“You will not become poorer, you will become richer by giving,” wrote the much admired priest and theologian Henri Nouwen in his book titled A Spirituality of Fundraising. Nouwen describes the spiritual collaboration that can grow between a donor and a cause when “the ask” is based on religious faith.
When we launch an appeal or campaign we are doing more than simply asking for money. We are inviting people to join in our vision and mission and put their prayers, time, and financial resources toward work that God has called us to do. It can be a wonderful occasion for a spiritual connection that touches the donor, the asker, and the people who will be served.
There are many reasons why we give to causes—the desire to do good works, to gain recognition, to create a legacy, or to claim a tax deduction. Faith-based donors give for an additional reason. For us, giving is a spiritual matter guided by God’s call to love and serve our neighbors.
Giving As Part of Faith
As a young girl, I clearly remember going to Mass each Sunday with my family. At collection time, my mom would hand coins to each of us for the collection basket. As we were exiting Church, she would give us another coin to put in the poor box. I remember Mom talking about the importance of giving and quoting the Bible, “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35). She would explain that when we give, we receive blessings for lending a hand to do the work of God. When we give, we are helping meet the needs of others. When we give, we are getting closer to an everlasting life with Jesus. As we children grew older, we were expected to bring money from our allowances to put into the basket and the poor box. These early memories of stewardship have stuck with me.
To inspire people to give to a faith-based cause, we can simply share our own commitment and ask them to join us. However, many people feel awkward or fearful about asking for money. We may fear rejection. Or we fear annoying or bothering people. Or we are afraid of engaging with very wealthy individuals and being seen as beggars.
I have to agree with Henri Nouwen—fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging. Kerry Robinson, author of Imagining Abundance, writes, “A core tenet of faith is the call to live lives of authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, and generosity. Central to Christianity is the conviction that one finds life by giving it first away…. Everyone has something to give others. We do a profound disservice to most of the world and to ourselves when we relegate philanthropy and giving only to the domain of the very wealthy.”
Not everyone will join in and donate, and that’s okay. Rebecca Fishman Lipsey, former Executive Director of Teach for America and social entrepreneur, says it well. “You aren’t just raising money — you’re building advocates for your cause.” Whether we ask for $10 or $10,000, the bottom line is the same. This opportunity nurtures the personal spiritual growth of all, as together we seek to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Commitment to Faith and Service
Making a difference in the world and asking others to take part is not the same as selling a service or a product. I realize now that faith set the path for my career. The marketing, design and advertising skills I learned in college have become my way of supporting the work of the Church in the world.
One of our clients has a mission to fund charitable programs and Church-building efforts that are of particular interest to the Holy Father. The organization asks donors with significant resources to share in this mission with a sizable sacrificial commitment. As we have developed the organization’s outreach materials and annual reports, we have done interviews with many who have said “yes” to this invitation. Their stories about why they feel compelled to make such a huge commitment are inspirational. It is all about living faith with a close community of like-minded believers and the thrill of being able to support their Church on a global scale. After donating they frequently become advocates for the organization and encourage friends and colleagues to join.
We also have worked with Catholic dioceses to plan and implement annual appeals. We make it a priority to gather stories and take photos of the beneficiaries of the money raised so that we can share with donors the incredible impact their donations are having. Personally, I am always ready to pull out my own checkbook after spending a day talking with the various recipients. Dollar by dollar, parish by parish, the commitment to faith and to service is all we need to create a compelling campaign.
Some days, printing schedules, website launches and communication plans that keep our company busy seem far removed from the stewardship my parents taught me. But the foundation of turning our faith into action is the same. Faith and fundraising. An odd, and perfectly matched, couple indeed!