Fearless Fundraising #13: We offer and celebrate

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“Fearless Fundraising” is a series on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising and now, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-making. For more information, videos and model documents go to fearlesschurchfundraising.com.

 

Raising money is a spiritual act. We know that Jesus did it among the women who followed him.

 

My advice to churches having pledge campaigns is that they host a massive dinner for everyone in the congregation to end the pledge campaign.  It is hard work.  It can even be expensive.  But if we know anything about our liturgy and ecclesiology, our church is based around a few people having a meal together.  What we have made out of that “last meal” is up for debate.  But meeting to celebrate and connect over food is not odd…it is basic.

 

There is ONLY ONE WAY to end an 8-week campaign and to get the gifts in on time so that there IS AN END to the campaign.  For goodness sake, the people want a successful end to the campaign in church as much as I want a successful end to public radio campaigns — so that we can get back to regular music and reporting! If you listen to public radio, you know exactly what I mean.  The way to end a campaign is to create a momentum towards a gathering and use the gathering as a means by which to create and manage the momentum. “The parish dinner is in 3 weeks, can you send in your pledge so that we can celebrate it together and can you come to the parish dinner?” says the volunteer at the church phone-a-thon at the five week point.

 

Also, the notion that “pledging Sunday” will ever be successful in a culture in which people only go to church once or twice a month makes that idea a failure from the start.  There needs to be a wonderful creative, attention-getting, “bring everyone together for a well-deserved party” kind of dinner in which staff and lay volunteers work every bit as hard at getting 100% of attending parishioners into those chairs and they work to get 100% of the family and individual pledges into those lists of gifts received for the mission-budget.

 

Letting the campaign limp along for week after week …week nine…week ten…week eleven…week twelve…like a dog with a broken leg, is painful for the congregation –exhausting and frustrating and it disinclines investment by donors.  The congregation depends on the clergy, staff and lay leaders to do their job and to manage their campaign and to end their campaign and to celebrate the end of their campaign so that we can let that go and turn their attention to Advent.

 

Too many people say to me that this closing dinner is too much about “fundraising.”  Is that true or is that just an ecclesial way of getting out of doing the work? Because yes, the campaign final weeks – weeks six and seven and eight…and the closing celebration dinner…are very hard work and require real resources of time and money on top of “regular work.”  But they are a fraction of the cost of not raising the money.  My suspicion is that resistance is really about this “stewardship” issue.

 

What is this “stewardship issue?” For the past 35 years I have been working with churches on fundraising as a volunteer while managing a career in fundraising and then working as a priest (who happens also to raise money and make pottery and write.)  Over those years I have worked hard to navigate, with sensitivity (as much as I could muster) this old conversation the church has been having about the difference between “stewardship” and “fundraising.”

 

Frankly, I do not see the conflict any more than I see the conflict between a table and an altar, a chalice and a goblet, a paten and a plate, a lectern and a podium – the list could go one for many pages.

 

Stewardship is what the church-goer does with their life.  They steward what they have been given.  Each breath, each smile, each gift, each caress, each pledge, each kind word, each day of work, each hour of free time – all of it is our bounty and we are stewards of it.  I dislike the word “Steward” and “Stewardship” because they imply and come from a feudal system of castles and Lords in which the “Lord” is far away, fighting wars or managing the state while the “Steward” manages the land for a profit (often on the back of slaves and indentured servants… but I begin to digress.)

 

God is not “far away.”  We are not Deists.  Well, not on our better days. We not only believe God to be close, but we believe God wanted to be so very close that the incarnation was made possible – a God who wanted radical “with-ness.”  Advent will be all about that.

 

But we have this “Steward” and “Stewardship” language and are stuck with it at least among the Silent and Boomer Generations.  My suspicion is that the GenX and GenY members of congregations do not buy it.  And least that is what numerous interviews have told me.

 

What does this matter?  It matters a lot because alongside the people doing “stewardship” the clergy, church staff and Bishops need to do “fundraising.”  The people do “stewardship” and the church encourages “stewardship” as one of many “spiritual practices” inherent in being a Christian who does more than simply and passively “go to church for 90 minutes a week.  We encourage the “practice” of stewardship in our preaching and teachings and the people “practice stewardship” in the resulting choices they make about money and time and all other assets such a love and kindness – anything we have and can give away. But the church (clergy and Bishops) needs also to do good fundraising alongside the good stewardship of her people.

 

What’s the point?  The point is that doing fundraising is an ok thing to do in a church as in any other non-profit – the difference is simply the context and the fullness of the theology surrounding it all.  Gathering around a meal with EVERYONE together is a spiritual act.  Helping people to make their pledge so that we can get on with other things is a spiritual act. Managing a church effectively so that the campaign’s confined and successful is a spiritual act. Giving birth to a child in a stable is a spiritual act.  Giving a gift is a spiritual act.  So is receiving one.  Getting the job done is a spiritual act.

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