Why fundraising is not stewardship

Reprinted from The Message, Southwestern Indiana’s Catholic Community Newspaper

Last we left, dear reader, we were engaged in a discussion regarding a pastoral letter issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992: “Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response.” Part of this discussion focused on the idea that when we equate fundraising to stewardship, there is not much honesty in the discussion of either.

That concept is borne from a misunderstanding of the meanings of “stewardship” and “fundraising.” Even though those two terms are often used interchangeably, that is a mistake. Let’s clear the decks of our preconceived notions of fundraising and stewardship right now, and let’s start with fresh descriptions of each as they are presented in this groundbreaking letter from the bishops.

Fundraising

“Unlike stewardship, which is a way of life involving all aspects of an individual Christian’s daily life, fundraising is a very specific set of activities designed to support the mission and goals of a diocese, parish, or other church-related organization. Fundraising is a discipline. It is a planned and organized effort to find potential volunteers and donors, to build strong relationships, and to ask for gifts of time, talent, and treasure to support the fundraising organization’s specific mission and goals” (Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response).

Let’s say a parish wants to add a building for classrooms due to growth in parish membership. It’s a pretty straightforward process.

• A fundraising goal, based on need and capacity, is determined. In other words, how much will the building cost, and what is the reasonable expectation of how much money can be raised?
• Committees are created to handle the various duties of a fundraising campaign — marketing, mailing, calling, asking and organizing all the moving parts.
• Key members of the parish are recruited to serve on these committees.
• All the pieces are then put together, and the asks are made.
• Pledges are collected, money counted and classrooms built.

That’s it. It has a beginning and an end. It can be done internally or outsourced. While we need volunteers to act in a “spirit of stewardship,” once the campaign is over, they are free to go onto other things in life. All it requires is an interest in that one project.

Secular organizations do this kind of fundraising all the time. I regularly receive requests for money from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, asking
me to upgrade my membership or just to make an additional contribution. But that’s not stewardship because the RMEF is asking me to support its particular cause, not to commit my life to the foundation.

Stewardship

Stewardship is a different animal altogether. The bishops’ letter says a steward is “One who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with all, and returns them with increase to the Lord.”

This is the point where we recognize the difference between stewardship and fundraising.

Fundraising is an activity. Stewardship is a way of life.

Wow. That is radical thinking. Notice that nowhere in the definition of a steward does it say anything about money. That would be easy, to just get out our checkbooks and tick off that box. “Here’s my contribution, so I have fulfilled my stewardship requirement.”

What it says is far more comprehensive and demanding.

Stewardship requires us to embrace the truth that all gifts come from God. All. Total. Everything. Good and bad. No exceptions.

As stewards, God requires us to take care of those gifts, share them and return them with increase.

Fundraising allows degrees of ambivalence.

Stewardship is all in.

Stewardship transcends fundraising. Stewardship is to fundraising like the universe is to a single star or an ocean to a drop of water.

We are all called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, not His fundraising team. To be His disciples, we are to act as stewards of the gifts He has given. Lest we forget, even when we return those gifts with increase, God will never be outdone in generosity.

That’s honest. That’s radical.

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