By Lisa Smith Fiegel, Alaska Synod (ELCA) director for evangelical mission
When I heard the knock, I expected to be asked to give a large sum of money to a ministry I love. What I didn’t expect was the way it would make me feel.
Two representatives from the ministry sat down with me and thanked me for my volunteer time and past gifts. They knew I cared about the ministry; we all knew money was needed to launch a capital campaign. After some small talk, one of them made the ask: would I consider a gift of $10,000 to this ministry? I was blown away. Not by the amount, but by how it would feel to give a 5-figure sum to a ministry I loved.
Now, I’m in the early years of my professional life. I’m still paying on graduate school student loans. I have small children at home, plus a mortgage. I am not the kind of person who gets asked to make 5-figure charitable gifts. Not ever. I had never given that much away at one time, not even a 4-figure gift in one lump. It was exhilarating to be asked. I was filled with joy at the thought of making such an impact on a ministry I cared about.
Plot twist: this was a simulation. I was at the Executive Certificate for Religious Fundraising (ECRF) seminar last year; I was asked to play the “donor” and two classmates practiced making the “ask.” The whole class was watching this fishbowl exercise. My classmates did a great job, so of course I said yes! It wasn’t real money, anyway.
But the simulation moved me. All that next day, I kept returning again and again to the way I felt when the simulated fundraiser asked me for $10,000. It was make-believe, but my joy was real. As I imagined myself as that kind of person, that kind of philanthropist, I felt that exhilaration again, and the eager anticipation of being that generous in the future.
The ECRF was a 4-day seminar abundant with well-researched information, practical theological reflections and excellent tools for the work of religious fundraising, which have been immediately applicable in my context. I was able to start doing things differently the very next week, and I continue to weave the ideas and tools from the course into my daily professional work.
We learned how to build an organizational culture of generosity, nurture generous donors, write a compelling case for support and think theologically about money and possessions. The ECRF teaching and resourcing is unparalleled.
But perhaps more important has been the work on myself. I see myself as a philanthropist in a whole new way. The course provided us a space to reflect on our current philanthropy and how it integrates with our deepest values. We were given time to reflect with others on experiences of giving and receiving. We were encouraged to dream big about how we could match our core values and passions for ministry with our existing and future resources.
Once we can do that with ourselves, the leap is not too great to do that with others.