Meet the Seed Gathering's Master of Ceremonies: Jared Mackey
Jared Mackey is Executive Director and Lead Pastor for The Sacred Grace, a family of parish churches in Denver, Colorado. We are honored to welcome Jared as the master of ceremonies for the Seed Gathering in October. He was chosen for this role based on his gift of hospitality and his ability to create transformative experiences.
Seed has walked alongside The Sacred Grace for several years to support the process of applying nonprofit fundraising strategies to a church context. In this interview, Hillary Frances asks Jared about his identity as both a faith leader and a fundraiser and how The Sacred Grace has changed their approach to fundraising in the past 5 years. This blog post version has been condensed for quick reading.
You can listen to the full conversation here.
It’s been said that in your role as a clergyman that you can be found reading scripture or reading annual reports. To me this infers that you're both a faith leader and a fundraiser. How does your role as a fundraiser intersect with your role as a faith leader?
I think one of the pieces that's missing on a lot of church leaders is the fact that they both lead a faith community but they also lead a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Most people who I imagine begin the journey of being a faith leader in a faith community, don't ever imagine that they're going to be reading spreadsheets, creating annual reports and balancing budgets. But the reality is that at some point you're going to have some interaction. Either you're going to have a high amount of trust with individuals that they're doing that and you're empowering them to do that, or you're going to be hiring some sort of operations director to do that, which means you're going to be overseeing them. I have become more fascinated with the decision making and senior leadership of running the actual nonprofit over the last 5 years than I was in the first 20 years of being in a ministry leadership position.
How have the past 5 years changed the way that you do business at Sacred Grace? What's the before and after?
The easiest or shortest word to describe the before was "sloppy." And I would say after is "stewardship." The before was we had some really early on success numerically and financially. When you're a nonprofit and you're in your 20s and you have some financial success, you don't have to be super attentive to how good of a steward you are. Primarily you're just amazed that people are financially supporting the things you want to be apart of. We had started this church and we had a significant amount of financial contributions. I don't think we abused people's gifts, but I don't think that we were as intentional as we could have been. I think it was sloppy or not with the same level of care that I would approach it at this point.
Zoom all the way over to after, it's a long story of 25 years, but the last 5, resources have become limited, and our desire to do something significant has grown. When your resources become smaller and your vision becomes larger, your start to be more attentive and more intentional about how you're going to steward the financial resources you don't have.
What strategies are you using?
The vast majority of our budget is given from individual donors. We probably have about 5% of grants or organizations that support the family of churches that we lead. When people are giving you financial donations, it is an exchange of trust. They're trusting the way that you're investing the resources they've given you.
Do you have donors outside your congregations?
Yes. We have about 80% from internal donors. 20% comes from external donors.
That is unique in the last 5 years. Our external donors are either alumni, they've come through one of our faith communities, or they are connected to us through some sort of relationship and believe in the work we're doing.
Can you tell me about a current fundraising challenge that you're working on. And is there a strategy you're using to solve it that you wouldn't have used 10 years ago?
The challenge that we face consistently is most people who give money to churches give to a church that they attend. I think it's hard to help people have an imagination to why you would give to a church that you're not attending. Just the recognition that in the same way that you'd have a startup or a seed investment, there are kingdom investors that make those early on type of investments. We're learning how to find those people and invite them into what we believe that God's doing through our family of churches and ask them if they'd want to contribute to that.
The first layer is giving to a church that you don't attend. Most people who give to a 501(c)(3) that's a church, is the one they attend. This is the first hurdle.
The second one is then we're still figuring out how do we communicate the organizational needs of our central resources? How do we fund that? With every nonprofit, people want to give to the thing on the front line. Our parish churches are the ones doing exciting work in the neighborhoods. They are able to do that because we have a shared service model that operates all of the back end support for our churches and we have to raise money for that currently. We have two ways of doing that. We have people who directly give to our central operations and the second is a percentage of the parish's budget comes back into central. But as we're scaling, that percentage is not enough to cover all of our admin costs. =
What have you learned about thanking donors in a church environment?
In a lot of ways stewardship is how we manage and leverage that which other people have given. We try to in a compelling way, through annual reports, donor meetings, hand written notes and letters, and other reports, we try to communicate how their resources are being used to advance and care for the neighborhoods we work in.
For 20 plus years, I know we have written thank you notes for the volunteers who hold babies in the nursery. Our children's director in the winter goes out and buys little mittens and hot chocolate cups. In the summer she buys little gift cards to Dairy Queen. The way that we thank our nursery volunteers is really admirable.
