“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.
Language is so very important to our faith tradition in Christianity. We even name our incarnate God “The Word”. This must mean that the use of words (and the misuse of them) is of singular importance and that to pay attention to our words is an act of religious and spiritual fidelity.
My father was the editor of a magazine – a journalist and writer on the subject of aviation and aerospace. When I was young, at about the age of 10, my father gave me a birthday gift. This may not seem like a big deal, but it was to me. My father rarely spoke to me directly. He gave me many gifts but they were delivered by others. But this one day, he stood in front of me and handed me a big box with a bow on it. I could not breathe. This had never happened before. There he stood. Right there.
I unfurled the big red bow and opened the box to find another box. Then another and another until the first box which had covered my lap ended in a tiny box which barely covered the palm of my hand. Each had its own bow. I opened this last, small box. Inside was a small, glass bottle full of cobalt blue ink.
He smiled and then from his pocket he pulled a beautiful gold fountain pen. I found this odd. Why was the small, inexpensive bottle of ink in box after box of birthday fanfare while the actual birthday gift – a beautiful fountain pen, was simply handed to me from a pocket in my dad’s trousers not even in its original box from the stationary shop?
My father wordlessly took the pen and ink bottle, opened the ink bottle and dipped the pen nib deep into the ink and twisted the other end of the pen to draw the blue liquid up into the canister of the pen like medicine into a syringe. He was smiling. I was confused. He then replaced the ink bottle’s lid and took my hand, opening my palm, faced to the ceiling, and slowly reversed the pen’s ink plunger to force a big, jiggly drop of Caribbean-ocean-blue ink out of the nib and onto the white palm of my hand. I remember the bright blue ink on my preposterously white skin as some of it extended its circle into rivulets following my palm’s natural skin-wrinkles – what they call “life-lines.”
“Son, he said quietly, your gift this day is not the pen, though I hope you enjoy it. Your gift this day is the ink. The pen is simply a tool for using the ink. This ink, is of great value in your life. You will write; letters, articles and perhaps even books one day. As you write, you will use ink, and as you use ink, remember this blue drop on your hand. This small drop of ink can do great good and it can do great harm. It can bless and it can curse. Each word you use will express your courage in your communication. Choose your words carefully. Write them even when you know you will be vilified or praised – write them if they are true.”
Ever since that day in his study with the afternoon sun golden on his books, I have written. Day after day I write to raise money and there is one word I use with the greatest of care when writing about raising money in our churches and our social profit agencies. It is a very important word and one I now commend to you. A gift of sorts. The word, as seemingly unimportant as was that drop of ink, is the word “THROUGH.”
When you are writing or speaking to people whom you hope will one day invest in your mission with their philanthropy, use the word “through” and not simply the word “to.”
It may seem silly and small. A detail. Nitpicking even. But this one word changes everything when we are raising money for our mission. Here is what I mean…
Whether writing or speaking to ask for the gift or writing and speaking to thank someone for a gift given, use the word “through” and not just the word “to.” Usually I hear people say, “We hope you will give a gift TO our church or TO our non-profit.” Or they might say “I am asking you to give a gift TO our budget or our fund.” This kind of careless use of language betrays what may indeed be a reality, but this idea that people give money “to” your church or non-profit is nothing more than institutional narcissism.
True, your institution is raising money. Donors do not care if you have a campaign goal. They do not care if your salary depends on your fundraising. They do not care about its need for salaries, money for the electricity bill, and money for the building mortgage. That is NOT the use for which people are giving their money. They are giving their money to make mission happen. They are giving their money for change and to ease human and planetary suffering. They are giving their money not TO your church but THROUGH your church to its mission. So, use that language. Clarify that to which they are giving their money.
One does not say ‘Will you give $1,000 to our church?” Rather, one says “Will you help change the lives of people experiencing homelessness by giving through our church to the mission we are seeking to fund of easing the suffering of those experiencing homelessness?” or “Will you invest by giving through our church to our mission which is to ….?”
It is true that many churches and a few non-profits do not have missions worthy of an investment. Here, the survival of the mission-fittest will come into play. If your church’s mission is little more than a club for worship, well, you may find that people with money will indeed not invest. But if your church or non-profit is actively doing the kinds of things Jesus would actually recognize – well then, people will indeed invest in your church’s budget. But they will only give THROUGH your church TO people suffering in body, mind or spirit. So, if you want to raise money, then ask them with great care in the words you use.
Like a chalice for wine or a paten for bread, the church is nothing more than a vessel for the communication of Jesus to people who hunger for living water, healing wine and nourishing bread. Your church’s organization, budget and buildings mean nothing except that they are vessels for your mission. So ask for money to fund mission, not budgets or titles or liturgy or ecclesial empire-building. Ask that people give THROUGH you, not TO you. And to real mission…mission Jesus would be able to recognize as that about which He was speaking day-in a day-out.