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Fearless Fundraising: Know thyself

Fearless Fundraising: Know thyself

“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


There are so many aphorisms about walking in the shoes of another; Scripture and other religious texts that speak to encourage us to imagine what other people are, or could possibly be, going through before passing judgement on them.  It is good advice and though I try to remember it, I often fail.


Inside our heads is that “Itty Bitty Sh*ty Committee” of voices which are constantly coaching us (and with terrible advice).  We humans, especially in my experience we clergy, carry trauma within us.  It may be something that happened before the age of seven which we cannot remember or it may be a series of abuses in adulthood.  But many of us suffer from trauma and so we live out the results as mild to strong PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)  of course few of us will admit to it, but that is, ironically, part of the disorder.


When the Itty Bitty Sh*ty Committee rears up inside us in meetings with others, in road rage, in domestic fights and in ecclesial councils, the I. B. S. Committee weighs in from their office in the Amygdalae – our lizard brain.  Fight, flight or freeze.  Unhelpful.


When I speak to people about raising money, they often mention how frightened they are of the task – especially major gifts fundraising. And it does not take long for the expressions of fear to metastasize into expressions of anger and even rage. We humans come by this fear of power (and in our culture, power can come in the form of wealth) honestly.


So how do we manage this fear such that we move past it and begin the good work of helping people to give their money away?  I believe the answer is inside each of us and the answer is a spiritual one.  We need to be spending the time needed in our quiet periods of each day noticing what is going on in ourselves much the same way in which a physician will look over a patient checking many signs with many tests. Our Buddhist friends call this mindfulness and we call it awareness or discernment/discretion.


When you think about approaching a parishioner (in a church) or a donor (in a social profit agency) for a major gift, what is going on inside you?  Are you resentful that they are wealthy?  Are you triggered with shame that you are not wealthy? Are you afraid of being told “no”? Are you frustrated that you are simply too busy or too holy or too important to be spending your time raising money?  Are you afraid of doing something for which your schooling did not train you? Are you frustrated that YOU are making a sacrificial gift to the church or agency when this prospective donor has given tiny gifts these last many years and should be ashamed of themselves? Are you an introvert and feel exhausted at the mere thought of having a conversation (indeed, a sales conversation!) with someone you do not know well? Do you feel anxiety about whether or not your church or social profit agency deserves a major gift? (Note: a major gift is usually 1-5% or more of your annual budget, 1% or 10% or more of the campaign goal or $5,000 and above in most philanthropic cultures.)


If you responded “yes” to any of these questions, then well done!  You are mindful. You are awake and aware.  However, if you ever hope to raise major gifts to fund your mission, you will need to do the spiritual and internal work to position yourself to cultivate the gift (about 4-6 two-hour visits) and then make the ask (one 30 – 60 minute visit).


This can be difficult work and it is easy to be flummoxed.  Remember Jesus and rich young man from chapter 10 of Mark’s Gospel? Once Jesus recovers from his exasperation, he softens because he sees the Young Ruler’s desire to be helped: “Then Jesus, looking straight at him, warmed to him.” Some versions are stronger, saying, “Jesus . . . loved him.” Raising money in the church means raising it especially from those who are rich—from people who have three meals each day, and much more besides. Raising money in the church means being compassionate with ourselves first (for being annoyed by wealth) and then being compassionate toward the rich, too, who are trying to make meaning of their lives, but need help—from us and from Jesus.


Financial development in faith-based institutions is a ministry. It is not a chore. Funding Christ’s mission through the church is our responsibility in gratitude for all God has given us. To ask requires humility—more humility than is required by giving. Jesus, in this passage, learns an earthbound and human humility toward those trapped by their riches but yearning for God.


The bottom line is this: look into yourself and find your own resistance, judgment and anxiety and WORK WITH THAT BEFORE you attempt to raise major gifts. The key to raising major gifts is to avoid standing over, beneath or against your donor and instead, stand WITH your donor.


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