I sat across from a friend who was genuinely interested in the missional journey our family is on. He told me that he had been in my shoes. For five years he and his wife raised support for a global campus ministry.
“What did you think of fundraising?” I asked, giving him an odious stare over my sandwich.
“I loved it!” he replied much to my surprise.
He went on to explain why it was such an exciting time for him. It boiled down to this: He loved people and he loved sharing his story. He was energized by helping people see a legitimate need and then inviting them to join him in solving the need.
I barely ate anything as we talked. But, when we parted ways I felt completely full. What he told me wasn’t complicated. It wasn’t a full-on revelation at all. But, it was the leverage I needed to approach this season from a proper perspective. I felt that if he could love it then I could love it, too.
The drive in me to build a missions account was producing stress in my life. It felt like work. But, when I saw it as my friend saw it, I felt lighter. I naturally love people. I’ve never been what you would label as “gregarious,” but I do have a deep love for the human soul. Connecting with people through a conversation over coffee is my jam. Time has no significance. My personal needs lose their sense of urgency. So, if in a conversation that is designed for the purpose of asking for funds I step over that love for people, my spirit will be at war with itself. I will stumble over my words. I will fail to listen. I will talk only about me.
What can be more energizing than telling your story, especially if it seems God might be working out an incredibly hopeful plan? Who wouldn’t want to talk about that? In sharing my story, I am finding something amazing. People want to hear more. They track with me. They show genuine happiness for me and sense of hope for themselves. Recently, after hearing my story, a new friend said, “One reason I’m so interested in what you’re doing is that I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and just been too afraid.” When a conversation about funding missions work evolves into this sort of heartfelt realization, it becomes something else. Something deeper that money can’t touch.
I have had many such conversations in the months since starting our preparation for launch. And, what I heard my friend say about loving the work of fundraising is growing from a mustard seed to a plant through each conversation.
I am coming to realize the reason I felt any hesitation or fear of failure or trepidation in the area of fundraising before. It was because fundraising was about raising funds to me. I needed money to get somewhere. There was a large prospective budget cloud hanging over me that was raining on my parade. People were a means to a financial end. And thinking of it this way was making fundraising empty of community.
But, what if we could take a more organic approach to the work of fundraising? What if we could we make it feel less like work and more like we are building a community? What if we could change it completely from fundraising to communityraising? Would we get distracted from our goal of asking for funds to build a budget around what we feel God has called us to do? Would “the ask” break down along the road of storytelling and soul searching conversation? I am seeing just the opposite.
When I enter a conversation I have scheduled with someone around my goal of raising support, I approach it with a desire to know them more. Last week, I had breakfast with a man I greatly respect as a disciple-maker but had never had the chance to really connect with him. We were supposed to go on a mission trip together once upon a time but it fell through. I still followed him through Facebook posts and watched his energy from there. We met and talked about his life. I knew in my heart our conversation was healthy when he finally told me, “Well, we have talked enough about me. Let’s talk about what you are doing…” I knew then that this season of our life as a family is more about community than funding. And, after I told him what was going on with us he said he was totally on board.
So, our focus has changed. There are times when I look at our missions account and get nervous about the pace with which dollars are coming in. But, when a small group leader hears our story and tells us, “We have talked and we want to ‘adopt” you guys,” that gives us an even greater sense of peace. We are letting God deepen the roots of community between our family and those who are in sync with our calling.
After all, it’s communities who send missionaries. Not dollars. Dollars can’t speak convincingly on your behalf to people outside your social circle the way your community can. Dollars can’t rally behind you and propel you into mission the way your community can. Dollars won’t listen to you in your most frustrated hour of missional preparation or sympathize and then challenge you when sharing fears from the mission field the way your community can.
Many bottom-line thinkers will read this and laugh and pass on with dollar signs in their eyes. Maybe you will raise money at break-neck speed, using your charms of communication and professional presentations to impress large donors enough to fully fund your ministry. But you have already compromised your future ministry if you are presently not building community. Isn’t community what you are hoping to build when you arrive on the field? Spreading seeds of love and grace to those who desperately need it, building community. Isn’t that what God is calling you to do in another place? Then, do it here and now. Do it in the process of finding partners who will unreservedly support you in the work of building the Kingdom.
The work of communityraising versus simple fundraising will not only get you there. It will keep you there over the long haul. And, in time, it may produce future co-workers who decide to come along.