Is a social enterprise project for you?

Increasingly, I am being asked to advise on the feasibility or otherwise of a social entersocialEntprise initiative.  These commercial ventures have the ability to either fund church activities, or to realise missional goals.  The key is knowing which initiative is right for you, and going into it with a business plan and realistic goals.

Feasibility for social enterprise projects

Many churches and not-for-profit organisations are developing ideas for commercial activities which make money either to contribute to their operational revenue, or to be cost neutral and achieve missional objectives.

This paper can help you with your investigation and planning.  It is based around a café social enterprise, but the principles readily translate to running a preschool, an opportunity shop, social housing and many other commonly voiced ideas.

The first thing you need to determine is “why” this idea?  You need to be clear what success will look like.  Are you undertaking it to raise money for other programmes and operational costs?  Or do you hope to just break even and achieve missional goals instead?  Clarity around purpose is fundamental, all stakeholders need to be “on the same page” or mis-understanding will threaten the viability of the enterprise.

Before you spend any time or money developing your business idea, you should first do a quick financial feasibility test to find out whether your social enterprise idea is viable.

A feasibility test helps you estimate whether your idea will provide the kind of return on investment (ROI) you need. The following is a quick look at the factors you need to consider when feasibility testing. Once you’ve compiled your figures, we recommend you talk to financial adviser to make sure your findings are as accurate as possible.

Before you dive in, look at the ROI you require to make all the hard work and risk of starting your social enterprise worthwhile and use that figure as a benchmark. And be honest; don’t lower your expectations to help your business idea cross the finish line. If the ROI is going to be cost recovery because the enterprise is a mission strategy, it is important to include all costs to ensure that the costs of the business are not being unwittingly subsidised by other revenue streams.

Why start with an ROI benchmark? Many first-time entrepreneurs let the appeal of their ideas bias them when it comes to testing feasibility. They calculate ROI without a benchmark and say ‘Hey, that’s a good enough start’ without objectively looking at whether all the hard work of starting their own business will be worth it.

Can you make a profit?

Can you make enough profit to reach your ROI benchmark? The way to find out is to look at the unit sales you’d need to reach to do that. This means that financial analysis must be carried out to determine the business overheads (plant set up, rent, utilities, cost of materials (e.g. food ingredients), staffing, marketing etc) so you can determine what prices need to be charged to cover costs and ROI.

Let’s say your ROI is $100,000 a year and your overheads are $200,000. That means you need to generate gross profit of $300,000 to break even and then provide you with the return you require.

Let’s also assume your average price per unit is $5. 300,000 divided by 5 is 60,000 – this is the number of units you have to shift each year to meet your ROI benchmark.

The question now is – can you sell 60,000 food items or cups of coffee in a year? In other words, is it feasible?

To help you answer that question, you need to look at your:

  • Target market.
  • Demand.
  • Competitors.

Do you have an identified target market?

It’s essential you establish the type of consumer your product or service will strike a chord with the most and how many of them there are.

You should also look at the health of the wider marketplace (whether it’s growing or declining, for example, and what opportunities there are in this stage of its lifecycle).

Find out:

  • Who might use the café.
  • Where they’re located.
  • How big the market is.
  • How much customers would pay.
  • How often they might buy.
  • When they purchase.

Ultimately, you need to be able to answer two key questions:

  • Who is my ideal customer?

Define age, gender, location, likes and dislikes, purchasing influences and so on.

  • How many of them are there in my reach?

Use government statistics to find out the population density of your target demographic. This information is freely available online.

Is there demand?

You can’t assume your product or service will register off the charts with your intended audience either, so you need to talk to them or, even better, show them what you plan to sell.

You could run a survey or hold a focus group to find what potential customers like about your offering, whether they’d pay for it and whether they’d buy it.

Surveys are great for quantitative data – facts and figures, like how often a customer visits a shop – while focus groups are good places to collect qualitative data. These are the opinions and emotional responses people might have to your product or service.

Qualitative data is great if you have a prototype or service concept to show focus groups, but just keep in mind people often say one thing and do another – so don’t rely solely on emotional responses.

What will my competitors do?

The next element to establish is your competition. You need to find out:

  • How many there are.
  • Who you will most directly be competing with.
  • Their respective strengths and weaknesses.
  • What they might do once you launch.

Research your competitors online and add questions about who your potential customers currently shop with and why, when you survey your target market so you can get the information straight from the horse’s mouth. Remember that competitors are not just traders in the same community, but others further afield.

Once you have an ordered list of your competitors, you can test them to find their strengths, weaknesses and any unknown factors that could influence your business idea.


  • Developing a checklist first, so you can note down your findings in an organised way.
  • Buying from a competitor to test product/service quality and customer service.
  • Hiring a mystery shopper or getting a friend to go in your place if you think you’ll be recognised in your competitors’ premises.

Do you have a unique selling point (USP)?

A USP sets you apart from the competition. It might be a unique combination of food, or a playground for customers’ children, or a pleasant outdoor environment.  What type of environment are you trying to present – e.g. casual, relaxed, calming, exciting or innovative?  The fit-out, furnishings, selection of offerings and marketing will reflect the desired environment.

