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Can Fundraising be a Calling?

One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced working in the stewardship field is the quality relationships I’ve developed with other stewardship leaders. Chief among those is David King of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at Indiana University. David’s a strong scholar of religious fundraising, as well as a faith leader himself. Today’s post shares wisdom gathered from another relationship, a fascinating Lake Institute study in partnership with ALDE (Association of Lutheran Development Executives).

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders


Can Fundraising be a Calling?

David P. King

At Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, we spend a lot of our time working with lay and pastoral leaders of congregations, denominations, and theological education. We alternate between a vocabulary of stewardship, generosity, and fundraising. While there is quite a bit of overlap, it is the language of fundraising that is off-putting to many religious leaders. Clergy, particularly Lutherans, have been steeped in language of vocation, but many are adamant that fundraising is not a part of their pastoral identity.

While I work to convince them that indeed cultivating generosity as a practice of discipleship is an important aspect of religious leadership, I began to wonder about faith-based fundraisers. Do the thousands of professional fundraisers that raise support for faith-based nonprofits think of their work as a vocation? With the help of our colleagues at ALDE (Association of Lutheran Development Executives) we set out to investigate. While Lutheran in heritage, ALDE is a broad Christian network of fundraisers with an annual membership over 600 strong and a mission to nurture the practice and purpose of fundraising in faith-based organizations. By surveying their membership and conducting in-depth interviews with a broad range of ALDE fundraisers, our newly released study investigates who faith-based fundraisers are, why they are motivated to work in this field, and how their faith informs their fundraising practice. 

We learned that faith-based fundraisers are not unlike fundraisers overall except they make less than the national average for fundraisers ($79,890 to $92,218); they work on smaller development teams; and they work for organizations generating lower annual incomes than fundraisers overall.

Beyond demographics, however, we did find that 90% of ALDE fundraisers see their work “as an expression of a calling or vocation rooted in faith,” and 88% connect fundraising to their faith. Almost all (91%) ALDE members believe that working for a religious organization is important, and 72% respond that working alongside individuals with shared values is a significant factor in their professional identity.

We learned that faith-based fundraisers employ the language of vocation, calling, and ministry to describe their work. At a basic level, faith-based fundraisers understand calling as work that aligns with a life of faith. Many ALDE members report a specific calling to fundraising, sensing that they are gifted by God to fulfill a particular purpose. Often, faith-based fundraisers discover this calling only after sustained periods of work in development. Possibly because they see their work as a calling, factors such as salary, benefits, and job location were significantly less important to ALDE members when compared to fundraisers more broadly.

The language used by the majority of the faith-based fundraisers we interviewed went beyond general calling and vocation. Instead, they embrace descriptions of their work in fundraising as ministry. In fact, many of our respondents describe the process of working with donors as “pastoral” and speak of their service as a public witness for the mission of God.

Finally, many faith-based fundraisers, in contrast to the larger profession, highlight that fundraising is always more than the money raised. Fundraising necessitates celebrating and nurturing the joy of giving within donors. It means increased attention to the ethics of relational fundraising and the tensions that sometimes develop between relating to donors as spiritual advisors and asking for financial gifts.

We were left asking how faith can inform and motivate the practices of fundraisers. While the practices of fundraising may not necessarily make faith-based fundraisers unique, our study demonstrates that there may be distinct motivations. We are looking forward to expanding this study among other faith-based fundraising associations in the future, and we welcome your thoughts. Whether a pastor, denominational staffer, or development officer, how do you see your role as a faith-based fundraiser? How does your organization cultivate or nurture fundraising as a practice? Let us know. We look forward to exploring these questions with you in the days ahead.

More Information

David P. King is the Karen Lake Buttrey Director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving as well as Assistant Professor of Philanthropic Studies within the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Having served local churches and national faith-based organizations, he is also fueled by facilitating conversations with faith leaders, donors, and fundraisers (of all generations) around the intersections of faith and giving.

A version of this article first appeared in Insights Newsletter, a bi-weekly publication of the Lake Institute.

Generosity NOW Conference: The Ecumencial Stewardship Center's Generosity NOW: Stewardship Fusion 2 Conference will take place April 25-27, 2017 in Washington DC. Laypersons, pastors, and judicatory and denominational staff who attend Generosity NOW increase their knowledge about spiritual principles and best practices relating to faithful stewardship and generous giving through plenary sessions, workshops, and worship.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"SS_checkbook" image by RikkisRefuge Other. Creative Commons image on Flickr.

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