I recently read Imagining Abundance by Kerry Alys Robinson. It’s part fundraising story, part spiritual autobiography – its strength is showing how to integrate fundraising and spirituality. Robinson helped the Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale raise $75 million, starting not just from scratch, but from debt and diminishment. I’d say her central thesis is faith: fundraising requires a deep trust in God’s generosity. How can we ask donors to participate in what God is doing in our ministry if we don’t believe God is at work?
My favourite story involves food (I’m Mennonite so this is an inherent bias!): Robinson initiated monthly spaghetti dinners where students were invited to hear Catholic faculty tell their faith stories. It was very low budget but the gatherings really grew the community. Robinson shared these stories with prospective donors, inviting them to imagine what more they could do at Yale if they built a center. She invited them to join in with what God was already doing. That’s powerful.
Even more recently, I was at a board meeting where the proposed budget included salary cuts for staff: salaries could be increased if more money comes in during the year. I guess the title for the budget would be Imagining Scarcity. This charity is largely funded by individuals and small foundations. Individual donations are steady and increasing. I understand the fear and uncertainty: grants are variable. Foundations might give a charity money one year and not the next, support certain types of causes for a season and then shift. The mood was in contrast to Robinson’s themes. Rather than telling donors what we need (see my post on asking for 3 loaves of bread here ), it feels safer just to hunker down with lower salaries. Robinson did not play it safe. She dared boldly, made herself vulnerable and clung to God for dear life. I recommend this book for Christian fundraisers.
Other Good Fundraising Reads
Robinson cites Growing Givers’ Hearts:Treating Fundraising as Ministry by Thomas H. Jeavons and Rebekah Burch Basinger in her resource list, as well as Henri Nouwen’s classic The Spirituality of Fundraising. Neither choice surprised me. Growing Givers’ Hearts is foundational for me – until I read it (many years ago now), I thought I was alone in thinking theologically about fundraising. Fundraising is ministry, not the science of extracting money efficiently.
Here’s an example of how counter-cultural these books are. Robinson tells the story of meeting a wealthy donor in his apartment in New York City. She is raising money for a Catholic center at Yale. Midway through the conversation, realizing that the donor’s heart is really inclined toward primary education, she tells him about a network of donors focused on making quality Catholic primary school education available to all income brackets. In other words, she directs the donor to a different cause – not the one she’s fundraising for! I can’t think of many fundraising books that would counsel this, yet all of the books I mention in this post would not hesitate to advise this: growing the donor’s heart is ministry. Fundraising as ministry is bigger than any one cause. When generosity grows, we all benefit.