My guess is that you or some of your colleagues in the field are thinking, “What the heck are these guys talking about now?”
“Spirituality and Major Gift Fundraising?” What’s this all about?
Okay, I get it. Today when you hear the word spirituality, all kinds of stuff comes bubbling up. Some of what comes up is pretty negative. There is no doubt about that. I want to be clear that I’m not talking about religion here.
However, I absolutely believe that major gift fundraising is a spiritual practice. Whether you believe in God, a god, or none at all, it just is. You can deny that it is, but I believe you’re still practicing it.
My definition of pursuing a spiritual life (or practicing spirituality) is when we go beyond ourselves, let go of our ego for a moment, and move toward “the other.” It’s a recognition that there is more in life than ourselves.
This is not easy, nor lightly pursued. In fact, much of the time I fail at this miserably. (Like, most of the time.) But because I get to be with major gift fundraisers a majority of my day, I get to experience this mystical thing where donors, major gift fundraisers, and the needs of the world come together to create something that’s hard to pin down. The best word I can think of is that it’s some kind of spiritual or mystical moment.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege to be on a retreat with 13 CEOs from different types of non-profits. We were discussing the nuts and bolts of how to start a major gift program. It got pretty technical. It was all necessary and good. Before we parted, the leader of the group assigned everyone to read the first two chapters of our new book, It’s Not JUST About the Money.
I wasn’t aware that the group leader was going to do this. It was kind of embarrassing, actually. He told the group to come back the next day and discuss their impressions. The next morning, I was a little nervous about what they were going to say.
What they said astonished me. They all agreed that what resonated with them most was the fact that fundraising is really a mystical, spiritual thing. That donors experience the “grace of giving,” and that major gift fundraisers are really just trying to help a donor experience that in their lives. Let me tell you… these were NOT particularly religious people.
One CEO said that while she was getting ready that morning, she broke down and cried when she read the passage in the book that “fundraising is ultimately about love.” She said she had never thought of it that way, but that for her it really turned her whole thinking around regarding asking donors to give. She said, “When I thought about asking people for money I just cringed; but now I have a whole new perspective on it. Now, I can’t wait to ask!”
You see, what these CEOs realized was this:
- People need to give. It’s in our DNA. We will die inside if we don’t give of ourselves.
- Giving releases the pressure valve of the power money has over the giver. It blesses the giver and transforms lives.
It also transforms the life of the major gift fundraiser.
Richard and I believe it’s at that point – the giving over, the MGO helping the donor to ease a need – that this mystical, spiritual moment happens. It’s incredibly powerful.
We know it’s powerful because all kinds of studies tell us what happens to a donor when they give: they feel good. Dopamine rushes through their brain. Not only that, but good things happen to people who give. They are happier, healthier and wealthier than those that keep it all to themselves. All this good stuff happening… and their money does incredible things to make the world a better place!
Pretty cool. All of that is to me a deeply spiritual moment and pursuit.
Think about those times when you were able to be that bridge: a bridge between a donor’s greatest desire and need to change the world, and a need your organization meets. What did that feel like?
I know what it feels like. It feels like love.
You have the greatest job in the world. Go out there and continue to be “brokers of love.” And if you would, tell us about your mystical, spiritual moment of being a major gift fundraiser. The Passionate Giving community would love to hear it.
Right on. Your sharing here is always good. Thanks.
I have yet to read your book, so don’t know if you’ve already referenced Henri Nouwen’s book, “A Spirituality of Fundraising,” but it too nicely addresses this subject.
Also, if anyone missed it, Jennifer and Peter Buffett just shared their op-ed on this subject at the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Love is in the air!
My favorite quote on this subject is this:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Jeff, you are right on target! I was recently laid off from my development position after nearly 5 years with the organization. In the past week, I’ve received numerous emails from donors thanking me for changing their lives, letting me know what a difference the opportunities I present made in their life. The following comments prove your point.
One woman shared “In addition to your work for ABC, you have modeled warm, Christian caring to Husband in such a way that he is more open to Christian relationships than before.” Other’s shared “Know that you made a difference in our lives and together we made a difference in children’s lives. You kept me informed and helped me find information when I needed it. I appreciate you.” And, “I’m so sorry you will be leaving ABC and so thankful for the HUGE role that you played in connecting us. It was completely God’s timing for you to have called us in 2012 – the first time we had been contacted by a ABC representative…….you played a pivotal role in our lives.”
Yes, I do, or did, work for a Christian organization but I have also worked for secular nonprofits and received the same type of feedback.
Looking forward to reading and sharing your book with future colleagues. Thanks for your blog — I think you articulate insight that is helpful and timely to individuals and organizations. Keep up the great work!