You may have built your USPs into your business idea from day one. However, after you’ve talked to the target market and assessed the competition, you should reassess your USPs and refine them so they really stand out and push the right buttons with your intended customers.


Where is the best location for the café?  The more visible it is, the more it is likely to attract passing customers as well as those who are seeking it out.  In this respect signage, initial façade appearance, access, parking and so forth are to be considered.  Ideally advertising will be word-of-mouth, but substantial investment in marketing needs to be factored in, in the establishment phase as that is when patronage patterns will be set.

The locations with the best probability of success are, in order:

  1. Next to colleges and universities, on a commercial walking street
  2. Downtown business district, in a large office building
  3. Neighbourhood commercial walking streets
  4. Heavy foot traffic tourist areas, with great visibility
  5. Airports and large medical facilities (for carts and kiosks)
  6. Strip malls
  7. Inside shopping malls


Analysing the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to the business is essential to help develop a risk profile and plan a strategy for success.

Legal and local government regulations

The New Zealand Government website was written by a start-up business expert and is well worth a look. The site has free resources, tools and information to help people start, manage and grow their business.

The “Starting up” section has information about:

  1. Business structures;
  2. Writing a business plan;
  3. Managing cashflow;
  4. Raising capital;
  5. Building a promotional plan; and
  6. Getting online.

The Dunedin City Council through its Economic Development Unit is very helpful in guiding prospective business owners through the maze of regulations.  (Other local bodies have equivalent units). Some of the things you will need to consider are:

Resource consent: The District Plan describes what you can do on your property. If you wish to deviate from the rules set out in the plan, you will need a resource consent.

Building consent: The building consent process ensures your project meets the criteria of the Building Act 2004.

Registered premises: Some businesses need a licence or certificate of registration to operate. These include food premises, hairdressers, camping grounds and funeral homes.

Commercial food premises: Guided by the Food Hygiene Regulations Act 1974, businesses offering food for sale must operate to specific standards, so food is properly handled and prepared.

Food safety training: Food offered for sale needs to prepared in line with established rules and guidelines. These apply to food prepared on commercial premises, street stalls and other situations.

Trade waste discharges: Discharges to the wastewater network from trade premises are controlled through the Trade Waste Bylaw, and certain discharges (including from cafes, restaurants and takeaways) will require a consent.

Next steps

Once you’ve established your target market, the potential demand for your product and service, and the competitors you’ll be going up against, you can start to understand how feasible it will be for you to sell your target number of units each year and reach your ROI benchmark.

However, it always pays to have your figures and findings checked by an accountant with experience in your industry.

Business Planning

To start a successful coffee shop business, it is advisable that you develop a business plan that can help you run the business effectively. If you also have the intention to seek external funding or grow bigger, then you definitely need a business plan.

Include also your market strategy and key factors that you believe will make your coffee shop unique and differentiate from every other coffee shop in the area. Though it sounds easier than it is but like in any other business, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

A formal business plan is just as important for an established business, whether small or big, as it is for a start-up. And it serves the following critical purposes:

  • It helps you clarify, focus, and research the prospects of your proposed start-up or expansion idea.
  • It provides a considered and logical framework within which your business can develop and pursue business strategies over the next few years.
  • It offers a benchmark against which you can measure and review the actual performance of your business.
  • It serves as the basis for discussion with third parties such as creditors, investors, shareholders, agencies, etc.

Just as no two businesses are alike, so also are business plans; some aspects of a plan will be more relevant to some businesses than to others. So, it is very important to tailor the contents of a business plan to suit individual circumstances. Nonetheless, most business plans follow a well-tried and tested structure, and general advice on preparing a business plan is universally applicable.

However, your business plan should be a realistic view of your expectations and long-term objectives for your start-up or small business. It provides the framework within which it must operate and, ultimately, succeed or fail.

For you and other entrepreneurs seeking third-party support, the business plan is the most important sales document that you will need to raise finance for your start-up or small business. Although preparing a solid, comprehensive business plan will not guarantee success in raising funds or mobilizing support for your business, lacking one will always result in failure.

Contents of a Business Plan

The structure of your business plan will look like the following:

  1. Title Page
  2. Table of Contents
  3. Executive Summary
  4. Company Profile
  5. Industry Research
  6. Sales and Marketing
  7. Operations
  8. Financials

A note on Financials

There are two key analysed spread-sheeted budgets that need to be included in a business plan.  You will have made a start of these when you investigated the feasibility of the concept and the ability to make ROI.

  1. Capital and set-up costs

The following link gives a good indication of the set up costs:

  1. Operational income and expenditure

Operational income is driven by Sales.  Profit can be improved by increasing

  • the number of customers
  • the volume of goods or services existing customers buy
  • the sales price.

If you have a good marketing strategy in place it will help you increase the number of customers or the amount they buy.

To increase your sales, objectives should include:

  • ensuring as many potential customers know about your business and what you have to offer
  • existing customers are happy with your product or service and want to buy more of it.

A marketing plan lists your key marketing strategies, explains how each one will work, how much they will cost and how the strategies support each other.

