This coming week includes an annual educational intensive on the campus of the congregation I work for. It also includes me sitting in a class on the philosophy of prosperity.
Ever since I began learning about fundraising, I’ve noticed the way that handling money and resources triggers people’s latent scripts about finances, value, and lessons about abundance and scarcity that we’ve all learned from our families of origin and wider culture. I’ve also felt drawn to fundraising approaches that aren’t about guilt, shame, fear, or loss. All of those motivators, effective though they might be, seem to be limiting, small-hearted, and poor bricks to build a new world with.
So it has been interesting to read the experiences of Lynne Twist, a former fundraiser and non-profit executive affiliated with the Fetzer Institute, the Pachamama Alliance, and the Hunger Project. In The Soul of Money, Twist and Teresa Barker share their belief that fundraising and resource-sharing should connect with or flow from a community’s core values. Only through that values connection, which Twist refers to as integrity with one’s soul, does fundraising transcend the fine art of begging and the shock, sadness, guilt, or shaming that successful begging depends on (pp. xvii-26).
Next time you receive a fundraising letter in the mail, take a few extra minutes to read it closely. Does it rely on shock, sadness, guilt, or shaming? Does the case for support require you to fear a person, a group, or the writers’ vision of the future?
I’ve collected print fundraising artifacts on and off for the last decade, partly to see the techniques professional fundraisers use, and partly to note how often their content is based on inspiring people to give out of gratitude or to invest in an attractive outcome. My collection suggests that inspirational abundance-centered fundraising is still a minority strategy.
When environmentalists talk about sustainability, eventually they have to consider the meaning of enough. So to in the context of philanthropy and stewardship, we each get to settle on what’s enough for us: enough to pay for necessities, enough to meet our wants, enough to fulfill our satisfaction tank. What’s enough, and how does enough vary depending on where we live and the life stage we’re in?
As Twist notes, fundraisers working with these question in organizational contexts need to be as self-aware as the person designing a private household budget because the same basic issues apply. Each of us, at some level, is walking alongside those who have resources in order to connect those resources with people who need them to achieve a given goal.
For some people, “those who have resources” are the employers who pay bimonthly checks that allow them to maintain their food, shelter, and lifestyle. For other people, “those who have resources” are the grant-makers whose foundation budgets drip down the funding pyramid so that grassroots organizations can directly support vulnerable populations. Sometimes, we’re “those who have resources” and demonstrate that through the cash donations we give. Sometimes we’re “those who need resources,” and receive scholarship or disbursements from funds.
In each case, it’s worth mapping out the resources that we have. Twist argues that no matter what our circumstances, we need to ask ourselves:
Who do I need to be to fulfill on the commitment [to the well-being of the world] I’ve made?
What kind of human being do I need to forge myself into to make this happen?
What resources do I need to be willing to bring to bear in myself and my colleagues and in my world?
…Rather than feeling that fundraising was a matter of twisting arms for a donation or playing on emotions to manipulate money from contributors, it became for me an arena in which I was able to create an opportunity for people to engage in their greatness.” —Lynne Twist
I’ve come to agree that any fundraising case that fails to call people into their greatness and into a larger, more equitable vision of the world doesn’t deserve to thrive!
This sets quite a high standard for the fundraising I do and encourage others to do, but I suspect that as more and more of us adjust in this direction, the field of philanthropy will become much less misanthropic, and that’ll be a good thing for us all.
As people in the United States have learned, one can’t run marathons on panic. One can only sprint. And, for changing the world, panic-fueled sprints will never be enough.