Some New Thoughts on Fundraising

One of the questions I get asked most often these days, usually right after “aren’t you glad you moved and miss than winter in Boston,” is something to the effect of: “how does it feel to not have to fundraise anymore?”

Actually it isn’t as much of a question as an indirect way of saying: “You’re life must be so much better now that you don’t have to fundraise.”

I really dislike this comment.

To begin with, I actually liked fundraising. It kept me in touch with a lot of people who I otherwise might not have stayed in contact with. It forced me to ask for help, which is not something I enjoy doing naturally. We experienced grace and generosity in ways we would never have otherwise. Fundraising created a community with friends near and far, a sustaining community, a community that also helped us find our new role.

Furthermore, just because I am not fundraising doesn’t mean we are free of financial risk. That’s the subtext for a lot of people: fundraising is crazy and risky, working at a church is safe and secure (and in many people’s minds lucrative).

I object to this line of thinking greatly. Yes, the realities of fundraising are quite different from the realities of a salary. But, a church salary, especially at an urban, inner city church, is no sure thing. This community took a risk in hiring me, and any small church pastor will tell you about weekly anxiety and uncertainty.

This is not to say that I don’t have critiques of fundraising or that there aren’t aspects of the process that I am glad to be free of. It’s just not quite what most people might expect.

A couple of critiques:

1) First, fundraising is exhausting. It is a never-ending process. But, while it is a grind, that’s not actually what I am referring to.

I had a supporter who is a professor at Fuller Seminary in the psychology department, and she’s been working on a big project on Young Life, looking into the effects of camp ministry on discipleship. In the process she met and talked at a lot of Young Life staff, hearing their stories and getting to know what their life is like.

She drew a conclusion: Young Life staff are stressed out and working well beyond their capacity.

You might assume this is because they work too many hours, play too many silly games, and spend several weeks of the year at camp. But, that’s not actually what is wearing them out.

According to the research my friend was doing, the stress came through the balancing of too many communities. A Young Life staff has the community of student’s they are investing in (usually at a school). Then they have their co-workers and other area staff. They are building relationships with the school administrators. They have their church circles and their neighbors. They have other friends. If they are married, they are also balancing those “worlds.”

And then they have this group of people called “supporters,” 100-300 people they are regularly in contact with about prayer requests and financial support.

Now, as I mentioned earlier this is a beautiful thing, to have so many people supporting you. But, it is exhausting too.

In Boston we had our Sojourn team, our campus groups, our church groups, our friends in Boston, Amy’s work, our neighbors, our extended family around the country, other friends around the country, and then our support team. Some of those overlapped, but many did not. It’s no wonder we struggled with getting to know our neighbors.

One thing we already appreciate about this new chapter is that there are fewer circles to manage and we are freer to interact in each circle. We are more present than we ever were in Boston.

2) Second, I struggle with the unfortunate reality that fundraising is far too often used as THE vetting tool for mission work. In other words, if you can fundraise, you can do the work.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of great missionaries, campus ministers, young life leaders, etc, who never get to do what they were clearly created to do because they don’t have the network for fundraising.

Now, for some people this is a real obedience issue: there are some folks who are lazy, undisciplined, afraid or unwilling to ask, or  who lack the training to hit their fundraising goals. These folks squander the opportunity and gift in front of them.

But, for every one of those folks, there are two great missionaries who walk away because, for whatever reason, they can’t fundraise enough money. I think in particular of the college graduate who has to pay off student loans, or the first-generation immigrant student who simply doesn’t have the resources in their networks, or the new Christian who doesn’t have the church experience/community.

We make it very difficult for these people to participate if fundraising is the vetting issue.

Furthermore, there are some people who are great at fundraising who have no business being campus ministers or missionaries because of character issues or gifting.

3) My final thought is that fundraising can make the relationship between the organization and its employees difficult at times. If funds are not properly accounted for and kept track of fastidiously, it can breed resentment. Especially if some people are essentially forced into carrying the load for a time (or indefinitely).

I won’t go into details, but when I started fundraising I kept very detailed records of what I brought in and took out (no one else was doing this for me when I started and I am grateful we brought someone in to do this for us about two years into my time with the organization).

That decision turned out to be prescient, because there came a day when a significant chunk of money of that money disappeared. If not for my records I’m not sure what we would have done. For the record, this story is less about losing money and more of an example of one way that fundraising can lead to resentment and frustration.

This is an interesting phenomenon because one of the benefits of fundraising is the regular experience of grace and miraculous provision. It is amazing how quickly that turns when there is “miraculous” disappearing of funds. It tested my understanding of grace to be sure.

Having said all that I did enjoy fundraising. I got choked up writing my final thank you notes and I miss the connection and bonding that fundraising brings.