Conducting market research will help you identify and define marketing

Separating expenses into categories will help you to calculate your costs. It also helps you to see where they are rising or can be reduced. Expense categories include:

  • cost of goods sold. These are expenses relating directly to sales such as buying stock or components, freight costs if goods are shipped to your business or wages if a staff member works directly on producing an item for sale
  • fixed expenses. These are expenses that stay the same when your sales increase such as rent, insurance, licensee fees, utilities etc
  • variable expenses. These are expenses that go up or down based on the sales you make such as advertising, delivery charges and electricity if you’re manufacturing.

Business structure

What is the best business structure to use for your social enterprise?  You have a number of choices, but getting it right before you start trading is essential.

You can run it though your organization as a trading arm, with designated line entries and even a designated bank account – this is best if the financial transactions are not numerous.

It could be run as a separate Incorporated Society, Charitable Trust, or Charitable Company and a separate governance body will be responsible for all aspects of the business.

See this link for the difference between the difference governance structures:

If you would like to discuss any of the matters raised here, please feel free to contact the PressGo Catalyst, Lisa Wells, telephone 027 4455 723 or

Compiled by Lisa Wells,

11 September 2017


The little church that could

I presented the following paper at the Australian Association of Mission Studies Conference in July 2017.  The conference theme was: “Imagining Home: Understanding, Reconciling and Engaging with God’s Stories Together” and my presentation was of a church PressGo had worked with and helped with funding and its missional journey.



When church is at its best it is a vital community of believers, called out by God, under the authority of Jesus Christ.  When it is at its worst it is a social club or a historical preservation society. To paraphrase Longfellow’s poem “That Little Girl” – “when [church] is good it is very, very good, and when [it’s] bad it is horrid.” Sometimes we even make church in our own image…

Most of the churches I work with in my role of Mission Catalyst within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand are somewhere between good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, alive or expiring.  Some even live a life of peaceful co-existence with their community. That is – they ignore their community and the community ignores them.  It’s almost as if they weren’t even there …

If we are to believe, as Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin contends, that the congregation is the hermeneutic of the gospel, then the study of a single congregation will tell us much about how the Good News comes to a particular community and how shalom is created there.  So, I’d like to tell you the story of the little church that could … the little church that had a big dream.

Who are we?

Understanding who you are as a church and more importantly, whose you are, is a significant step on a missional journey and not all churches can make this step.  As Newbigin says:

“It will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel.

But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce introverted concern for their own life, and recognize they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.”[1]

This does not just suddenly happen and for the subject of this paper, this understanding was the spark that was there from the beginning and has been deliberately fanned over the years.

Let me introduce you to Nawton Community Presbyterian Church.

Nawton is a community in the west of Hamilton city in the North Island of New Zealand and is one of the lowest social-economic areas of the city. The two primary schools are decile 2 and decile 1b (decile ratings are a rough indicator of deprivation in the area and on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the lowest).

Nawton Church was planted as a daughter church of First Church in the 1960s, one of many planted during the New Life Movement of the PCANZ.  The churches were planted with an expectation that they would be shepherded by the mother church and when they got to a certain size they would become independent and call their own minister.

It would be fair to say that most of the members of Nawton Church had the same hopes and dreams as those in any other Presbyterian Church in the 1960s.  The church filled up in the new suburb and was served well by ministers from their mother church.  Some of the Elders trained as lay preachers, others provided pastoral care and a solid group ensured the property and finances were well managed. The church took its role in the community and connected on several levels, with the services expected of a church.  Sunday School, Bible Class, and a full calendar of social and fellowship opportunities.  The church did attractional mission well.  However, as the golden age of church attendance concluded; attendance dropped, families were too busy to attend and the church members became increasingly aged and started to wonder whether it was time to call a minister who could devote time to their needs and concerns.

Who are we becoming?

 In 2002 Nawton Church became a parish in its own right and was not in the financial position to call a full-time minister and according to an elder at the time, “there was a concern that this would develop into a chaplaincy to the existing congregation and not be outwardly focussed enough to ensure the Great Commission was lived out.”[2]  Through a series of retreats a vision was mapped out.  One of the first things to happen was the employment of a part-time Children’s and Family Worker.  Their role was to connect with children in the community.  This successful outreach was well served by volunteers and began with a playgroup and a Kid’s Club and then, later on, a youth group.

In 2008, Nawton Church worked through the process of becoming “Kids Friendly”, which is a national PCANZ ministry designed to equip and inspire churches to intentionally minister to and with children and families in their communities.  Being a Kids Friendly church is not so much a matter of having a children’s programme as it is the integration of inter-generational worship and faith building and sharing within the church and its community.  It has an important role in breaking down barriers and changing attitudes towards children and the part they can play in revitalising our congregations.  This is one of the examples Nawton Church would quote as reinforcing their desire to be more outward focussed.  Support of the (regional) Presbytery and national funders like the Presbyterian Foundation was crucial as they pushed the boundaries, tried new things and tried to encourage all members to be active in the children’s ministry.  In doing this they continued to reflect and discern.  On one occasion, aware they had over-reached themselves, they closed two successful ministries that were replicating work others were doing in the community.

