I think most of us engaged in Christian ministry fundraising would agree that this past year was challenging. The context in which I say that is with regard to “money raised” either compared to the previous year or perhaps against a budget that had aggressive goals. The antithesis of this past “challenging year” of course has been the many years in which we have exceeded fundraising expectations. In either case the conversation still focuses around “money raised.”
What is the heart of development?
What is the heart of development? What is our most important role as fundraisers in a ministry? We all have a budget and understand how important it is to raise the necessary amount to support the ministry’s operation so that we can serve those in need effectively, efficiently and responsibly. But what is the heart of development, or said differently, what is God’s heart in development?
Are we measured by how much we raise or don’t raise, or is there something more at stake, something more eternal in nature? In his book A Spirituality of Fundraising (Upper Room Books, 2011) Henri Nouwen describes fundraising as a ministry: “Fundraising is a very rich and beautiful activity. It is a confident, joyful and hope filled expression of ministry. In ministering to each other, each from the riches that he or she possesses, we work together for the full coming of God’s Kingdom.”
Called out of the “corporate world” 17 years ago into my current role as vice president of development at Denver Rescue Mission, this has been a humbling journey indeed. As a long-time banker it was always easy to measure our team’s performance from year to year. We knew what the goal was and did whatever it took to get there. Everyone was rewarded or demoted based on financial objectives against a stated goal. This was easy to understand and measure. In Christian fundraising there is a stated goal but then there is this “ministry” piece attached. How do we measure that? Are we ministering to our donor base appropriately and effectively? Did we offend them? Were we bold enough or too bold?
Are we ministering to our donor base appropriately and effectively?
This is the rich and beautiful part of what Nouwen is describing! We get the privilege of communicating God’s thoughts about stewarding his money, along with the exciting, nerve-racking aspects of asking for it!
One of the many resources available is a wonderful book, The Sower, (ECFAPress, 2010) written by Dr. R. Scott Rodin and Dr. Gary Hoag on the topic of the ministry of raising kingdom resources. I had the privilege of taking a biblical stewardship class from Gary while he was the vice president of development at Denver Theological Seminary. The class was focused on understanding the biblical principles of stewardship and fundraising. It was very enlightening, but more importantly impactful on relieving the pressure of “it’s up to ME to raise money.” In The Sower, Dan Busby, president of ECFA, outlines three assumptions that Scott and Gary communicate to the reader.
- Generous giving is not predicated solely on the work of an individual or an organization’s efforts, but rather on God’s work in people.
- Generosity flows from transformed hearts as they conform to the image of Christ, who is generous.
- Christian resource-raising is not solely about securing transactions or gifts; rather it is about encouraging spiritual transformation-helping people become givers rich toward God.
The message of The Sower is all about transforming the hearts of the donors, which is really another way to describe the ministry of fundraising. This is vital as we ask how we as fundraising professionals sustain our own hearts as we minister.
Here are some thoughts:
- Stay engaged in the actual mission of your organization. Volunteer regularly by serving on the front lines. This is also a good way to engage with your donors. Mentor someone in the program. As always, the mentor becomes the mentee.
- Pursue best practices from larger organizations both in your field of ministry as well as outside. This will help you realize you don’t have to figure it all out.
- Find a mentor. We all need someone to call for advice and to bounce ideas off.
- Build a culture of philanthropy among your board and staff.
- Trust that God has you in your role for a time such as this and continue to pray for his guidance.
In a Spirituality of Fundraising, Henri Nouwen concludes with wonderful advice on sustaining our hearts as development leaders: “When we approach fundraising in a spirit of gratitude, our confidence in our mission does not depend on how the person we are with responds to our request! We are free to remain secure in God’s love with our hearts set joyfully on the kingdom.”
Griff Freyschlag is the vice president of development for Denver Rescue Mission. He is also a member of the national advisory council for Christian Leadership Alliance. After spending 22 years in the banking business, God used day to day experiences with friends “on the street” in Denver to prepare Griff’s heart for serving the homeless. Denver Rescue Mission has a development staff of 24 people committed to communicating the message of “Changing Lives in the Name of Christ.”
Register by June 17 for an Alliance 10-week online module, facilitated by Griff Freyschlag, on building an engaging brand and inspiring donor support.