Should Have Asked. Kept Asking.
Looking back now, I should have called my predecessor in the development office. Asking him about the article I discovered, tucked way in the back of the empty top desk drawer. Research-based and published by a leading medical institution, it had an intriguing, sort of ominous title. If I remember correctly, something concerning the particular challenges and stresses faced by fundraising professionals and the impact on their mental, emotional and ethical well-being.
Did he forget to take the article with him? Or did he leave it in the drawer on purpose? Was there something I needed to know?
This was only the third week on the job. While aspects of my previous vocational ministry were transferable to the development field, I had essentially begun a new venture. Certainly not aware of what fundraising as a full-time profession fully entailed. Not knowing what I didn't know. Not knowing how to interpret the message of that found article. Not knowing if I should just pick up the phone and solve the mystery.
What I do know is that I remained at the same nonprofit for just shy of twenty years. Stewarding the fundraising, development and advancement component of the mission. Having the privilege of serving with a team of remarkably talented and motivated individuals. Engaging with thousands of donors and supporters who personified generosity in variated and consequential ways. Finishing a chapter of my vocational journey that was full, filled and fulfilling.
I arrived at that milestone by becoming increasingly inquisitive. Reaching out and asking a lot more questions than I did at the start. Questions about the techniques and tenacity to stay steady at development tasks. Questions about the proficiencies and the paces associated with the fundraising profession. Questions about those particular challenges and stresses related to the job. The ones referenced in that article I found tucked way in the back of the empty top desk drawer.
Answers came from colleagues at work, as well as peers, experts and veterans in the field. They shared secrets of the trade. Showed me better and best ways. Steered me in the right direction to discover the right answers.
I also became more willing to ask myself questions. Questions that constantly calibrated the mental, emotional and ethical well-being so necessary in the profession of fundraising, development and advancement work. Questions to construct and maintain a values-driven, spiritual framework around the vocational call to serve in this field.
Regarding the latter, two questions I repeatedly asked were: 1) Why am I doing this? And, 2) How am I going to do this?
The first was rooted in finding the relevance of professional fundraising, as it related to ministry and mission. For me this was paramount. Was this a worthy venture and would this serve God's purposes? The second dealt with finding the spiritual source to fulfill the enormous responsibility associated with the assignment. While professional fundraising requires a certain fortitude and finesse, finding the faith to do it was another matter.
In a similar quest for these answers, theologian Henri Nouwen shared his reflections on the spirituality of fundraising:
"Most people I have spoken to about fundraising feel somewhat uneasy with the idea that they have to go out and ask for money...I want to say that fundraising, if you think about it from the perspective of the Gospel, is not a response to crisis. It is, first of all, a form of ministry. It is a way of announcing your vision, and inviting other people into your vision with the resources that are available to them. Fundraising is proclaiming what you believe in and proclaiming it such a way that you offer the other person an opportunity to participate in your vision. So it's precisely the opposite of begging."
Seeking that visionary perspective, that values-driven, spiritual framework of fundraising, I found my answers in a collection of scriptures from the ancient book of Proverbs.
One set summoned a life of advocacy on behalf of others. To speak up for the voiceless. To defend the defenseless. That certainly answered my first question of Why. And since the nonprofit I served existed to lift up those whom society deemed diminished, fundraising as advocacy for a righteous cause resonated in my soul.
And concerning the How? Another set of scriptures spoke of leaning toward wisdom, understanding and knowledge beyond yourself---in order to build, establish and fill. Lord, did I ever need that answer. For this same nonprofit had many buildings to build, enterprises to establish and lives to fill. All with ambitious funding goals attached.
Could I then, as Nouwen exhorted, proclaim what I believed in and proclaim it in such a way that I offered the "others" an opportunity to participate in the vision? And to bring their resources with them?
In no time flat, framed copies of the two passages were hung on my office wall. Every time the Why and the How questions resurfaced I would glance up at each. I'll admit, some days, some stretches through those couple of decades, I should have asked myself the two questions more frequently. Should have looked up and focused more intently on the answers outlined in those proverbs. Centered down more often to the core of my calling. Leaned in more to the wisdom, understanding and knowledge beyond myself.
Nevertheless, these two passages served me well. Reminding me where the significance was found. Where the supply came from. Providing a values-driven, spiritual framework around the call to serve in this field. Helping calibrate the mental, emotional and ethical well-being that, thankfully, any and all professional fundraisers can access. Answering the questions we all should have asked. Answering the questions we all keep asking.
Speaking of questions. Have you looked to see if there was anything left behind by your predecessor? Still tucked way in the back of that top desk drawer?
Follow @JoeMazzu3 on Twitter and Instagram. Visit intentionalconsulting.com to learn more about his business serving nonprofits.