The church has worked with Nawton School over the years (it is directly across the road) and offered a range of programmes for children, families and young people.  Family workers have been employed and achieved results in their time, the church has sponsored a chaplain and Bible in Schools at the school, and holiday programmes have been so successful they are now OSCAR and CYFS accredited for government funding and are managed by a parish trust.

But even with this level of success there was a concern that they were missing something.  The church struggled to connect with the parents of the children who were involved in parish programmes.  A season of listening to God, to the community and the participants of the programmes began.  It was clear that the community had changed all around them.  It was no longer a new suburb, urban sprawl extended on all side and many of the local properties were now rentals and a large number were run-down.  The gangs were moving in.  As recently as this year, an Auckland beneficiary, forced to move to Hamilton, declared it a “hellhole” and said they’d rather live in a caravan in Auckland than return to Nawton[3].  The congregation was primarily older and pakeha (European), although there were both Niuean and Cook Island families who had been part of the congregation for many years.  The community was 78% Maori, 15% pakeha and 7% pacifika/Maori.  All the many schools in the area offer classes in Te Reo (Maori language). It was no wonder Nawton Church was having difficulty interacting with their community, because they no longer looked like their community.

Who are we becoming kin with?

Moderator of the PCANZ, the Right Rev Richard Dawson, in his Pentecost 2017 letter to the church, addressed questions of “home” and “family”.  He talks of a home that calls us in and sends us out:

“When the Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost of the Christian church not only was the church properly founded, but God created a true home for the followers of Christ. Not a home built of anything material, but a home of deep relationship with God and with each other. Furthermore, it was a home which called and calls us into mission because the whole aim and goal of the Spirit’s presence and power was to proclaim Christ in a manner which could not be denied. … The church’s true home is to be in mission – to be reaching people who are far from God with the amazing power of the Gospel; a power which has healed and held and helped people into the Kingdom of heaven from the beginning.”[4]

It is not surprising the retreat held by the leadership of Nawton Church in 2014 concluded that their journey had just begun …  Mission is more than a series of programmes, it is more than serving, it is a deep connection with others.  To continue further into mission would require courage and perseverance.  The leaders felt that they needed some kind of ordained ministry to better equip the congregation for mission, but also to help further develop the community connections they had already formed.

I quote from the Session Clerk’s[5] recollection of the retreat:

“A number of scriptures came out around this time of retreat;

Isaiah 48:17b – “I am the Lord your God who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.  There was a real feeling that God wanted us to do something new, something different.

We feel that there is a groundswell of God’s anointing upon us as individuals.  This has been identified by several people in our congregation not just elders.  There has been a deepening of faith in many.

It’s all about the holiness of God’s work being the focus and our actioning being secondary.  When we look at what we have to offer nothing is too small, no one is too young/old/weak or insignificant.  We together are like a growing snowball.  This image related to our home-group study at the time of “In a pit with a lion on a snowy day”.  With God as our focus, our motivator, our actioner, our sustainer – everything we do and say has a holiness, is sacred ground.

Nehemiah 1:5-7 – Nehemiah’s prayer is our foundation prayer as a congregation.  “I will gather them from there and bring them to a place I have chosen as a dwelling place for my Name”.  – This is a vision of the future congregation at Nawton Church that God himself will bring.

John 20:19-23 – “doors locked for fear” – Our real mission in the community is the healing of the people, some of whom are living in a household of fear and who lock us out because of it.

Revelation 3:2 – “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die”. – We’ve read the modern chatter that the Church is dying yet here is God’s call to energize and encourage us.”

She concludes, “I hope these few scriptures and what they have meant to us helps to show some of the spiritual journey that we have been on and are still on.  Prayer is paramount as is listening for God’s voice. Each of us hear this in different ways and what is heard is often confirmed by others.  We pray that we are listening to God’s way for us.”

In this you will hear the dependence of the leadership on prayer, waiting on God and a robust process of discernment as they listen to God’s way forward.  The leadership were united in their decision to recognise that God is at work in their community, and they are willing to partner in ways which challenge their own personal preferences and comfort.

There is great strength in leadership being united and being prepared to lead, more so to answer the difficult questions.  Not everyone agreed, but such was the mana of the leaders that they were prepared to “give it a go”.  I find it very telling that the two key leaders at this time were the Parish Clerk and the Treasurer.  Unity and clarity of purpose between those responsible for the spiritual and material oversight of a congregation is, in my opinion, uncommon!

Two things came together at this point:  members of the parish visited Nawton School (directly across the road from the church) and found that the new principal, Rubina Wheeler, was strongly supportive of the pastoral care of the students, believed in a holistic education, welcomed Bible in Schools and, being Maori, she valued the spiritual side of their tikanga (culture).  This also brought a renewed realisation of just how significant the Maori population and culture is within the community.  Of the 22 classes, 5 are taught bi-lingually (rua reo) and seven are taught exclusively in te reo Maori (rumaki).

The first connection that resulted between the church and school was practical such as serving at a breakfast club, then came individual connections such as knitting slippers for children.  These practical acts of service led the way for growing trust.

