What is the central aspect of fundraising? This is the question I will be addressing in this post using as a resource Dutch theologian Henri Nouwen’s discussion of the topic.
Two features I find compelling of Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Fundraising is the role of contemplation (e.g. prayer and gratitude) and spiritual communion in a person’s development of a biblical-based perspective on money. For Nouwen, there is a close relationship between money fundraising and spiritual communion. He argues that such a spiritual communion comes out from God’s desire of having communion with human beings. Such a desire is also reflected among humans (p. 48). He argues that when a ministry asks for help and people respond, a relationship (communion) is created. Likewise, Nouwen also emphasizes the role of prayer in the process of giving and supporting ministries financially. This is so because for him prayer constitutes “the spiritual discipline through which our mind and heart are converted from hostility or suspicion to hospitality toward people who have money.” (p. 55). Through prayer, we learn about God’s desire to promote wellness and goodness in the world.
Although Nouwen discusses other features of the spirituality of fundraising, I think the importance of paying more attention to the contemplative life is noteworthy, especially because of the continuous negative impact of the American consumerist culture. It is important to be aware that secular and mainstream views on money may be problematic. In this respect, our personal models are not only affected if we adopt false ideas about money and consumption, people also may suffer because of such an adoption. For instance, the more space in our hearts we give to the consumerist views the more we will suffer. An excessive desire to earn money, for example, can destroy people’s lives and their relationships. For this reason, in light of Nouwen’s thought, I believe prayer, gratitude, and a desire to be in communion with other Christians, areas that must be nourished frequently. Perhaps we might have a strong desire for fundraising and supporting the church in a particular time in our lives, but this does not mean such a desire will continue developing in the future. If not nourished, those desires can be weakened or disappear.
From personal experience, I have learned that the idea of money giving as understood by our secular society differs significantly from the Christian viewpoint. For Christians, a strong desire and conviction shapes the act of giving to promote and support the Kingdom of God. It should not be informed by solely individual reasons such as a benefit in taxes. It is precisely in this area I need to grow more. After discovering, under the former law, that my donations could be deducted, I donated more. However, my intentions of getting a tax deduction were stronger than my desire to be part of what God is doing. I am not claiming that receiving tax deductions because of our donations is bad but focusing our donations on it may increase our self-interest.
Someone might argue that the important thing is giving and help others regardless our reasons to do so. But this idea is not as a good as it seems. Nouwen calls us to inform our fundraising and donation approach with biblical principles important to note. Again, I compare my recent attitudes toward money while living in the US with my former attitudes living abroad. Not surprisingly, I read some news that under the new law on taxes, donation deductions are still available but are more difficult to claim them. Because of this, donations were reduced. This situation is a good example of the importance of Nouwen’s emphasis on discerning our reasons to give.
Contemplation in this respect offers us a time to look for God and shaping our hearts. Without shaping our hearts our actions might not be held for a long time. As I claimed earlier, nourishing our desires through prayer and words of gratitude will shape our actions, and with this, people will be blessed. I think the idea of giving, from a Christian perspective, should always be informed with more than personal decisions. Rather, it must be also informed by a biblical-based understanding of money and richness such as the importance of stewardship, generosity, and the wellness of the love of our neighbor.