A big part of my job responsibility working in the non-profit world is fund development. When I made the commitment to go back to school and pursue a degree in social work, fundraising was not on my radar. Yet, a crucial element of social work is client advocacy. This can be done directly with the client, or behind the scenes on behalf of a client through collecting resources. Without funds and resources, these clients can't receive the help they need. Author Henry Nouwen wrote a book called, "The Ministry of Fundraising." This book helped changed my perspective on fund development, seeing it as both an opportunity to advocate on a client's behalf and an opportunity to give a donor a heart changing experience. I wrote the following article after attending a fundraising workshop and being challenged to reflect on the transforming power of philanthropy in my own life...
From "Necessary Evil" to Transformation
Most people are familiar with the concept of fundraising. A need arises. Someone asks for money to help meet that need. Funds are raised to provide a solution to that need. In this traditional viewpoint, fundraising can be very transactional, and can be seen as a "necessary evil" to accomplish a greater good. As a fund development professional, it can be easy to slip into this mindset. However, I was recently reminded of a time I was presented with an opportunity to give. And it radically transformed my life.
It was 2010. I had recently committed to a drastically different life, leaving my career in the automotive industry to go back to school, start an internship at my home church, and commit to a life of serving God and others. Around that time, my church began a campaign called "Life to the Next Level." This campaign would raise the funds needed to increase our seating capacity on Sunday mornings, create a dedicated space for youth, and overhaul our children's ministry area. Church building campaigns are very common, and initially this seemed no different. "The church needs $X. If we each give $Y, we can hit our goal. Please give." However, this was something much different, and it led to some incredibly life-altering moments for me.
An Opportunity to Give
First, the pastor helped us recall a moment(s) when our life was drastically changed as a result of an experience at the church. Almost all of us raised our hands, a powerful reminder of how God had been working in our church. Second, he pointed out that at our current capacity, we were about to prevent future individuals and families to experience the same life transformation we had gone through. Finally, we were asked to do our own individual part in helping provide an opportunity to a future individual to receive the same opportunity for life-change we had experienced. Some could give a large amount, some a small amount. But it wasn't about the amount; it was about doing our part.
Knowing how much God had changed my life through this church, I was compelled to get involved financially. But how? I was a full-time student and intern, and barely had enough income to pay the minimal bills I had. Someone had suggested we consider selling a personal possession and pledge the expected value. The only possession of value I had was my gold Hummer "Mark of Excellence" ring, an award from General Motors based on sales achievement, customer services ratings, and product knowledge. It was the only link to my previous career, and I wore this ring daily as a reminder to myself and others that I wasn't always an unemployed college student living in his parent’s basement.
In that moment I felt convicted about the hold the ring had on me. But it wan't really about the ring at all. It was an issue of identity. I was ashamed when people asked me what I did for a living. It was my disclaimer, my "but here's what I USED to do." God put it on my heart to sell this ring, and donate the proceeds to the church to help others begin on the same journey of transformation I had already started on. Selling this ring was less about the donation to the church, and more about letting go of an identity based on accomplishemts and image.
Making The Commitment
After wrestling with the decision for quite a few days, I committed to sell it. It was appraised for about $250, so I filled out a commitment card and pledged the proceeds from the ring. I remember saying the words "God I trust you" as I made the pledge. After I placed the commitment card in the basket, I felt a variety of emotions. I felt sadness over the loss of identity, but I also felt joy over the courage it took to practice faith and obedience.
Not ten minutes later, an individual approached me near the end of the service. He knew I wasn't working and shared that God had moved him to pay my next month’s car payment. The amount: $250. I began to sob uncontrollably, knowing that God saw me and heard my prayer. In that moment I knew that I could trust him with my finances and my future. As a result, I made a series of life choices which also led to meeting and marrying my wife, Cheryl.
Had the church used a more "transactional" fundraising approach, I would have missed out on an incredible opportunity for growth. Instead, my life was changed forever because my pastor showed how generosity can be transformative, not just for the individuals affected, but for me personally.
Share Your Story
Have you had a moment like this? When your heart was changed as a result of somone asking you get involved financially? Maybe there's a moment where your life was transformed by the generosity of someone else. Or perhaps you are a fund development professional and have witnessed transforming generosity. I would love to hear your stories!
Share your stories in the comment section below, or contact me on twitter @RickGuttersohn
*A version of this article was previously publishd in the December 2015 edition of New Hope Center for Grief Support's monthly e-newsletter