Climbing the Mountain of Performance
By Kelsey McFaul
Melinda Delahoyde reflects on the freedom of stewardship in nonprofit development
“Development directors always operate with the pressure of performance, with hard targets of gift projections and revenue budgets. In the nonprofit ministry world, they have about an 18-month life cycle. I began to say to myself, ‘This can’t be what God wants. I can’t live this life. I cannot keep climbing this mountain of performance.’”
Melinda Delahoyde has over 40 years of experience in development roles within the faith-based nonprofit sector, an arena that many might think is free from performance pressures. But her work in pregnancy center ministry and the life movement has taught her differently.
The current president of Gateway Pregnancy Center and former president of Care Net, Melinda observed the effects of performance pressure not only in the lives of those around her, but also in her own life and career.
“I found that God often put me in organizations that were in some kind of crisis. I’d come on board and be handed a $100,000 budget shortfall I had to raise in the next three months. I would pray, ‘Lord, how are You going to do this?’ Yet He would meet that goal.”
Time and again, Melinda and the causes she worked received the bounty of God’s provision. But that didn’t alleviate the expectations and anxiety that came with each new crisis.
“It didn’t really connect for me until the last 10 years. I began to understand that this pressure was not what Jesus wanted for me or the ministry. This was not the life He meant us to have. That’s when I started to intentionally seek the life described in The Steward Leader, a life of peace and joy and dependence that is based on abiding in Jesus Christ.”
In the midst of budget proposals, gift invitations, and board meetings, Melinda began reading Christian writers who lived out stewardship principles of surrender, dependence, freedom, and joy.
“I started reading Andrew Murray’s address to Christian workers. He writes about living as branches who receive our strength from the vine, Jesus Christ. His words had a tremendous impact on my life. I realized that I was living and working so much from within my own power. The pressure of performance is so great when we depend on ourselves.”
In stewardship terms, Melinda began to realize the ways she was acting was as an owner of her career as a development professional. While she asked God for help, she still retained ownership of the projects, and the expectations, anxiety, and pressure that came with them. God was the helper, but she was the owner–the exact opposite of living as a steward.
“Jesus kept saying to me, ‘Why are you climbing this performance mountain? Why do you find your worth and significance in that when I am offering you a life of freedom?’ Hannah Whitehall Smith and others write about the life that God has for us, a life of dependence and trust on Him. This is a life where we surrender every aspect of our lives to His control and power–our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others, and with creation.”
For Melinda, this surrender has immense implications for the way she defines success in fundraising and donor relations.
“One of the big questions is, what are we measuring? Are we measuring how many buildings we built or how many new ministry programs we started? Or are we measuring the impact that Jesus had in a person’s life recovering from addiction or abuse or abortion?”
In practical terms, Melinda’s stewardship ethos means she approaches donors in order to build relationships first, not fulfill metrics.
“What is my responsibility? First of all, and I truly believe this, I encourage [donors] in their walk with Jesus Christ. Our development team prays regularly for them. We care about their families, about things that are not financial.
But it’s also our responsibility to meet our development metrics. We’re prepared with a specific giving invitation that is consistent with who they are and the way they choose to give. We talk about the impact of this gift for our mission. We show them measurable goals, the inputs and the outputs we want to achieve.”
Making a sincere effort to surrender the relationships and metrics of fundraising to God also means re-framing what development staff would consider failure–when a donor declines to give.
“I’m competitive, and I like to see the dollars come in. But I have to make myself stop and say, ‘Jesus, we have been faithful to what You called us to do. The results in this ministry are the results that come from You.’
George Mueller has so much to share with leaders today. He talks about being thankful for what God gives and trusting and asking Him for more for the ministry. It may be thanks in the midst of very disappointed feelings or discouragement, especially when the pressure is on in terms of actual resources for ministry. But as he states in Answers to Prayer, ‘I have never known Him to fail.’”
Constantly faced with a new year and new revenue projections, the pressure to perform can easily return for development directors and nonprofit ministries.
“God can bless us with a tremendously successful year on every front, and the next year I’m terrified because we have to start over again and do even better! I can feel this darkness come over my heart.”
In those moments, Melinda finds that reminders, both in the words of Christian writers and Jesus’ own words, direct her away from the mountain of performance.
“Jesus constantly reminds us to go back and review His promises, continually, moment by moment, day by day. As Andrew Murray reminds us, ‘You cannot trust Him too much.’”
For Melinda and for many who work in nonprofit ministry, it often seems as though there is always another anxiety, another need, another crisis. The mountain of performance, rather than shrinking as we climb it, gains new inclines, treacherous curves, and steep pitfalls.
The solution, she’s discovered, is not to abandon the work or to give up. Instead, we can re-frame the mountain of performance as a journey of stewardship where we surrender the anxiety, expectations, and pressure to God and allow Him to be our companion and guide.
“I’m always looking in my life for the times when it’s easy, when everything isn’t chaos and crisis. But George Mueller, in his prayer journals, says, ‘I am so thankful. I would rather have a life of constant trial and needs that are unmet because it drives me to prayer. I see the faithfulness and love and provision of our great God in ways I never would have experienced, and I know Him better and deeper because of it. So I will take this life, every day.’
Really, I think that’s what God wants all of us to have, that kind of life. But the way to that life is surrender, dependence, and trust.”