Learning to Live Life as a Generous Giver


A Reflection from Dr. John Park, Des Peres Assistant Professor of Congregational Health and Director of the DMin Program

From Nov. 4 through 7, 2019, I attended the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising (ECRF) seminar. The 3.5 day seminar was chock-full of information, activities, and real life experiences from the three instructors, as well as from the 28 or so participants. There were also opportunities to explore, ask questions, and build networks. This seminar was very helpful to me as I completed my time as the Vice President for Korean Community Outreach at Central. It provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my past practices, revisit challenges and questions, and learn from and with seasoned and budding fundraisers. It was a boon to be able to interact with the instructors as well as the participants, in that, I could ask questions, explore new possibilities, and just be me in a safe and trusting environment. Encouraged to change our table partners each day, I met new participants almost every day. The participants, each of whom worked for his or her organization in the area of fund development, shared diverse questions, perspectives, and insights into our common topics of discussions. The three instructors, Meredith McNabb, Melissa Spas, and Gary Dollar, all did a great job of teaching, sharing, facilitating, and challenging us in their unique ways.

As the ECRF overview notes, the five keys to effective religious fundraising are leadership, institutional clarity, organizational readiness, best practices, and theological integrity. These five keys were addressed throughout the duration of the seminar. The first day began with a discussion of theology and fundraising. After all, everything we Christians do should be rooted in sound theology, so it was a fitting component of the training for our ministry of fundraising. The introduction to new trends of giving and fundraising was very helpful, along with how to build an organizational culture of generosity. The culture of generosity needs to saturate not only individuals but the entire organization. When one breathes and swims in a culture of generosity, it is very natural that members of the culture pick it up and live it out. Clarifying vision and mission were also highlighted, as they guide and drive the organization. I was reminded of Greer and Horst’s book entitled Mission Drift, and of how easy it is for any organization to drift away from its mission either because constant attention is not paid to it or because the organization becomes complacent and fails to make constant alignments to stay the course.

Day 2 saw a discussion of nurturing generous donors and donor sensitivity as a practice of pastoral care. A common theme underscored by all the instructors emerged, and that was relationship. Relationship can’t be emphasized enough. Meredith provided very useful material on it, and Gary, who used to work for United Way as fundraiser and CEO, shared very practical hands-on experiences and insights into fundraising.  Day 3 was concerned with fundraising as ministry, not as a task. As Henry Nouwen observed in his little book A Spirituality of Fundraising, “Fundraising is as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry! . . . Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate in our vision and mission” (2010, pp. vii – viii). Nouwen went on to say, “Asking people for money is giving them the opportunity to put their resources at the disposal of the kingdom” (p. 45). Understanding fundraising as ministry helps people not to be apologetic about their asking. It emboldens and encourages the asker to have a right perspective on fundraising. Storytelling was another topic discussed, as we practiced preparing our case and sharing it with the whole class.

The ECRF seminar helped me better understand the ministry of fundraising and the life of generous giving. Before I can practice the ministry of fundraising, I realized, I need to live out my life as a generous giver. My ongoing work as DMin Director at Central and as a volunteer fundraiser for the Korea Parasports Association of USA will enable me to grow as a fundraiser and become a blessing to others as I invite them to join a mission that is Kingdom-worthy and life-changing. Central is in pursuit of such a mission, which is to prepare women and men to seek God, shape church, and serve humanity and all creation. It’s a joy to be able to be a part of Central and work in a generous, hospitable, and diverse culture.

Central Seminary will host Lake Institute’s certificate program April 27-30, 2020.

Click here to find out more and to register now.

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