What do you do?

Fundraising as vocation

A version of this article originally appeared on Church Anew.

Exodus 36:6-7

“So Moses gave command, and a word was proclaimed throughout the camp: No one is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing, for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.”

Erin recently sat next to a Rabbi on a flight. There was a steady stream of people who would interrupt him and ask questions. He leaned over to Erin and quietly whispered, “Sometimes I wish for anonymity.” His vocational expression allowed for people to bring their own narratives, questions, and presuppositions and he became the face for their experiences.

Erin nodded in understanding.

Erin and Mieke always feel challenged when we try and tell strangers what we do for a living. We have far more than a job–but our job is an expression of our vocation.

It’s complicated. As faith-based fundraising and giving consultants for congregations and non-profits, we often hear a number of responses:

  • I could never do that. Ask people for the money? That feels gross.
  • God and money? Could you include any harder topics?
  • Oh you’re one of those…
  • My hand is on my pocketbook!
  • Consultants are the worst. They take your watch and tell you the time.

We’ve thought about trying to find another word for our vocational title. Even the inclination to refer to our consulting work as vocational may be surprising, or feel at odds with the word consultant, given the commonly held perspective that consultants “take your watch and tell you the time.”

The alternatives we’ve imagined for consultants include: Giving Companion and Partner in the Stewardship Ministry. But what do those names mean? In our reflections, we’ve realized that the word fundraising itself feels imprecise.

We love our work. We love what we do. Because we work collaboratively, we don’t see ourselves as mere service providers. This means that while we offer expert advice, we just as readily dream alongside our clients about what’s possible. And we do this while focusing each client community’s collective gaze on a common goal. We know that when we fixate on a financial goal alone, we are vulnerable to missing what we believe to be the most important point of all: the process of fundraising is itself a restorative life-giving ministry.

The Bible is filled with stories of God preparing a table for us. In many of the gospel stories, Jesus creates a table uniting communities, resources, and people in innovative ways not only build their capacities, but also their imaginations. When we re-meet each other where we are and take a better look at ourselves in relation to our neighbors, we can create powerful new ways of repairing broken systems, reinvigorating our giving and re-energizing our faith.

The spiritual discipline of fundraising within the context of the church is better known as stewardship. When we engage in the acts of asking for and giving gifts, we must acknowledge and confront our own relationships with money, which often bring up feelings of shame, guilt, frustration and confusion, accompanied by perceptions regarding scarcity and abundance.

Often, what’s hidden in the acts of inviting and giving gifts is the unique opportunity to be liberated, to not let our past experiences and narratives bind us any longer. The necessary actions in raising funds can heal us, individually and collectively.

This is why we do what we do. Our purpose is not to prioritize care for bigger givers, and we do not seek status symbols for ourselves or for others.

Rather, we have a bold desire to facilitate the redistribution of wealth.

We yearn for communities to understand that what they cannot do individually, they can do together. Our work is guiding communities together to both recognize and build their collective power.

The reason our work is focused on building trust with people is because they haven’t had positive experiences with consultants – or in fundraising. When you don’t know how to raise money well, you rarely succeed, and that does not make people want to engage in this work anymore. In addition, consultants are rarely trusted and often people think we are out there to do as little work as possible and charge as much as we can. We wish there was a different way to describe that this ministry could look in its truest form, as partnership.

Before starting Vandersall Collective, Mieke worked at a small nonprofit that was fighting for queer ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As the organization’s primary fundraiser, she was face-to-face with many individuals and committees asking for funding. Over time, she began to realize that fundraising was so scary to her because when she was asking for funding, she was asking for acceptance of her as a young, queer woman. To get herself out of this dysfunctional cycle, she had to be confident in her own value, in her own identity. Then “the ask” became much stronger, as it was not a personal ask to heal herself (essentially), but instead to provide an opportunity for others to make a difference in a church that both the donor and Mieke dearly loved. This is why it is a spiritual discipline.

And it is this practice that guides our vocational work. We remain rooted in our purpose.

As we do this work, we believe in God’s call to an alternative economy. Walter Brueggeman, a theologian who has impacted both Mieke and Erin’s theological understanding says it this way: “[A] facet of prophetic imagination…is a new economy that is organized around a love of neighbor and that is committed to the viability of widows, orphans, and immigrants. Widows, orphans, and immigrants are people who in the ancient world did not have advocates who were empowered by the totalism in a patriarchal society. So it becomes a test case for the economy, and it is a redistributive economy of respect and viability for vulnerable persons, and there is no way to cover over or to hide or disguise that we are talking about policies of redistribution.”

Our vocation is so much more than raising money by whatever means necessary.

We acknowledge that vulnerability is at the heart of what we do. It is hard to acknowledge that we have needs. That we need each other. That we cannot do it alone.

Our relationships with money not only shape our relationship with God but impact our relationships with each other. The narratives we tell about our worth intersect with our ability to recognize God’s movement in the world. We are unable to imagine what belonging means in the kingdom of God and create structures around these imaginings without examining the relationship between our worth and work, without reconstructing a theology around money that is liberative.

Our prayer is that one day, as was the case in Exodus, all will have enough—so much so that the people were restrained from giving.

May it be so.

  • Rev. Mieke Vandersall and Erin Weber-Johnson

    Mieke Vandersall is the founder and Principal Consultant of Vandersall Collective, a faith based, woman- and queer-led consulting firm. Vandersall provides fundraising, strategic thinking, and communication services. She is also the founder of a new worshiping community, Not So Churchy. Erin Weber-Johnson is Senior Consultant at Vandersall Collective, and Primary Faculty of Project Resource. Her recent co-edited book, “Crisis and Care: Meditations on Faith and Philanthropy” is available at Wipf & Stock. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband, Jered, and two sons, Jude and Simon Henri.

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24 days ago

Perhaps you could be called “Generosity Coaches”…