The second thing was that the church approached Te Aka Puaho (Maori Synod of PCANZ) about the possibility of working together to meet the needs of the community.  This invitation resulted in Rev Hone Te Rire, an Amorangi, making himself available to the church.  Amorangi ministry is a strand of bi-vocational, non-stipended ministry within the Presbyterian Church.   The church offered to employ Hone as a resource minister and the school agreed to his appointment as chaplain and kamatua.

Who do we share shalom with?

The employment of Hone brought many threads of Nawton Church’s mission together.  The connection with the school was reinforced and the opportunity to engage with the families of the children attending the after-school programmes was greatly enhanced.  His standing in the Maori community brings mana to the church.  Because this transition occurred over time, people have got to know and trust him.  Fundamental changes to programmes and even worship services, such as waiata himene (singing hymns) and karakia (prayer), are now well accepted and create a more welcoming environment for the Maori community.  Greetings are in Maori reo, people are acknowledged for their role and status and newcomers take a part in the services – all these changes have been welcomed by the congregation.  A few have found this adjustment difficult, but have been willing to accept changes because the message is clear – this is our home and all are welcome.

The rites of passage – baptisms, marriages, funerals are offered in Maori reo.  Even for those who are far from the church – these occasions are often those where a connection is made and relationship formed.  Blessing a house after a suicide, meeting with a recently released prisoner, helping two young men get out of the Mongrel Mob, writing “Hone’s Korero” column in the community newspaper, a father and son breakfast, breaking bread together … all these connections have enabled new relationships, a new way to share the gospel, or a means to welcome people and share shalom.

There is a critical core of the congregation who work alongside Hone and the community and the school, willingly preaching, teaching, providing pastoral care and administration.  Almost all members of the congregation help in some tangible way, for example, knitting, cooking, transporting youth and giving generously so that everything is focussed on achieving their vision of God’s mission being realised in the community.  It is a delight to see what seems to be most of the school racing across the road to the weekly Café after school club.  It is a delight to see 80-year-old parishioners chatting with the children and helping them with their activities and snacks.

If you visit Nawton Church building, the first thing you will notice is a giant banner – visible from all areas of the interior.  It says: “We are to be the heart, the hands and the feet of Jesus in our community.”  It is before them in all they do.  You see, this is a struggling community and other churches and community groups are also working to address the social problems; but the reality is that only a church can do what a church can do and providing hope and a place of safety, with unconditional love goes long way in healing the hurt and the hurting people.  It is not easy to be part of a congregation which includes many people who have not come from a churched background, because then mission is not only “out there” but in your face and sitting next to you in the service.


How does the story of Nawton Church reimagine home?  Through vision.  The leadership were clear that God had plans for the church.  They saw an isolated community, who was “other”, but most importantly they were willing to give up their own comfort to welcome the “stranger”.  And the amazing reciprocity of this was the gift of the stranger – opening new ways of thinking which were life-giving.  In engaging in God’s mission, the congregation grew in their understanding of their neighbours, the complexity of human experience and the grace of God as he blessed each new step with more members and changed lives.  This is their bi-cultural and multi-cultural journey.

Bill Featherstone, the Elder I quoted earlier, shares their vision for the next stage:

“It is possible one day the school-church complex will be an urban marae with the wharenui (meeting house) and the whare karakia (house of prayer) supporting the lowest socio-economic community in Hamilton.  A place where Maori, migrants are all mutually comfortable drawn into unity by the gospel.  Whatever the future, the church will not look like that envisaged by the people who planned Nawton all those years ago, but it will still hold faithfully to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In this we can see the continuing curiosity and imagination of this church as it continues to be open to new ways of weaving together God’s story and their story.

Lesslie Newbigin again:

“I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation. … The only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. I am, of course, not denying the importance of the many activities by which we seek to challenge public life with … but I am saying that these are all secondary, and that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community[6].”

The little church that could

You might recall the Little Golden Book entitled “The Little Engine that Could”. It was published in 1954 and told the story of a little railroad engine that volunteered to pull a series of heavy freight cars up a steep hill after the task had defeated all the great engines.  “I think I can” puffed the little locomotive as she coupled up.  “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” she puffed as she gained speed.  “I – think – I – can”, she puffed right to the top of the hill.  As the little engine descended, delighted with her feat she puffed, “I thought I could, I thought I could …”

Nawton Church’s story is not complete.  Wonderful things have begun as they have participated in God’s mission.  They are making a home for the whole community and, as a congregation, have been changed by the journey as much as they have witnessed the change in others.  This is a community in which God’s shalom is pervasive.

Lisa Wells

3 July 2017

Powerpoint images:  AAMS Nawton Church

[1] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (London: SPCK, 1989), 232-233

[2] Interview with Bill Featherstone, October 2016


[4] Moderator’s Pentecost Massage 2017, Rt Rev Richard Dawson, personal correspondence 25 May 2017

[5] Parish Clerk Cathy Rogers’ email to LW, personal correspondence 7 November 2016

[6] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 227.

About hurting people and hurting congregations

This post is going to be more personal than others.  That means it will be more difficult to write.  I guess you could say I was inspired to write it when I saw a Facebook meme that said: “if you fuel your journey on the opinions of others, you are going to run out of gas”.  It resonated well with me as I seem to have been dealing with a few negative, unhappy people over the past few months.  That’s personal and work as well.

