This is the final blog in a four-week series about Lake Institute on Faith & Giving’s Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF). Each week has provided a different perspective on this course and the way it has impacted individuals and religious organizations.
By Melissa Spas
Over the past two years, I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of religious leaders and fundraisers from across the country (and around the world!) through Lake Institute’s Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF). This work gives me great hope for the future of religious life in a changing context! By working with a wide variety of partners in theological education, we have the opportunity to see the great energy and creative spirit of religious leaders and the organizations that they serve.
Those taking the course work in a variety of roles, as clergy, executive directors, and advancement professionals in many types of religious organizations. From Seattle, Washington to Princeton, New Jersey and in settings as diverse as St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, here in Indiana, and Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, participants in this course come together to learn about the distinctive challenges and opportunities of fundraising in a religious context.
Participants invest a considerable amount of time, energy, and personal commitment to participating in our ECRF course, and we hope that they come away with significant learning and increased confidence.
Two themes are particularly resonant for religious fundraisers, and I’d like to say a bit more about how the ECRF addresses them: first, the taboo of money talk in religious organizations, and second, the shift from seeing fundraising as primarily about money, to understanding it as essentially about relationships and faith formation.
First, we invite participants to examine the taboos that they have inherited around money talk, particularly in the context of religious life. We know that talking about money is a source of anxiety and discomfort for many religious leaders, and it is our hope that we can empower leaders by addressing some of those anxieties and popular misperceptions directly.
Sociologist of religion Robert Wuthnow addresses the reason for reluctance to raise the subject of money, noting that, “Taboo … is associated with something so sacred, so powerful, that to touch it or even talk about it is to expose oneself to considerable danger.”
When we begin to examine the place of money in our lives and in our religious communities, we are able to disarm that sense of risk, and instead begin to lead with integrity around this important aspect of our lives.
By addressing the taboo, we can also begin to break down the silo around finances and fundraising that so often develops in our institutions, so that we can bring the best resources of faith tradition and community life to a real discernment about money, including how it is acquired, managed, regarded and spent. When organizations move away from taboo and toward genuine discernment, the work of fundraising takes on a fresh new significance.
This leads to the second major change that I hope our ECRF participants can realize in their own understanding and experience of religious fundraising.
As we know, fundraising is all about relationships. Religious communities, and the leaders within them, are particularly gifted at naming, developing, and celebrating the way in which relationships define and transform our lives. Faith formation is all about the relationships that people form, with God, with one another, and with the wider world. Therefore, for fundraisers in a religious setting, there is a natural alignment between the work of cultivating religious community or spiritual development, on the one hand, and the invitation to grow in generosity and giving, on the other.
Philanthropic activity and the giving of financial gifts can be a natural expression of the relationships nurtured by religious life. Understood this way, fundraising is an important means by which religious leaders can invite faithful participation in the life of the community, for the deepening of relationships and the development of spiritual disciplines.
This can be deeply satisfying, life-giving work when religious leaders are able to move beyond the taboo and into a truly relationship-centered practice. When religious fundraising ceases to be a transactional business that runs alongside the “real” work of religious community, it can instead become a transformational opportunity for the deepening of faith.