A Spirituality of Fundraising: Takeaways from Henri Nouwen

As Catholics, we are called to express our faith in all that we do. Integrating faith into professional work is what initially attracts fundraising professionals to the nonprofit sector, but it can be easy to lose that initial spark.
Sometimes a little inspiration is all it takes to reignite that spark. Let these quotes from Henri Nouwen’s booklet, A Spirituality of Fundraising, inspire you as we share practical ways to incorporate his wisdom into our professional and personal lives as development professionals. We have added some thoughts for reflection beneath each quote.

Fundraising as Ministry

“Fund-raising is precisely the opposite of begging. When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, ‘Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard.’ Rather, we are declaring, ‘We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you—your energy, your prayers, and your money—in this work to which God has called us.’ Our invitation is clear and confident because we trust that our vision and mission are like ‘trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither’ (Ps. 1:3).” (Fundraising as Ministry)

How do you—and your organization—view fundraising? Do you believe that donors are simply doing you a favor? Or are you presenting them with an opportunity to use their God-given resources to undertake an important work? Become an advocate for embracing Henri Nouwen’s perspective. Help your organization’s staff and board members gain an understanding of the dignity and value of fundraising.

Approaching fundraising with an enthusiastic attitude can improve the bottom line and enhance the experience for donors. Excitement is contagious, leading donors to share in your passion. Donors who truly adopt your organization’s vision and accept your invitation to participate in its work are more likely to become long-term supporters. Rather than meeting a temporary need, their investment brings an inspiring vision to life. As true partners, they will have a stake in the ongoing success of your organization’s work.

Building the Kingdom through the Spirituality of Fundraising

“So when we give ourselves to planting and nurturing love here on earth, our efforts will reach out beyond our own chronological existence. Indeed, if we raise funds for the creation of a community of love, we are helping God build the Kingdom. We are doing exactly what we are supposed to do as Christians.” (Helping the Kingdom Come About)

Consider not only how you present your work to donors, but also how you view your work. As a development professional at an organization that carries out an important mission, you likely already see your work as more than just a job or a paycheck. However, do you see the big picture? Your work reaches beyond those your organization serves. It also impacts the donors who participate, uniting a community of believers working to build God’s Kingdom!

The work of fundraising, while not usually considered a direct implementation of the organization’s mission, does indeed fill an important role. Focusing on the dignity and importance of your work can help you, and others in your organization, find additional purpose.

Fundraising as an Opportunity to Trust

“What is our security base? God or Mammon? That is what Jesus would ask. He says that we cannot put our security in God and also in money. We have to make a choice. Jesus counsels: ‘Put your security in God.’ We have to make a choice where we want to belong, to the world or to God. Our trust, our basic trust, Jesus teaches, has to be in God. As long as our real trust is in money, we cannot be true members of the Kingdom.” (Our Security Base)

Examine the attitude you and others in your organization have towards finances. Do you find security solely in acquiring funds? Or do you believe that God will provide what you need to carry out His work? Trusting in God will equip you to ask more boldly and without fear of rejection. After all, if God will provide, one donor declining to support your organization is nothing to fear. Yet you might find that the confidence with which you approach your work will draw more donors closer.

Fundraising as an Opportunity for Fulfillment

“The rich are also poor. So if we ask for money from people who have money, we have to love them deeply. We do not need to worry about the money. Rather, we need to worry about whether, through the invitation we offer them and the relationship we develop with them, they will come closer to God.” (People Who Are Rich)

Like yourself, prospective donors are children of God. Let this truth enlighten every encounter you have with them. Remember, although they may have many financial resources, poverty can take many forms, and all people are in need of God’s love and provision.

This perspective will help you value their wellbeing as individuals rather than seeing them solely as a financial resource for your organization. Help others within your organization to take this same approach. In particular, be cautious about how you and others talk about donors.

Eliminate all language that dehumanizes donors or presents them as simply financial resources. Some frequently used terms such as “hit them up” or “they should be good for…” disrespect donors as unique, valuable individuals. When in doubt, ask yourself if you would be comfortable with donors hearing you talk about them in that way. If not, express yourself differently. Do not be afraid to correct others in your organization when you hear that kind of language, inviting them to consider how the donor would feel knowing they were talked about in that way.

Fundraising as a Spiritual Invitation

“Asking people for money is giving them the opportunity to put their resources at the disposal of the Kingdom. To raise funds is to offer people the chance to invest what they have in the work of God. Whether they have much or little is not as important as the possibility of making their money available to God. When Jesus fed five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, he was showing us how God’s love can multiply the effects of our generosity (see Matt. 14:13-21).” (Asking)

Making the ask is intimidating for many people, but these words can give you reassurance. As we mentioned before, fundraising is remarkably different from begging. You are not simply asking for money; you are extending an invitation to participate in God’s work. Help your organization’s leadership team and Board of Directors to gain this understanding, and you may find they are more enthusiastic about participating in the fundraising process.

Fundraising as an Opportunity for Spiritual Fellowship

“If we ask for money, it means that we offer a new fellowship, a new brotherhood, a new sisterhood, a new way of belonging. We have something to offer—friendship, prayer, peace, love, fidelity, affection, ministry with those in need, and these things are so valuable that people are willing to make their resources available to sustain them.” (A New Communion)

An often overlooked component of fundraising is the social aspect. Many donors find great fulfillment in the relationships they build through their philanthropic efforts. By creating a community centered around Christian generosity, you offer donors a sense of belonging and fulfillment, potentially sparking lifelong partnerships. To that end, brainstorm ways to foster a community among your donors, such as hosting thank you events or fun volunteer opportunities. Explore the possibility of creating donor clubs or associations, advisory groups, or other opportunities for donors to enjoy fellowship with one another.

Prayer and Gratitude at the Center of Fundraising

“When we approach fund-raising in a spirit of gratitude, we do so knowing that God has already given us what we most need for life in abundance. Therefore our confidence in our mission and vision, and our freedom to love the person to whom we are talking about donating money, do not depend on how that person responds. In this way, gratitude allows us to approach a fund-raising meeting without grasping neediness and to leave it without resentment or dejection. Coming and going, we can remain secure in God’s love with our hearts set joyfully on the Kingdom.” (Prayer and Gratitude)

It’s important to take time each day to pray before work and thank God for providing for your needs. This will ground you in confidence and enable you to move past the “scarcity” mindset that can grow in nonprofit organizations. From there, you can approach donors joyfully and without fear of rejection.

Spiritual Encouragement for Your Fundraising Journey

“Fund-raising is a very rich and beautiful activity. It is a confident, joyful, and hope-filled expression of ministry. In ministering to each other, each from the riches that he or she possesses, we work together for the full coming of God’s Kingdom.” (Your Kingdom Come)

Ground yourself in the joy of fundraising as ministry. Always remember the great importance and dignity of your work, not just for your organization’s financial wellbeing, but also for the spiritual and emotional good of your donors. Your efforts help bring about God’s Kingdom on earth! Refer to these quotes whenever you feel discouraged or disappointed. May God bless you and your ministry!

Building meaningful relationships with donors is an aspect of fundraising that can’t be overlooked. We offer insights and guidance on how to do this effectively.

Works Cited:

Nouwen, Henri J. M. A Spirituality of Fundraising. Edited by John S. Mogabgab, Upper Room Books, 2010.

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