One of the things that I personally dread the most is fundraising. Nevertheless, “asking for money” is often a part of the priestly service to the people. Many times, priests implicitly try our best to avoid asking parishioners for money, hoping that people would be generous enough in giving their financial gifts to support the parish and its works. However, that is not always the case, and I have learned over time to look at things from the stewardship point of view, perhaps a more spiritual and holistic one than the typical nonprofit fundraising approach.
Personally speaking, I used to dislike priests who would always talk about money or burdening the parish with one construction project after another. They turned me off because they were too worried about the physical or temporal aspects of the Church. Nevertheless, I had also seen priests who are good “fundraisers” and “builders” without constantly needing to ask for money. I have observed and learned from several, and I believe it all boils down to genuine respect and trust.
If one treats people as “walking pocketbooks,” then everything tends to remain on a monetary focus. However, when we respect each individual as he or she deserves, not what he or she can give, then we give them the proper dignity and love that is deserving, which is very crucial in the local faith community and our relationships with one another. The Church and her particular missions will always need supporters, because, contrary to many popular fabrications, we do not sit on a bucketload of money or have government handouts; that is why we need people who are willing to step up and support the different projects that are necessary. Nevertheless, it is very important that we be careful about how we look at the Church! For me, she is not simply an institution that is in need of constant developments. She is the community of faith that is alive, growing in her missions to better serve the poor, abandoned, forgotten, and advances the Good News. Therefore, I truly believe that we are here, as people of faith, to build not just the physical part of the Kingdom of God, but also the spiritual and ecclesiological aspects which are very important.
In order to keep our priorities straight and focused on the Gospel and its values, I believe we have to be the people who pray and discern about our missions. We have to discern individually and communally what God is calling us to do at each particular time. It is should never be about buildings or projects and their successes, but about the community and its people-oriented missions. Here are some questions to contemplate:
- Will this building or advancement project helps to further the mission of the Church or are we simply making a “name” for ourselves?
- Is our goal secular or spiritual?
- Is it simply a project or is it mission-oriented?
- Are we worried about buildings or about the community?
I believe the regular human temptations are always there, and that is why the community as the whole has to sit down, pray, and prioritize according to what God is inviting them to do as a whole when there is a need for a project.
Fr. Henri Nouwen in his small work, A Spirituality of Fundraising, said that:
“Once we are prayerfully committed to placing our whole trust in God and have become clear that we are concerned only for the Kingdom; once we have learned to love the rich for who they are rather than what they have; and once we believe that we have something of great value to give them, then we will have no trouble at all asking someone for a large sum of money.”
Priests that I respect as fundraisers and builders always put relationships first! They spend a lot of time caring for the people of God. They always focus on strengthening the spiritual and communal identity of the people first and foremost. Once that trust and respect have been established, the people will respond with generosity. My priestly ministry has often reminded me that people ultimately trust the person of their priest instead of the fine details of the project. One can make a lot of flyers and details about what can be done and the benefits that go with the project, but if the people do not trust that the priest who is leading it cares for them, they will not generously respond with their hard-working sacrifices.
Therefore, it takes time to get to know the people, earn their respect and trust by how one genuinely shares, cares, and gives his life for the people entrusted to him. The spiritual and pastoral approach to fundraising and building are important because things are not simply project-based, they are relational and personal. All we can do is prayerfully commit and place our trust in God and the mission of the Gospel. Contrary to secular fundraising or development strategies of trying to convince and prove to donors the productivity and success of the project or organization, we are sharing the vision of service and love. This vision is to be brought to the fruitfulness not by us but by the Lord who brings us to the potential collaborators and them to us.
Prayer is important as we begin any project or mission because we need to be reminded of our priorities and orient ourselves to what is important. In prudential, prayerful, and spiritual discernment, we might be able to — individually and communally — uncover the hidden humanistic motives and unacknowledged traps that shape our apparent goals. Prayer helps us to seek God‘s will and allow Him to guide us beyond our control and fears. When we put prayerful and spiritual priorities first, they allow us to identify our mission in the Almighty and see one another as brothers and sisters instead as potential investors alone.
Prayer helps us to always be grateful for His present blessings instead of what needs to be done, hence helping us to be free from a particular set of humanistic objectivities. This heartfelt gratitude helps us to focus on the relational foundations of serving and loving one another genuinely instead of what others can give us. It unites us as collaborators in the Lord‘s vineyard instead of people who only come together for a common purpose. It is important to love the person and serves him or her out of the love for God instead of what can be given or based on the desired response. Prayer and gratitude help us to work on the necessary mission without being controlling or needy, and leave it without resentment or frustration when things do not go our way. In short, prayer helps us to trust that God can work fruitfully through us if it is the right mission for the right time.
To build a healthy and theocentric culture of stewardship, both the leaders and parishioners have to live and believe in what they preach. We all dislike organizations and events that are only in need of us when they do some types of fundraising. That approach leaves a sour and distrustful taste because we are being treated as “walking pocketbooks” instead of as human beings, brothers and sisters, and collaborators in the Lord‘s vineyards. In my honest opinion, if the people in leadership want to motivate stewardship, give more than what is asked, both in financial and service-based giving of time, talent, and treasure. I can still remember one of my most respected mentors gave me a set of parish’s contribution envelopes when I was still a seminarian serving at his parish at my first meeting with him. He told me, “If you want to be a part of this parish, become a part in all your decisions and actions by setting the example and give more than what you ask of the congregation. It begins today with how to give financially and how you serve the people.” That made so much sense and it stuck with me ever since! This is how to I try to live my priestly ministry, both as a leader and part of my parish community, as I try to understand and discern what is best through dialogue, commitment, and respect of the people entrusted to me.
Ultimately, fundraising is a part of our ministry and commitment to service. It needs to be filled with the joy of the Lord, confidence in His plan, and hope in His promise and generosity. It is there only to be another part of service as we care for one another, plan for the future goods of the community, and work together to bring a better recognition of the Good News through personal and communal commitments of stewardship. When we prayerfully come to ask one another for money, we challenge ourselves to love the other person more than what he or she can give us. We have to love each other with a fuller and deeper love than what is on the outside. We cannot put a dollar sign on one another but to help each other come closer to God. Just as the person who asks the question has to be dependent on the generosity of the giver, the one who gives has to trust in the one who receives to be a good steward of their hard-working contributions. If done with faith, stewardship will make both the person who asks and the person who gives become humble without objectifying the other side or seeking personal glories from the act itself for the Almighty is the One who moves hearts and unites people together for the greater good of ministry and service.