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Fundraising as Ministry: Vision, Invitation and Conversion

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Annie Allen: Fundraising as Ministry: Vision, Invitation and ConversionSome years ago, I sat in the plush midtown office of Mr. Daniel Burke, then CEO of ABC/Disney. As I looked out of the large windows overlooking Manhattan, I was struck by the vast distance and disparity between this world of entertainment and high finance and my home world, just a few subway stops uptown in the South Bronx. How could I, a Black woman, the daughter of a waitress and auto mechanic, be partners with this man of fame and riches? Yet that was exactly why I sat in his office. Not to beg for needed scholarship money for inner-city youth; rather I offered an invitation for him to be a part of a grand vision and mission. The mission to see all the children in NYC afford higher education and move up in the world, as both he and I had done. Mr. Burke asked me dozens of questions. He was genuinely interested in my upbringing in the South Bronx, my parents, my friends, and my journey from a Bronx high school, to State University then on to graduate school - how was this accomplished, and who had helped along the way. Dan Burke wished to be part of that story - not my story, rather the story of thousands of other inner-city young people, struggling to move out of poverty and into the mainstream American Life.

I left our meeting with a gift of half a million dollars for minority scholarships and a pledge for an additional half million the following year. This was not accomplished by offering needs assessments, budgets and reports. It was accomplished by inviting the donor to participate in a success story. Mr. Burke was invited to be part of something greater than himself, and to be part of our Christian vision for the building of God's Kingdom.

Henry Nouwen explained in a 1992 speech that, "From the perspective of the Gospel, fundraising is not a response to a crisis. Fundraising is first and foremost, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission." Being clear about our Christian vision is essential to good fundraising. Moses had a vision for reaching the Promised Land. The prophets saw visions, dreamed dreams and showed the way for the people of Israel. Jesus showed us what the Kingdom of God would look like. The book of Acts gives many examples of how powerful vision is in Christian mission. As with the conversion of Apostle Paul, vision brings together needs and resources to meet those needs (Acts 9:1-19). Vision also shows us new directions and opportunities for our mission (Acts 16:9-10). And Vision gives us courage to speak when we might want to remain silent (Acts 18:9). The in-breaking of God's Kingdom, participating in good works, achieving health, healing, and wholeness in our communities is exciting and the vision to achieve good is overwhelmingly appealing. Who would not want to be part of such a vision?

Nouwen also believed that, as in all Christian Ministry, fundraising is about invitation and conversion. We invite those with resources to use their resources in building the Kingdom of God. As they rejoice in their giving, they gain a new relationship with money; this conversion sees money as part of all that is God's. As we experience a conversion in the way we see money, we embrace opportunities to use and work with finances to further our ministries. Donald W. Joiner, in his book "Creating a Climate for Giving" states that we must adopt a Christian view of money, finance, and stewardship in order to cultivate cheerful givers. Joiner points out that a secular view of stewardship is that all we have belongs to us. A Christian view of stewardship says that all we have belongs to God, and we must be good stewards of all that belongs to God. Not just our money belongs to God, but all people and all of creation belong to God. Therefore, the converted hearts will see their resources to be at the disposal of God, and will cheerfully use those resources for all things important to God.

One obstacle many Christian fundraisers must overcome is the belief that there are limited resources to meet increasing need. I have been astounded to read some fundraising letters I have recently received. Some have focused on increased poverty due to the current recession. Moreover, they have pleaded for funds to keep their organizations afloat during these "tough economic times". Others have sent photos of extreme poverty and disease, which felt so overwhelming I was prompted to throw up my hands in despair. A Christian view tells us that God's world is one of abundance. "And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having everything, you may share abundantly in every good work." (2 Cor. 9:8). Jesus repeatedly taught us, through word and deed, that the smallest act of kindness (or generosity) will be multiplied by the spirit of God. The feeding of the 5000 is a perfect example of what God can do with small and limited resources (Luke 9: 1-6). The parable of the mustard seed shows that in the Kingdom of God, even the smallest seed is multiplied into the largest of plants - enough to shelter the birds in the air (Mark 4:31). Paul extols God's power to work amazingly and abundantly through us (Eph. 3:30). So, with God in Christ, we live in a world of abundance. One does not become poorer by giving; rather, one becomes richer. This truth we can confidently proclaim.

I trust that my ministry is all about building relationships in the love of God, it is all about building loving communities, free of poverty, disease and despair and full of love and fellowship. Is that not why Jesus came to us in the first place? With vision, invitation and conversion, we can confidently include those with resources into our Christian vision and mission.

References:

Henri J. Nouwen, The Spirituality of Fund-Raising, Henri Nouwen Society, 2004.

Donald Joiner, Creating a Climate for Giving, Discipleship Resources, Nashville, 2002

Annie Allen, M.Div. A national minister for the Communities of Shalom at Drew University Theological School, Ms. Allen has 30 years experience in higher education, government, and community organizing in the areas of fundraising, civil rights, multicultural education, and human relations.

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