Then it dawned on me at some point when we started working with Seed, that we have had people giving large amounts of finances every year for as long as people have been volunteering in the nursery. We had never written a thank you note. We had never given them a gift card to Dairy Queen and we had never given them a candy bar at Christmas. I think the intent was because we didn't want to lessen their financial gift, but I think we had swung the pendulum all the way to the other side in which I would say that we were negligent with our donors for a considerable amount of time. The biggest shift that I would say in our faith community over the last 5 years is to acknowledge, recognize, and say thank you directly for their financial generosity.
What are some ways you do that?
We have systems that we thank all of our first time donors. So the first time you give, you get a handwritten note from one of the staff or pastors. For all of our major donors, we meet with them individually and walk through the impact their dollars are having. We also, over the last two years, have created an annual report and we mail that to all of our major donors. We are in the process of trying to figure out how to we recognize our recurring givers. We're between 60-70% recurring donors. That level of recurring giving is the backbone of our organization and our financial operations.
There are larger churches in Denver and around the US who have some really savvy business people at the center of them that are leveraging these types of fundraising strategies and that's the reason they are as financially and operationally successful as they are. I don't think that there is a large church in America that does not have an executive pastor who is cultivating and thanking major donors.
From my vantage point, the vast majority of people attend a church under 150 people. It's in that church of under 150 people that you have a 1,2, 3 person staff team. Nobody is a development director of a 3 person staff team. You probably don't have an executive pastor. You probably have a lead pastor, maybe a music or worship pastor, and a children's or youth pastor. None of those people are thinking through how do we cultivate generosity, how do we dial in and be great stewards, and hold stewardship up as an organizational value. And then, how do we create systems by which people don't fall through the cracks.
How many people do you have across your parishes?
200-300. All of our churches are led by 1 full time employee and part time or contract employees. I lead central as the only full time employee. Then we have 5 different part time or contract employees that I work with as well.
For the small churches with two pastors who do not have development written into their job descriptions, what would you say could be a good first step for them into fundraising?
I think the very first step is the hardest decision, which is: who is going to know who are the financial contributors or donors to your church? That is the biggest elephant in the room for every church leader.
Someone should know, and it's not just the accountant. It's not the accountant's job to cultivate and appreciate generosity.
It needs to be someone who has the authority and responsibility to actually cultivate generosity. If you just have a volunteer writing thank you notes, I don't think that has the same level of impact than people seeing a pastor or executive director saying thank you for your generosity.
Second, one of the keys is to recognize how contributions are given. If you're not mobile app friendly, the vast majority of people spend money off of their phones now. We have gone to one of the best platforms for churches is called PushPay. There’s another great one called Planning Center.
How does that tie into our relationship to money?
I think it's a big question. One of the perspectives we've taken is: the way that we interact with donors is just another part of our pastoral occupation. Really we're trying to not divorce the financial conversation from all of the other spiritual formation that's happening in an individual or family. We want to be characterized by a spirit of generosity across the board.
We have a generosity prayer that all of our parishes pray every week. The closing line is, we want to be generous as our father is generous, and as his daughters and sons, we want to show the world what he is like. Generosity has become rooted into who we are as a community. These systems and tools are the ways that we. The system that you create ultimately says what you value. You're not going to operationalize something that you don't care about. Creating these systems is a way of caring about the culture of generosity in our community.
Editor's Note: Click here to hear more about Jared's story of how his relationship to money has changed over the course of his life.
If you were to teach a class for faith leaders on fundraising, what would some of the modules be?
Candy bars for your donors not just your nursery workers
It's OK to know how much people give
The importance of reporting: financial dashboards, ministry dashboards, and annual reports
What does giving look like in 2020?
The important lessons I've learned from both for-profit and nonprofit leaders
Favorite cocktail bar in Denver? It goes along with one of your c words: cocktails.
Englewood Grand. Not on most people's radar as one of the best cocktail bars in Denver. The owners have made their bar available to us to host donor events. We actually have the pastors go to behind the bar and make drinks and we say thank you to our donors by making drinks.
Any last words?
I think the last thing is for pastors to not be afraid to ask people outside their congregations for financial support. We're at 80% from inside donors and 20% from outside, which I think is a pretty good place to be. Learning how to have a relationship with a donor outside of your church will actually be the best lesson about how to be appreciative of the donors inside your church. For whatever reason, I think pastors are neglectful of the generosity of people inside their congregation. And we have some lessons to learn about how other nonprofits handle the donations we give them, how does a church appropriately acknowledge those things as well?
Editor's Note: If you want to learn more about how the Sacred Grace has cultivated 20% of their giving revenue from outside their congregation, we invite you to attend the Seed Gathering where you will have a chance to visit The Sacred Grace on the third day of the conference.