 I have come to the conclusion that hurting people end up hurting other people.  They look at where they are in life and can’t accept that where they are is the result of their own choices.  They feel powerless to change, they see themselves as innocent victims in a big bad world and they tell themselves that they deserve more.  In attempting to assert themselves they push away those who care.  They become more insular and in focussing on false gods like self-love they forget how to love.

st ambrose

 So, I said it would be personal.  What has this to do with churches?

 I see many of these behaviours in churches too.  It’s not surprising since the church is the people, so the sum of their emotional intelligence becomes the prevailing culture of the congregation.  They are afraid to be anything other than they are, even though they say they want to change.  The “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” are legion.  Somehow to do things differently would imply that those who have gone before were wrong.

They look at change all around them and they feel powerless.  They see themselves as victims.  Bring back Christendom.  We looked like our community, we just got on with serving and we didn’t make a fuss.  And faith – that was something private.  Something impolite to discuss.  So they look to false gods of continuity, stability and comfort.

 “What about looking outward?” I suggest.  “What needs are there in your community?”  They are not indifferent, but they don’t know who their neighbours are.  Aren’t we called to love the stranger?  Have we forgotten the Good News?

 They repel newcomers with their cloistered hospitality and fellowship.  They tell me “I don’t know why visitors don’t stay, we’re all so friendly”.  I add “to each other”.  But that’s not really a such bad thing.  Except when they wound each other as well.

 I don’t know why hurting people and hurting congregations hurt other people.

 I could give you a list of why churches find it so hard to change, or what the indicators are of a healthy church, but I wonder whether we talk enough about faith, hope and love?

 St Ambrose of Milan said “No one heals himself by wounding another”.  There are lots of people who need healing and there are lots of congregations that need healing.  Jesus did a fair bit of healing and reconciliation and I’m pretty sure he encouraged his disciples (us) to do it too!

 Am I saying all congregations are like this?  No, certainly not! There are many joyful, faith-filled congregations who know that their best days in mission are ahead of them.  Let’s start there.  Can we stop hurting each other? Can we help each other? 


Why some great churches never impact their community

This excellent article is not mine but was published on Christianity Today and is written by Karl Vaters who has published a multitude of articles on small churches.  This presents much to ponder.  Seeing yourself as others see you is the first step.  The small changes that are mentioned are very powerful in terms of “opening” your church (people and building) up to the outside!
“Your church has the world’s greatest treasure. Don’t hide it behind layers of misdirection and insider lingo, daring people to find it.

Several years ago I had the privilege of being in a great church service on a trip away from home.

The worship was dynamic, the people were friendly, the message was biblical and engaging, the sense of the presence of God was genuine.

As I drove away, I thought, “What a great church! I feel filled-up and ready to take on the week! It’s a shame they won’t have any impact on their community – not if they keep doing things the way they’re currently doing them.”

Why would I think that if the church was as great as I described?

Everything the church did was inward-looking not outward-reaching.

Because everything the church did was inward-looking not outward-reaching.

Do The Great Commandment And The Great Commission

They had half the recipe right. The half that will keep insiders happy, even growing in their faith. They were doing the Great Commandment.

But they were missing the other half. The Great Commission. The half that reaches out to a community that could use a large dose of what they were offering.

In fact, not only did they show no evidence of reaching out, they were making it very hard for anyone who wasn’t an insider to get connected.

Welcome, If You Can Find Us

For starters, I drove past the church twice without seeing it. It was tucked in behind a grove of trees, with only one old, small sign on the street. And it was being consumed by the forest. When I asked about it, I was told, “everyone knows where we are.”

After driving in, I pulled into what I hoped was a parking spot, then wandered around a peeling-paint building until I tugged on what I thought was the front door, only to find it locked. Again, “everyone” was supposed to know where the front door was.

Once I got inside, pushing my way past friends chatting in the doorway, the people were warm and welcoming.

During the service, they did several things that were unique to their worship style, without any explanation about why they were doing it. Even though I was familiar enough with this type of church to know what was going on, without an explanation even I was taken aback a couple times.

They used insider language – language I understood, but most newcomers would not.

And that’s a shame. Because the meat of the service – the worship, preaching and fellowship – was done really well. But almost no one else in their community will ever know about it.

Get Your Light Out From Under That Basket!

That church didn’t need to change a thing about how they worshipped, taught or greeted me as a newcomer – once I made it into the building, that is.

But they needed to add something.


Some call it marketing, advertising or branding.

I’m not a fan of those terms. They’re the language of business, not ministry.

They needed to do a better job at making a first impression.

But whatever you want to call it, they needed to do a better job at making a first impression.

To use the language Jesus used, they were keeping their light under a basket – their salt in the shaker.

Make The Onramp Easier

When most church writers and speakers tell churches they need to “change or die”, this is what we mean.

We’re not asking churches to change what they believe, or even how they practice what they believe.

Just upgrade the onramp.

Trim the trees, paint the building, add some signage, and greet your guests at the door – if not before they reach the door.

Explain the parts of the service that others may find odd or confusing.

Go out into the neighborhood. Engage the community. Let them know you care enough to be in their world instead of wondering why they haven’t entered your world – when you haven’t even put out a welcome mat.

