"It all comes back to the case. You need a compelling case for why your organization exists if you want to invite people to financially support it."
This was the central guidance of the two professors who taught the four-day course "Principles and Techniques in Fundraising" that I recently attended. The class was sponsored by Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. There were 30 students representing non-profit organizations from around the country.
By the end of the 32 hours of class time, I gained a lot of new insights into philanthropy and generosity. Before the class, I had a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about fundraising; the course helped reframe my uninformed beliefs.
Personal financial choices are something many of us are hesitant to talk about with other people, but it doesn't need to be that way. There are a lot of taboo topics that I sincerely hope become conversational norms in the not-too-distant future. Religion, sex, death and money are part of life for everyone so it would be helpful if they weren't perpetually relegated to the "never discuss publicly" list. It's through open discussion that individuals learn and our collective awareness expands. This column is called "Holy Everything" because there's sacred splendor in all of life — even in sex, death and money.
There was a time in our nation's history when those who gave money to religious organizations and nonprofits did so primarily out of a sense of obligation and duty. "I give because it's the right thing to do" was the sort of sentiment you would hear from this group of givers. There are many people in our congregations and constituencies who continue to give out of this same sense of loyalty, and we give thanks for the factors and influences that shaped that generation. Yet this isn't the only approach to giving. With time researchers are learning more about each subsequent generation's giving patterns.
For a variety of complex reasons, motivations for generosity are shifting. Obligation and duty are no longer the only motivators. There are now a huge host of reasons people give.
It may be tempting to believe people are no longer as generous as they used to be, but that's not true. According to the most recent edition of "Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy," Americans were more generous than ever before! More than $373 billion was donated to nonprofits in 2015. That includes people from every generation making monetary donations of every amount.
On the first day of the course, Dr. Sarah Nathan said to our class, "Our competition is not each other as fellow nonprofits. Our competition is consumerism." There is not a shortage of money out there to be donated to impactful, worthy causes. There is also not a shortage of people out there who are willing to give. The goal is to find ways to connect people with the causes and missions that are most important to them. We do this through getting clear about our "cases" — why we do the work we do.
If you're part of a congregation, faith community, or nonprofit organization that requires individual donations in order to operate, I encourage you to think about your case. Talk about it with your board president, pastor, or executive director. Develop a way to clearly and compellingly talk about why your organization exists and the difference your group makes in the world. Once you've got your case clarified, your group can come up with strategic and thoughtful ways to communicate it with the wider public.
I appreciated the course immensely. It was inspiring to meet classmates doing such important work in the world, and I feel more equipped than ever before to talk about money and giving. (I wish I would've taken the course when I first became a congregational pastor.)
Whether it's sharing our money, time, or abilities, we are our healthiest when we are connected to each other. Together, let's continue to build a community, country and world built on a foundation of bold generosity.