Fundraising: A Spiritual Activity

Imagine that you sat down with a member of your congregation and started a conversation with, “Let me tell you what God is doing through our congregation.”? I think most people would be thrilled to have a conversation like this. It feels deeply spiritual.

But what if that conversation ended with, “Would you consider a gift of $5,000 to allow our congregation to live out that mission?”  Who still wants to be in that conversation? I suspect many church leaders would not. There is a palpable discomfort of talking about money. It feels worldly, dirty, or tainted. It’s something other organizations do, but not the church! But consider:

If we come back from asking someone for money and we feel exhausted and somehow tainted by unspiritual activity, there is something wrong.

Those aren’t the words of the latest fundraising guru. They come directly from Henri Nouwen, renowned priest and author, known for his writing and speaking about the spiritual life. In his very brief book, A Spirituality of Fundraising (which I highly recommend), Nouwen continues:

As a form of ministry, fundraising is as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry.

Really? How is this possible?

Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and ministry.

When our congregations have a clear sense of God’s purpose for ministry, we have the exciting opportunity to invite people to generously provide the finances to expand it.  If we truly believe that we’re doing what God calls us to do, how can we not invite people to financially make that vision turn into reality?

On a synodical level, much discernment work has gone into clarifying our purpose. As a synod, we develop and equip spiritual, resilient congregations and leaders.  We accompany partners around the globe. Or, to put it another way, “We are equipping congregations and leaders to follow Jesus into a changing world.” As a synod, we don’t ask individuals or congregations to give to support a $2.1 million budget. We invite them to participate in this mission that God has given us and we have specific stories showing what God is up to.

What does your congregation believe in such a way that you can offer other people the opportunity to participate with you in your congregation’s vision and ministry?

What part of God’s great mission invigorates people in your corner of God’s kingdom? Once you have clarity about that, then inviting people to be a part of it is easy. You simply tell the story of God at work among you and allow people to join in that work.

We don’t invite people to meet a budget goal. We’re simply inviting them to be a part of what God is already doing in our midst, and God’s activity is not limited by budget spreadsheets. We invite people to unleash our congregation’s potential to make a significant impact in people’s lives, both within and outside of our congregations.

Fundraising not only makes ministry possible, it opens people take steps on a spiritual journey, a journey of generosity. God works in the midst of it all, building faith and trust in individuals while expanding God’s ministry through communities of faith.

This article appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of River Crossings, a newsletter of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod
Pete Reuss

River Crossings

Imagine driving by a restaurant with this sign outside: We lose money being open on Mondays. Come eat and help us break even. Doesn’t that just make you want to go out to eat on a Monday night??

In order to increase business during their slow times restaurants appeal, not their bottom line, but to the self-interest of their potential patrons. They think, “What would appeal my customers? What would encourage them to come out to eat on the first work day of the week after a busy weekend?” This thinking leads to marquees that read things like $5 Burger Night and Free Pie Mondays. Cheap burgers? Free pie? I could be convinced!

Considering the customer’s standpoint changes the messaging from one of scarcity to one of possibility.

The same is true for congregations. In the middle of summer, most experience a dip in giving. As people head out of town for weekend activities, worship attendance goes down. Fewer people in worship translates to fewer dollars in the offering plate. Church budgets feel the pinch.

To address this challenge, many congregations offer their members some form of automated giving (many Lutheran churches use Simply Giving through Vanco). Congregations with larger percentages of automated givers have better cash flow during the summer months, easing the strain on treasurers as bills come due.

This leads to announcements like this (that I have heard many times in many places), “During the summer months we experience a shortfall of giving. Automated giving is a way for you to help your church! Even when you are out of town your donations will continue to come and help us meet our expenses. Please, won’t you sign up now?” It’s 100% true, but it doesn’t prove very inspiring. It focuses on scarcity and shortfall and not on God’s abundance. At the heart, this message sounds much like the first restaurant marquee. We lose money in the summer. Sign up for automated giving and help us break even. Not very inspiring!

A couple weeks ago I attended a congregation that came at this from a different direction. A video showed a couple who said, “We love this church and are excited to be a part of financially supporting a place where we can see God at work in powerful ways. We had a hard time keeping track of the checks that we put in the offering plate. Every time we’d come to worship we’d have to pull out the checkbook and look back to see when the last check had been written. Automated giving took those worries away. Now we can support our church on a regular basis without the worry and hassle of trying to keep track of it all. We love it.”

Considering the donor’s standpoint changed the messaging from one of scarcity to one of possibility. The focus remained on the ease of supporting God’s activity through the church and not on the lack of funds in the plate.

What message does your congregation convey as you seek to expand the rolls of automated givers? Do you appeal to scarcity and need or to possibility and abundance? Do you focus on what is good for the congregation or what is good for the donor?