“If we preach the gospel, people will come” is naïve.

It’s also bad stewardship.

Your church has the world’s greatest treasure. Don’t hide it behind layers of misdirection and insider lingo, daring people to find it.

Jesus went where the people were. He called them to follow. He explained hard-to-understand concepts in easy-to-understand words.

He made the onramp easy – even though discipleship was hard.

And he told us to do the same.”

Other fundraising articles of interest

Some times you need to let things go and I am in the process of closing my fundraising consultancy, so I have been going through my website and saving many of the articles I have written for publication over the years. It seemed a good idea to post them on here, essentially as a public archive, so that it was easy for me to refer people to that content.  Feel free to have a browse and if you repost or use my material, please remember to credit me with the authorship.  If you’d like to start a conversation about fundraising, or have comments or questions, please make a comment below this post.

Articles from










Asking for Money – Five Top Tips!

Seeking funding for our mission is sometimes the hardest things we have to do; whether we are in a church, not for profit organisation, or community building grass-roots group.  This article I have written will be published in the March 2107 issue of Fundraising New Zealand.  It is applicable right across the voluntary and community sector and much of what I mention can be applied in a church or para-church setting too.



This could be about asking for anything –volunteers, skills, time, goods and services … but it’s about the one that makes people squirm the most – asking for money.  And that’s a sign of how important we have let money become in our society.  Messages are everywhere in our consumerist society … “we deserve it” … “success is the person with the most toys”, I’m sure you know the underlying narrative.  But have you ever asked a multi-millionaire what is the most important thing to them?  I have.  It’s not money.  It’s not even really what money can buy. It’s relationship.  If we are “cultivating” prospects just to get them to make a gift, then we are missing what philanthropy is all about.  When we ask for money we are doing more than selling a product, we are asking a prospective donor to be part of something significant, something that they care about, something greater than themselves.  Asking is a privilege and as such the act of asking should be treated with due respect.  Donors who discover the joy of giving will have an impact on the world that is far greater than the donation they make to your organisation.  So, you play the long game and develop generosity by building connection and interest in your cause, listening to the prospective donor and understanding what motivates them to give.  And you do all of this before you ask for money.

In this article, I am focussing on asking at the higher end of the scale.  Major gifts or Capital Campaigns all require face-to-face asking and are often regarded as extreme fundraising – where the stakes are high and the risk of rejection is high.  But this need not be so.

  1.  Remember the “Five Rights” of fundraising?

This is what should guide each step of your preparation and the asking process.  Lining up “the right person asking the right donor for the right amount for the right project at the right time” is crucial to success.  If you’ve done all of that then it would be unusual for the answer to be a “no”.  This is an area in which good enough is not good enough.  It must be right.  Each time you satisfice you diminish the chances of getting the donation you need.

Let me give you an example of “right person”.  I had completed a Feasibility Study for a major redevelopment programme for a high school.  The Study made clear who was the leader of choice for the Appeal.  The Board Chair had the task of asking that person to lead the programme.  He came back to me smiling later in that afternoon.  “I asked (the preferred leader) but he was too busy, so I talked to some others and asked (a local business leader who had attended the school) and he said yes!”

I wasn’t smiling.  This person had not been interviewed, had not been part of the early process of education about the Appeal and was interested only in so far as it assisted his chances in the local body elections.  But you can’t un-ask a leader and the Appeal proceeded.  Instead of a top gift of $100,000, the leader put in $35,000 and sure enough the Appeal failed to achieve target.  In fact, the prediction that Appeals seldom achieve more than ten times the top gift came true and we got stuck at $350,000.  Only with a lot of hard work and support of trusts, rather than alumni, did we get near the target.  As I look back on this, maybe neither the asker nor the donor were the “right” people on this occasion.  I learnt the hard way to make sure that the “Five Rights” weren’t compromised ever again on Appeals I directed.

2.  Preparation and knowing your donor.

When you first identify a prospective donor, or they identify themselves by making the first move, you need to start finding out more about them. If we say fundraising’s all about building relationships, then this stage is like the courtship.  You can do all the public domain research you like, but you will never really know the donor until you are talking face to face.  If you believe the donor has the ability and interest to potentially make a large gift to your cause then you will find multiple ways to invite their involvement, educate them about the needs you address, meet key leaders, ask their advice and more before you ask for a large gift.  You can’t hurry this stage or be artificial or manipulative about it, or their interest will move onto something else.  Take every opportunity to talk to them – in person, on the phone and in written form.  In doing so you will find out what they are passionate about, what they care about, what motivates them to give and what doesn’t, what other charities or causes they support … you will have access to information that helps you deal with four of the “rights” I mentioned previously – who would they most likely say “yes” to, for what project, for which amount and in what time-frame.  And that’s what your donor profile should record – only what is pertinent to the ask.  Any more and it starts looking like stalking!

Once you get a sense of the answers to those questions you can start planning to ask the donor.  While many people focus on the analytical left brain questions, it is often the right brain emotion that triggers the gift.  You will need to prepare for a balance of the two types of questions for each solicitation.



