Separation of Church and Nonprofit

Sections of this topic

    A reader wrote:
    Our non-profit, faith based social service agency is going to split from the identity/brand of the church, but continue under a new name and separate 501(c)(3) to offer the same programs and services. The only difference is that it would no longer be associated with the church or considered part of the church’s social ministry.

    The way I see it, there are two major obstacles a development team would face. My questions to you are: (1.) how would you communicate this change to your current constituents? And, (2.) how would you go about revising your approaches to fundraising …?
    For the purpose of responding to your question as completely as I can, I’ll assume that your questions relate to foster care services and that the new 501(c)(3) will comply with State laws regarding non-discrimination of prospective foster parents.

    First, who, now, are your constituents/donors?

    The people who gave to support the church and its good works, within the church’s beliefs/restrictions, will be unlikely to support a nonprofit that does not apply the same “restrictions.”

    People who are interested in supporting foster care services for children, no matter the (prospective/qualified) foster parents, are likely to continue to support you and the children you serve.

    For those folks, and for lots of people who have not yet been donors, a simple explanation that you’ve created the new nonprofit organization to make sure that there is as broad a base of quality/caring prospective foster parents as possible … to be able to provide homes for the greatest number of children.

    And, to be sure that your (potential) donors are reassured and fully informed, let them know that the board of the new (c)(3) is a “diverse” group with the needs of the children uppermost in their minds and with the intention of complying with all applicable laws.

    I have no doubt that the majority of your current donors (and a great many prospective donors) have read the papers, heard the reports, and are aware of the “controversy” about same-sex foster parents. Don’t beat the “issue” to death, just be open with them.

    For your second question, since I’m not familiar with your prior fundraising methodology, my immediate response is to suggest that you stay with what has worked in the past. And, if you don’t already have a major gifts program, now would be a great time to create one.

    I would also suggest the necessity of a regional marketing effort to get your new brand/identity known/accepted.

    And, as a result of the changes/turmoil, it would also be a good time to ask donors to increase their giving … to account for any drop in income that the program has experienced … and to help you provide foster care services to as many children as possible.

    Have a comment or a question about starting, evaluating or expanding your fundraising program? Contact me at With over 30 years of counseling in major gifts, capital campaigns, bequest programs and the planning studies to precede these three, I’ll be pleased to answer your questions.