By Jenna Olson Popp
I came into the fundraising profession right out of college, moving into a full-time position at The Lutheran Center, a campus ministry I called my church home throughout college. Though I could speak about the ministry from a very personal perspective, I still looked for quality effective fundraising education.
We are continually seeking new ways to reach donors, especially since the members of our church (college students) are not the ones keeping the lights on. The big question for us is always, “How do we regularly connect and reach out to the alumni and donors who make this ministry possible when we don’t see them every week in the pews?”
Pastor Adam—the campus pastor at The Lutheran Center—told me that I should go to the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF) course after learning about it from a campus ministry-focused Lilly Endowment, Inc. conference.
I knew it would be a great opportunity because Lake Institute on Faith & Giving just gets it. They get where churches are, they understand the struggles we face, and they are determined to strategize and adapt as the times change. However, as a campus ministry with a small staff and a pinched continuing education budget line, I wouldn’t have been able to attend without financial help. The scholarship was key in making this opportunity possible for me.
After I came back raving about everything I learned, my dad—a pastor of 30+ years—decided he was going to go the following year. He later told me it was the best continuing education he’s had in years and came back with new energy and excitement about sharing it with his staff and congregation. It really is a conference that can reach everyone in any setting: those in small churches, nonprofits, or multi-site megachurches.
I’ve been to a handful of other fundraising trainings since ECRF, and they do not compare. The spiritual aspect that is so resounding at Lake Institute is palpable and often missing from other educational opportunities. As fundraisers, pastors, and church leaders, we are inviting people to be generous, to fulfill their call as disciples, and that is so refreshing.
I still see the books I read for the training on my bookshelf and am reminded that it’s not about the numbers, but instead about what God is doing through this ministry and through the generous gifts of our donors.
As a campus ministry, our mission is to invite students more deeply into Jesus Christ and the community that bears His name so they can fulfill their vocation as disciples. Part of that discipleship is generosity. After coming back from ECRF, we began to prioritize teaching generosity to our students so that they may strengthen that muscle and go out into the world with a habit of giving.
We’ve implemented several generosity actions including weekly student staff thank you notes to donors, an annual stewardship sermon series, inviting students to give $10/month, and even setting up a Venmo account so it’s easier for students to give during offering. No one is ever too young to learn the spiritual gift of generosity.
Highlighting stewardship, giving, and gratitude in our church community will have ripple effects for generations. I give thanks to God for all the learning I acquired at ECRF. It has shaped The Lutheran Center community’s fundraising mindset in a very life-giving, sustaining way.
Jenna Olson Popp is the Director of Philanthropy for The Lutheran Center, a campus ministry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is leading a $5.6 million capital campaign for a new campus ministry building that will create a sustainable funding stream for the ministry through a living and learning community on the second floor. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with her husband and favorite mammal – her dog Brooklyn.