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Fearless Fundraising #16: On beauty and fundraising

Fearless Fundraising #16: On beauty and fundraising

“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


The still-life painting is a go-to for me in any museum.  It is real life and yet also art and even whimsy.  It amazes me how painters can get every little detail in a painting and tell a story while also creating beauty.


This is how fundraising is for me, I raise money because it celebrates real life and also beauty. Beauty can make meaning out of some of the hardest realities.


Never, really, will I fully understand why so many in the churches and non-profits with which I work, so fear and loathe fundraising.  Sure, spiritual posturing will set up an easy (if cowardly) argument about “stewardship” versus “fundraising;” however what I have noticed is that people who are good at one or the other, or both, never try that twist of logic.  They just get to the work.  I have never met a leader who postures around “Stewardship” and who also actually is successful in raising money in their church…they just bluster as a smoke-screen.


“Stewardship” is what people do when they care for and manage their resources.  “Fundraising” is what churches and other non-profits do when they ask for money within the context of the discerning of stewardship on the part of the people.  Mary Jones exercises “stewardship” when she gives away a smile at the grocery store while also exercising “stewardship” when she gives away her money in a pledge campaign or gives away her award-winning brownies to me because I am such a delightful human being and need brownies to exist.  Also ice cream. Also my dog Kai. Also pink roses.


Fundraising is what the church does when someone sits down with Mary and asks her for $1,000 to help fund some new music needs at the church (given that she often remarks when (often) visited by clergy, that she loves the music at the church and says “do let me know if you need anything for the music program, as I do love it so.”)


People who give their money away are making meaning.  Clergy, bishops and lay leaders who help people to give their money away to things THEY (the donor) love, are helping them (the donors) to live a beautiful life of meaning-making.  It is gorgeous ministry. Those clergy and bishops who abdicate their responsibility to lead effectively and manage systems effectively so that people give and make meaning, are simply not doing their job and should be fired  – NOT for the minor sin of grotesquely constricting their mission and budget, but for the much greater dereliction of duty of constricting the donor’s potential meaning and beauty-making.


I once attempted to explain to a bishop why I loved fundraising so much.  That document, written while I was at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver, can be found here.


Simon Sinek, one of my favorite thinkers says, “People don’t buy (choose) what you do; they buy (choose) why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”


At the Cathedral, we nearly doubled giving in four years over the previous four.  I was brand new and yet some basic practices transformed giving.  Here in New Mexico, we just accomplished our first campaign.   I only had three months to accomplish a goal of $77,000 and we hit $136,000 a few weeks later at the small non-profit for which I work.  Just do good work.


How does an artist paint these roses?  That is not the question?  Was it right that there is a bird and a bird’s nest in the picture of roses?  That is not the question.  What is needed to paint the painting?  That is not the question.  These are all very basic questions with very little merit.  Their answers are important to the process but really the great question of an artist (or of anyone seeking to do great work) is “why.”  If you know the right question, the rest is easy. If vestries spent more time on determining the question rather than posturing with egocentric answers, we would not be facing the kind of decline we now face in our church.


Why raise money?  Because people need and want to give their money and time and resources away to something which connects to their “meaning making.”  Sure, you might raise money for your charity or church, but that is not the “why.”  The “why” is that God is beautiful, made beauty in creation and made us in that image.  We are here to make beauty and the tools we use include love and dynamos.


(For more about this idea of meaning-making and major gift-asking; and for coaching about how to transform giving in your church or non-profit, see my new book “Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning Making.”



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