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“I’d never want to ask anyone for money.”
I hear this often, perhaps because support raising is a core piece of what sustains our ministry. It’s on my mind again because we’re aiming to reach an $8,000 giving goal by the end of the day.
I hear this declaration within white, Black and brown circles. Poor, rich, and somewhere in between.
A caveat: I come from a tradition of modest money-raisers: not Silicon Valley angel investors, but church-going generations of Dutch immigrants who fund mission projects, building initiatives, and Saturday morning car washes. Many of these families and friends — through wealth building over generations bound up in the kind of capital that white people had access to in the 1950s through the sorts of home equity, education, and lucrative job fields that other races legally could not access — and through some old fashioned hard work – have money to give.
These are my people, but fundraising is not unique to my people.
Fundraising makes everyone awkward, no matter our level of privilege, the color of our skin, or the neighborhood we grew up in.
Most of us approach fundraising the way our grandparents approached having (or not having) money: awkward and apologetic.
But Henri Nouwen talks about asking for money with your back straight. It’s a way of confidently announcing a vision and inviting people into it. A way of saying, “Look, something amazing is happening, do you want to be a part of it?”
Giving establishes a relationship of love, and as we grow a base of supporters for our work in Detroit, who gives matters to me. I don’t just want you to give. I want you to be transformed through your gift.
If someone gives toward our ministry work in Detroit to ‘help people know Christ,’ I want them to meet Christ through the people in Detroit. If someone gives to our ministry in Detroit to take a chip out of the 10:1 white-to-black wealth gap, I want them to experience the transformative joy of confessing a historic problem, acknowledging complicity, and fixing it together.
The best fundraising isn’t asking “for a little help.” It’s creating change that spans the gap between giver and receiver. If giving is not a mere one-time act of charity or an assuaging of one’s conscience after acquiring cash, then giving can become an act of loving solidarity.
Giving forms a transformative bridge toward equality between those who are rich and poor.
If our hearts do indeed sit with our money, then our money had better sit with the poor. And hopefully our money can sit with the poor until they are no longer poor and we have learned what it means to be truly rich.
How can we ask and give in a way that invites this transformation? We might start by seeing the one who asks, the one who gives, and the one who receives as recipients of the same grace. Henri Nouwen says that when we ask with genuine love for the giver, we acknowledge that designations of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ are not merely quantified by money. All are in deep need of grace-filled transformation.
We can also be creative, imagining the kind of world we would like to inhabit together. My Detroit mentor, Mark, talks about how churches could set up a college fund and a legal defense pool for every child who gets baptized, as an act of confession and of hope within ever-increasing rates of incarceration and college debt. Or what if — before we bought a house or rented a nicer space — we downgraded and paid someone else’s mortgage? We might then realize that what we have is only temporarily ours, and if others followed, twice as many people in the United States would be homeowners, that primary path toward building wealth over generations.
I didn’t understand how energizing asking people for money could be until I asked someone — a few years ago — for $12,000. They said no. I debriefed the conversation with my friend Catherine, who works as a major gifts director, and she said, “Nathan, how exciting! You just expanded the horizons of what impact they think their money can make! Next time someone approaches them, they might do it!” Nouwen talks about this as “inviting someone into a new relationship with their wealth.”
When I raise support, I am also welcomed to examine my own relationship with money. To ask for money and to give money is to experience a deep liberation from anxiety and enter a needed solidarity with the other. I recall Richard Foster’s wisdom:
If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is freely available, then we will possess a freedom from anxiety. However, if what we have we believe we must hold onto, and if what we have is not available to others, then we will live in anxiety.
When I ask you for your support, I am opening my heart, and I am asking you to open yours. If not to me, then to someone else. That may feel awkward or tingly, but this perichoretic act of asking, giving and receiving is in the very fabric of grace.