Keeping the faith in fundraising
by Marion Van Driel
As the old song says, “Love makes the world go ‘round.” Or does it? Economists likely disagree, suggesting that currency is the axis on which our world spins. As Christians we experience the importance of money to ministry, but without love our efforts become frustratingly empty. Perhaps both are integral to moving our world; is there a connection?
Fundraising is a crucial component for many organizations. Globally, Canada – with 85,000 registered charities – is second only to the Netherlands, with the U.S. holding fifth place. The Canadian charity and non-profit sector comprises 8.1 per cent of our gross domestic product, surpassing the automotive and manufacturing industries. New registered charities continue to increase at a net rate of 350 annually, with requests for funds rising exponentially. It comes as no surprise that donor fatigue is prevalent. Without pausing to reflect on the fundamentals and principles of giving, confusion and complexity will only increase – even for Christians who are constantly being asked to support all manner of ministries and other causes. How does faith impact both our fundraising and our giving?
From dialogue to print
In 2001, Peter Harris and Rod Wilson began conversing together with what Wilson calls “holy disquiet” around raising funds within a Christian context. Neither Harris, cofounder of A Rocha, or Wilson, then President of Regent College, dreamed that fundraising would become part of their vocational call; still both were faced with this reality in their respective offices.
Generally, they noticed two sides of the coin presented within Christian circles. A more secular approach suggested if you just used the right technique, all kinds of money would come available. On the other side, many Christians were adamant that if you trusted God for your particular need or ministry, He would provide. Asking for money suggested a lack of faith. Neither of these approaches sat well with Harris and Wilson, who felt both sides lacked a comprehensive biblical perspective. They asked whether there might be a third approach that didn’t negate the entire premise of fundraising, but was neither all about technique. The more they explored the subject, the more they found themselves in an alternate space that resonated with others. The two men began putting their thoughts to paper, which culminated in their recently published book, Keeping Faith in Fundraising.
Giving – integral to Christianity
One overarching concern the book grapples with is a tendency to separate philanthropy from other aspects of Christian life like worship, teaching, preaching, ministry, social justice and outreach. “Christians see philanthropy as other than part of the regular Christian life,” Wilson points out.
Wilson and Harris draw on personal experience, exploring how both dependence on God and human agency fit together in fundraising. On one hand, “When we evangelize, do social justice or care for the poor, we don’t sit back and say, ‘Let’s just let God do it’, we engage; but if you engage solely in thinking that your energies and efforts are going to make this happen and you don’t trust God’s providence, then you’ve got a problem in the other direction. This needs to come back under the canopy of how all the spiritual life functions.”
In his letters to the Corinthian church, Paul covers a range of topics relevant to everyday Christian living, including generosity (2Cor: 8,9). Wilson contends these letters demonstrate that whatever Paul’s role – teaching, preaching, leadership, apostolic, or fundraising, all are part of ordinary Christian living. “We argue in the book… if you understand that all of life is about gift, grace and gratitude, then money is just a by-product, an outcome of that.” Wilson explains there’s not as much an emphasis on the money (Paul doesn’t say how much or exactly what it will be used for) as on Paul’s treatment of it as a normal part of Christian life, as a matter of gratitude.
The coauthors approach the subject of method with a paradigm shift, assigning caution to placing undue trust in the technique of fundraising. Their desire is that the dominant factor would be a placement of hope and trust in God. “Probably when all is said and done, the transformation of the asker and the giver is the most important thing in God’s economy,” Wilson says, again referring to Paul’s message.
Harris and Wilson offer another option when they question the viability of method in a time when “we’ve become somewhat intoxicated by our techniques.” They’ve noticed that anecdotes of God’s just-in-time provision for those in need are stories we often view now as something lacking sophistication. We wonder who would pray and actually expect a cheque to arrive in the mail the next day. Perhaps we should ask what was going on there, suggests Wilson. Even though many people have those kinds of stories, they’ve become ‘old tales’ that no longer inform how we raise funds.
Holding results loosely
Today’s culture values success based on outcomes, metrics, targets and goals – a perspective from which Christians are not immune. “The whole of the Christian life is about service to God. Probably the biggest difficulty in the Christian life is when we focus on outcomes,” says Wilson, pointing to Jesus, whose faithful service to the Father led Him to death on a cross; Jesus, whose obedience was based on the ability to leave the final results to His Father.
The co-authors tell their own stories of God’s evident presence in their fundraising efforts. In the book’s introduction, Wilson tells one of his most formative stories about raising $3 million for a Chair for Theology of the Arts at Regent. He had commitment for $1.7 million. Having no idea where the rest was coming from, he visited someone with no intention of asking for funds. She asked about the project, the amount needed and the amount already donated. When he told her, she said, “That’s really strange because last week I went to my financial advisor, and said, ‘When Rod and Bev come to visit me, I want to give them $1.3 million.’” He’s also had the opposite experience – working for a number of years with a donor for a large sum that never materialized. So he explores where our efforts and diligence play a role, and where God is at work.
Receiving with integrity
If giving requires integrity, so does receiving. If we live in gratitude, then receiving funds will not leave us patting ourselves on the back, revelling in our success, but graciously and humbly accepting donations with thankfulness to God. “If God is lurking behind the giving and receiving of money, then the gratitude becomes fundamental…if worship is not at the core of all service, it raises questions of how viable the service really is.” Wilson concludes that when we recognize all we have comes from God and deserves our gratitude, we sidestep worthless metrics and perceptions of success or failure.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul refers back to Psalm 112: “Those who fear the Lord] share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
Keeping Faith in Fundraising (Eerdmans 2017) is available at the Regent College Bookstore, other Christian bookstores and various online sites.