Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Holy and Dearly Loved

Arloa posted today on a subject that has been dominant in my passions lately: how to raise funds ethically. In her post, she writes:

So there is temptation, temptation to say what we know people want to hear for the sake of funding the ministry, temptation to tell the stories with a bit of exageration, temptation to portray our community as desperate for outside help, temptation to settle for emotional appeals rather than to do the hard work of bringing people along on the justice journey.

Anyone else feel this angst? Any suggestions?

This is the response that I left:

Anyone else feel this angst?

Daily. My responsibilities are a little different because I work within the bureaucracy of a giant para-church organization and immediate need to make payroll is not as pressing. Instead, we're all working on the fund-raising effort for a central pot.

However, as someone who manages programs that work with the under-resourced, the various marketing departments (I told you it was giant) are constantly asking me for stories of the children and families who benefit to be used in various direct mail appeals.

I am so uncomfortable with this.

I feel it exploits the poverty of children of God and in doing so, further mars their self-identity, which is one of the root causes for their poverty. However, like you, I recognize the efficiency of affecting the emotions of potential donors. It is a constant internal struggle and a constant conversation (that's a nice word) with the various marketing departments.

There are two consolations that I would share with you.

1. Fund-raising can be used as a tool to transform the lives of donors. You might be the only link that some suburban folks have to be incarnational in any way. We in the city know what a blessing it is to be surrounded by the poor, just like Jesus was. Use your fundraising as an opportunity to help your donors experience what we have. This might mean being a little more honest about the actual journeys. It might mean talking a little more about your own journeys as staff. This might mean giving mini-lessons on the systems that cause poverty once you've got the donor hooked with an emotional appeal. You know best that when we are faithful to God's command to love one another, miracles happen. Maybe turning marketing research on its head will be one of those miracles.

2. People achieve healing by telling their stories. This one may be more for me and my situation right now, but I want to share it. A marketing staff member from headquarters came all the way across the country to "harvest" stories for a direct mail appeal. I was so busy protecting my people that I forgot my own personal experience of healing through telling my story to as many people as I could possibly get to listen to me. But my colleague came back from her interviews with moving stories not only of her own transformation but also of how once these women began talking to her, she had trouble getting them to stop. She (and I) realized that she was showing Christ's love through listening. What I worried would be exploitation turned out to be just what they needed. Story is a powerful element in this world. Don't underestimate the truth's ability to transform you, the donor, and the folks you work with.

This knowledge and perspective is a work in progress. I struggle with living in the tension between the need to be good stewards of the overhead involved in fundraising campaigns and the need to be transformational. But living in the tension is where life is most vibrant, so I try to relish it. I would love for this conversation to continue. Every time I talk about it with someone, I learn something new. I loved seeing that it was an issue for someone I like as much as I like you, Arloa. Thanks.

I really was kind of blown away by the realization that some people might actually want to tell their stories for a magazine that goes out to donors. I'm not sure why I hadn't thought of that before. I'm grateful for my colleague for insisting that I set up some interviews for her trip out. I'm also grateful to her for listening to me as I talked and talked about the trying to allow our people some dignity by not asking them to change out of their best clothes or to all crowd into the room in the house with holes in the wall just for the sake of a picture that will elicity pity in a potential donor. She told me about a major realization she had while talking to one of the women, who was extremely overweight. As this woman told her story about being sexually abused as a child, my colleague had an epiphany moment realizing that this woman's self-image had been annihilated by the abuse and that her weight problems and other problems all stemmed from her inability to see herself as a child of God, holy and dearly loved. I'm so pleased to have even a small part of that transformation.

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