By Randy Nyce
“Start with why.”
That’s Simon Sinek’s well-known advice. For church leaders and religious fundraisers, it’s an important reminder. It’s easy to get caught up in the getting the job done and to neglect the why.
Lake Institute on Faith & Giving’s “Summer Office Hours” were a welcome time of considering “the why.” Especially valuable for me was the opportunity to hear the experiences of a unique mix of pastors, nonprofit fundraisers, and stewardship leaders. The combination of the pastoral, the technical, and the practical created a productive complementary chorus that was surprisingly harmonious.
My measuring stick for a good movie, a good song, or a good conversation is this: Am I still thinking about it in the days or weeks following? The “Summer Office Hours” passed that test. In the weeks since, several of the conversation’s melodies have continued to echo in my mind.
For those of us who believe that giving and generosity are not simply transactions, the fundraising world can be an interesting place that values “completing the gift” above all else.
I recently participated in a national webinar on the topic of inspiring donors. The facilitator, a fundraiser from a big hospital, encouraged making a personal connection with donors and suggested, “if you are visiting a donor and see they have an owl collection, start talking about owls. It doesn’t matter if you like owls or not.”
For that fundraiser, the completion of the gift was the primary goal. The donor is simply the source of funds and the relationship is simply a means to the end.
We are not immune from that transactional posture in religious communities. When budgets run tight and ministry is in jeopardy, it is easy to move in that direction. I’ve found it especially valuable in those times to listen to the pastoral voices around me.
What transformation is God doing in the hearts and lives of the giver? What transformation is God doing in our churches and organizations as we humbly receive the gift? How can we encourage a spiritual discipline of generosity to take root in our congregations and organizations?
Paul’s words of “thanks” to the Philippians (Philippians 4:10-20) has become a favorite as I consider the gift, the giver, and the recipient. I’ll paraphrase what Paul wrote: “Thanks for your gift. I didn’t need it. But you needed to give it.”
That is like no thank you letter that I’ve ever received or had the guts to write. We are changed when we give our gift. Or perhaps, God’s work in our life is demonstrated in our generosity. Spiritually healthy people are generous people. Our work of fundraising and stewardship must keep that spiritual development at its center. As it does, it offers transformation not only to the giver, but also to us as we receive, and to the community as God’s healing and justice is proclaimed.
That gets to the heart of “the why” for me. Henri Nouwen writes in A Spirituality of Fundraising, “We are called to shift our perspective from a singular focus on financial needs and goals to a more integrated effort that includes—and even prioritized—the quality of the spiritual journey of everyone involved.”
The “Summer Office Hours” created a productive space of dialogue—integrating the spiritual, the pastoral, and the technical—to reflect and reorient.
Randy Nyce is an Everence Stewardship Consultant in eastern PA, working with churches, nonprofits, and families to develop stewardship, financial, and planned giving programs and strategies drawing from his experience as a teacher, nonprofit director, and church lay leader.