But I also feel free in a lot ways that seem healthy.

To my friends that continue to fundraise: keep on it faithful friends!

To the organizations that require fundraising: may you be full of integrity and serve the best interests of your employees.

To the rest of us: may we be generous to those who ask for our partnership.

Moving

Yesterday we signed a lease and wrote a check and so, finally, it is official: we are moving to Roslindale. Rozzi, as it is affectionately called by the locals, is one of Boston’s southern neighborhoods. It’s a diverse community with spillover from Dorchester (most of my counselors at Bird Street were from Roslindale), Jamaica Plain (bringing with it the hipster influence), and West Roxbury (with some good old Boston accents). 

This has been quite the journey. About six months ago we began to with the idea of moving out of our current apartment. If you’ve ever been here you know we have these crazy stair cases, which makes life with a baby interesting. We thought there might be a nice first floor place for us in Eastie. At the same time, we were heavily recruiting some friends to move into the neighborhood too.

None of that ended up working out. The rental market in Boston is out of control right now (our current place is being listed for 25% more than what we started at). At one point we were going to Allston, at another point back to Dorchester, at another we thought about giving up and staying put. There were many, many ups and downs and twists and turns and someday, maybe, I’ll write a post about what, if anything, I learned about discernment from all of this. To put it mildly: it was draining.

We’ve loved living in Eastie and a lot of amazing things have happened since we’ve moved here: the transition to full-time ministry, Amy passing her boards and starting work, the launching of a REUNION community group, Marina joined our family, and the Giants won a couple of World Series. It’s been a good run.

But, the one thing we’ve never really had here was sharing life with people who have a similar rhythm. We are excited about Rozzi’s parks and people, its village, and walkability. We are excited to meet new neighbors and enjoy the Arboretum. But mostly we are excited to be within mere blocks of Stacey and Linsey and Bobby and Christina. Friends and family and co-workers. We are excited to share in the birth a new baby and in the patterns of life that only those in campus ministry can really relate to.

I am not excited about putting things into boxes and taking them out, but I am so, so excited to begin creating and forming community with friends whose homes I can get to by walking.

A new adventure begins!   

New [School] Year’s Resolution

I love to read. I devour books on topics that are interesting to me. They don’t have to be well written. They don’t have to be works of art. They just need to entice me with delicious information.

This is who I am. My strengthsfinder inventory tells me I am a “learner,” “input,” ideation,” “intellection,” and “strategic.” Taking in information is how I operate and process the world.

Naturally, as a campus minister, I end up reading A LOT of books about: leadership, theology, church, church trends, discipleship, discipleship models, college students, young adults, and this list could go on and on.

I’ve been wondering lately, though, if all that information isn’t a way to hide. It is easier to read and write about ministry and making disciples than it is to do it.

I’ve found myself getting annoyed with those who have many opinions on the topic, those who write blogs about it, and yet don’t seem to be doing much in real life. Upon examining my annoyance with this I realized the reaction is due, in part, to my own tendency to retreat into the world of ideas and knowledge and away from the mess of people and real life.

I thought about giving up reading all together. But I think I would die a sort of death if there were no books in my life.

So, instead I’m giving up reading books about church, theology, and ministry for the coming school year.

There will be a couple of exceptions to this: a book we’ll read as a staff, a couple of books that I’ve read before that I will re-read with students. But my reading for this year will be novels and classics and works of non-fiction that are interesting to me but have nothing to do with my job (like this one).

I hope this accomplishes a couple of things:

  1. Saves money
  2. Clears mental clutter
  3. Helps me learn new and interesting things, and forces me to practice what I often preach (integration: finding God’s truth in unexpected places)

Here it goes!

Cities of Refuge

In Joshua 20 and Deuteronomy we learn of a lesser  Old Testament idea: Cities of Refuge. Three cities where someone who has killed someone accidentally can go to avoid retribution.

On the surface this might seem odd: why set up a whole city to respond to this one issue? Were there other things you could escape from in a City of Refuge?

For one who found themselves in the predicament of accidentally killing a neighbor I am sure a City of Refuge was a beautiful symbol of grace and rescue.

On a deeper level, I think these cities served another purpose: the performance of alternative story.

Culture dictated vengeance and more violence. Refuge ended the cycle. These cities said: “you don’t have to live like that.”

May our churches, our community groups, our gatherings, our presence in neighborhoods be “cities of refuge.” Reminders that dictates of culture do not apply here…vengeance, hate, cycles of dysfunction…they can end.

Campus Ministry and The Great Emergence

I just finished Phyllis Tickle’s newest book, Emergence Christianity, and while I did not find it as compelling as The Great Emergence it did give me a lot to chew on. As she attempts to predict what the future of the church might look like in the West I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with how important campus ministry is both to the present and the future.

