision; but we’ll need to do more of the former. Large suburban churches that rely on year-end stock gifts didn’t get them last year, so they’re cutting programs they don’t need. In a church setting, the pastor is in front of the congregation each week, but in CDC we reach out with a letter, an appeal, or an event once a year.

What role does faith play in all of this? God is preparing for His bridegroom to come. The collapse of the economy in the perspective of God is not that we rebuild this earth, but that we communicate Jesus Christ and help people give their lives to Him, and that we continue to break the cycle of generational poverty.” —AE

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