May 25, 2011

Spirituality of Fundraising

Can fundraising be good for your spiritual health? Henri Nouwen thinks so.

Many of us have come to love Henri Nouwen – his books, wisdom, life story, and especially his ability to convey the depths of spiritual life and practice in a way that invites God deep into our hearts and minds.

But you may not think of Nouwen as a fundraising guru. Think again.

Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996) was a contemporary teacher, writer, pastor, and Catholic priest who spent his last ten years living in community with people with developmental disabilities at L’Arche Daybreak in Canada.

Along with insights from many of his books, Nouwen has had an abiding impact in my professional and personal life through a little booklet called A Spirituality of Fundraising. Apparently Nouwen gave lectures on this topic, which the Henri Nouwen Society compiled into a simple booklet to share his wisdom.

I was reminded of this little gem yesterday on my way to Connecticut to consult with some Episcopal leaders about fundraising. I recommend it to every group of church folks embarking on fundraising or stewardship efforts. It’s the kind of publication that’s great for personal devotion or small group study. One priest even testified to me that this booklet was the key factor in a successful million dollar campaign for her church to build a new community center. It transformed their whole framework.

Yesterday, in preparation for this consulting session, I was also struck by the reading in Holy Women, Holy Men about Jackson Kemper, whose feast day is celebrated May 24. Kemper (1789-1870) was the first missionary bishop in the United States, leaving the established east coast church to found mission congregations in the “west,” places like my home state of Wisconsin. But here’s the part of the description of Kemper that really struck me:

“Kemper established Kemper College in St. Louis, Missouri, the first of many similar attempts to train clergymen, and in more recent times lay persons as well, for specialized tasks in the Church. The College failed in 1845 from the usual malady of such projects in the church—inadequate funding.”

Even if we continue the tradition of our missionary forbearers in the struggle to raise adequate funds (and Kemper did prevail in sustaining other institutions like Nashotah House), let Henri Nouwen prepare our spirits for this work. You might just come to believe, as I have, that Henri Nouwen is right when he says:

“From the perspective of the gospel, fund-raising is not a response to a crisis. Fund-raising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry…. It is also always a call to conversion…. When we have gained the freedom to ask without fear, to love fund-raising as a form of ministry, then fund-raising will be good for our spiritual life.”