Consider this statement:

“Given the Emergence concern about formal theology and seminaries, and given the declining figures and resources within Protestantism and possibly Roman Catholicism, who will become the Christian philosophers and ethicists among us, who will train them, who will provide for their work as a community of scattered but connected scholars?”

I wish I had the time to elaborate, but as I was reading I said, out loud, Campus Ministry! Not that CM is the answer to everything, but this is, in part, what we have been doing, what we aim to do, and it is role we are well suited to take on if this is how the trends continue to develop.

Wholehearted (A Final Rolling Stones Post)

The third and final installment of a three part series (“Honing Our Chops”) that first appeared at Faith ON Campus:

[I recently finished Life by Keith Richards, lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones. When most people think of the Stones they probably think of Mick Jagger first (no thanks to Keisha and Maroon 5). But Keith has really been the leader, glue, and engine for the band that turns 50 this year. I found a lot of what Keith writes about in Life to speak into my vocation as a Campus Minister. These are my reflections on Keith’s insights.]

“We just wanted to be a great blues band. That’s all we played [the blues], until we actually became it.” from Life, p. 158.

One of the themes that becomes very clear, very quickly, when reading Life by Keith Richards is that the Rolling Stones never set out to be an epic, culture changing rock n’ roll band. They were deeply influenced by the Chicago blues (Muddy Waters, etc), and that is, in many ways, how they still view themselves to this day: a Chicago blues band from London.

Not that they didn’t have ambition. They wanted to be a great band. But they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

When students show up on campus as freshmen there are some who just want to party, and a few others who are there to get a degree and get on with it, but the majority of students come with significant dreams and aspirations.

They may not say this to the first people they meet at school, but they come wanting, believing, even knowing, that they can, and will, change the world.

But then life happens, disappointments accumulate, frustrations with classes and professors set in, and some of the gleam and shine of college begins to fade.

There is a kind of lostness that many students wander through around the mid-way point of their college experience. Should I stay in this major? Should I transfer schools? Is this really worth all the money and debt?

I believe students wind up in this place for two reasons:

  1. They lack a specific vision for their life (I want to change the world sounds nice, but it is far too vague to sustain anyone for a long period of time).
  2. They have been taught to hold back

I picked up Life because, of course, I wanted to hear some incredible stories about the greatest rock band of all time. But I was also interested because this is the 50th anniversary of the band (a band that still includes 3 of the 5 originals and a fourth who has been around for almost 40 years). How do you stay in the game, let alone on top of the game, for that long? 50 years is an impressive marriage.

I think the two big reasons the Stones are celebrating a 50th anniversary are that they had a specific vision (to be the best blues band in London), and they did not hold back.

There are several scenes in the life of Jesus where he lets people in on the secret: this thing is headed to the cross…my mission is to be broken and poured out for you. Almost every time he says this someone tells him no, that’s a bad idea (see John 6 or Matthew 16).

Martin Buber speaks of taking either a “yes” or “no” position to life. Jesus was saying an emphatic yes to his vision, and he was not going to let some “no” position folks hold him back.

Campus ministers must help their students navigate the college experience with wisdom and sagacity. But, hopefully, not at the expense of taking a “yes” position in relation to our students.

Certainly they get plenty of the “no” position from many other sources.

One more Stones story. For the first four years of their existence the Stones were playing a gig or recording a song for all but 2 days of that period. Now certainly working everyday for four years is not healthy. But, here’s the really interesting thing: very little of what they played and produced during this time was original material. Most of their big original work took place in the ten years after this.

It’s almost as if those four years were their university years. And they threw themselves fully into this time: learning songs, learning how to play together, learning how captivate an audience, learning a sound, learning everything they’d need to know later on down the road (when they really did change the world).

A campus minister has the opportunity to guide students to a posture of “yes”. To help students find their “chicago blues” and to throw themselves fully into life.

The chops of wholeheartedness.

Globalscope, Board Meetings, and Staycations

Awesome, but busy, week last week. Hanging out with the globalscope crew was inspiring and fun, a good reminder why I love campus ministry. They are doing some amazing work in Germany, England, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Thailand, and soon in Scotland. I also had the opportunity to lead one of their breakout workshops on the storytelling curriculum we’ve been using and developing here, another good time with good feedback and questions

Saturday we crammed two days worth of board meetings in to one. A full, but encouraging, day. I really appreciate these folks and they had some solid, challenging things to teach us, to ask us, and to guide us towards.

This week I am taking some time off to complete the transformation of our home, and hopefully get us physically ready for this baby to come. I have a big list, and I am excited to knock it out!

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