ANALYTICAL (left brain) EMOTIVE (right brain)
How will my money be used (specifically)? What are our stories?  How compelling are they?
How do you quantify the long-term impact of what you do?  Does it work? How do they illustrate what we do and show success?
What’s the ROI?  Are you a viable organisation? What sets you apart from your competitors?
Does the organisation have the capacity to do what it says it will do? Who do I know on the Board or management team?  Do I trust them?

One thing we often do is to give too much information.  Even a donor who is asking for more data wants something more.  You must listen between the words to find this out. Plying them with more data is counter-productive.  Some research even suggests that many donors base their giving on how they will feel after making the gift.

We can spend too long in this stage and start procrastinating.  Hank Rosso always did remind us that in the ask “all the principles of Fund Raising must come to a critical focus sharpened by the reality of the case, not dulled by the corrosive forces of procrastination”.

Practice asking.  Write a script even if you don’t need one.  Just kidding, you do need to put it all down on paper and read it out to yourself to make sure you’re not preparing to talk all the time or sound weird!

3.  Be specific.

What project or aspect of the case will you ask the prospective donor to support?  If you don’t know before the visit then it’s too soon to ask.  Even if you have framed this in your mind and presentation, you need to spend time listening during the visit to make sure the project is one that resonates with them.

How much will you ask for?  You know your campaign goals, the donor doesn’t (yet).  Where do they fit on the gift chart?  You did prepare a gift chart didn’t you?  They are one of the most under-rated and compelling tools we have as fundraisers!  Where does this donor sit in relationship to other donors who are being asked to give to this project?  Asking the donor to consider a gift at a particular level on the gift chart is non-confrontational and shows what they are being asked to do in context with what others are being asked to do.  The donor will say very quickly if what you are suggesting is a bit high, or may even suggest they could be on a higher giving step.

4.  The conversation of an ask.

That’s really all it is.  A conversation between two people with a common interest and a common desire to achieve something.  There’s a structure that works and it looks like this:

  • Preliminaries
  • Opening / introduction
  • Presentation
  • Negotiation
  • Closing

Phone to ask for an appointment to discuss the project with the donor, but do not start to ask on the phone.  Make your own gift to the project, because you can’t ask if you’re not a giver (at a level which is significant to your own personal circumstances).  If you are a staff member it might be a volunteer donor you are coaching to do this ask.  The asker will always be the one the donor is most likely to say “yes” to.  For the rest of this article I will assume you are the “right person” and the asker.

Take with you any information or prompts you feel you need, but remember that this is more for your reassurance than a crucial part of the donor’s decision-making.  Arrive on time and “push yourself to one side and let your cause walk in the door!” as they say.  It’s not about you.  It’s about the donor experiencing the joy of giving.

The preliminaries shouldn’t take long, you are building rapport with someone you already know.  Be friendly, not gossipy, and practice your listening skills early in the visit.  Now it’s time to create a bridge.  Plan what that bridge might be.  One example might be: “Judy, you’ve been supporting our organisation for a long time now and you’ll know ….. (your case) … so I’ve come here today to ask for your help …”  In this example, you are acknowledging the relationship and your intention to ask for something.  It would be good to prepare more than one sentence you can use as a transition, or bridge, when you are practicing your script so you can move to it in the most natural way possible.

Present the needs and the ability of the project you have in mind to address these needs.  The broad vision leads and the more specific mission follows.  Listen to the donor’s thoughts and opinions, understand her objections, give her space to ask questions.  If you don’t know an answer, then say so and undertake to find out.  Stop if it’s getting boring or you are doing all the talking!  When the donor has all the information they need, ask them for the gift using my favourite word “consider”.  “Would you consider making a gift of $x (or in this $ range) to this Appeal / for this project?”  And the next bit is very important.  Don’t say anything until the donor answers the question.  Be comfortable with silence.  If you speak first you will undermine the entire ask.  Fundraisers I know who have broken the silence have told me that the time seemed to go on endlessly so, in their own nervousness, they started to discount the ask.  Phrases like “Oh I know it’s a lot of money”, and “we’re grateful for anything you can do” are not respectful to the donor, who has a lot of conversations going on in her head at that time, and they are not respectful of the process.  Wait.

If the answer is “yes”, you can talk about how the gift would be made – one-off, in instalments, or at a particular time (e.g. when investments fall due).  The donor may need time to talk to a financial advisor about that.  This is the negotiation stage.

If the answer is “no”, you need to clarify whether it is a “not yet” or a final decision.  Whatever the conclusion, say thank you for their time and consideration of your request.  Follow up immediately you leave the meeting with the paperwork and a written acknowledgement of their commitment.  If you are getting more information, do so promptly and then visit again to conclude the conversation.

5.  Finally, a word of emphasis about strategic silence.

It is a compelling part of the solicitation because it lets the case stand.  The donor’s attention is then directed to the case for funding support.  If it is robust, it stands scrutiny. If it is weak, those weaknesses will be revealed. Our case is the organisation’s story and we are inviting the donor to be part of the story too.

That’s it.  Five things I have learnt in the last thirty years asking people for money, asking them to be part of a vision, a movement or a tangible asset.

(c) Lisa Wells, BA, CFRE, FFINZ