Laura Ullrich and David Brown: Why pastors should understand economics

In their long friendship, economist Laura Ullrich and pastor David Brown have talked a lot.

“We like to meet for coffee and talk about deep things that other people may not find as exciting as we do,” Ullrich said.

Ullrich, who is the senior regional economist for North and South Carolina for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, met Brown when she moved to Rock Hill, South Carolina, and he was the pastor of the church she attended.

Brown worked as a pastor for two decades before becoming a consultant and coach as well as a registered representative with New York Life. He also is the founding pastor of a community of disciples in Rock Hill called The Welcome Table.

So when Brown began teaching in the D.Min. program at Duke Divinity School, he invited Ullrich to come to his strategy class to talk about economics.

Ullrich talked about trends and data; Brown put the information in context as a pastor.

Following that model, Ullrich and Brown share their thoughts on economics, ministry and Christian life in this interview with Faith & Leadership’s Sally Hicks. The following is an edited transcript.

Faith & Leadership: Why do you think pastors should understand economics?

Laura Ullrich

Laura Ullrich: I would argue that economics can explain just about anything, because it explains how people and firms and organizations — which could also be a church — make decisions in the presence of scarcity. Scarcity of resources, scarcity of time.

How are people making their decisions [about] where they attend church, whether they attend church, how often they attend church? When they’re making decisions about how to allocate their time, that’s economics.

Another issue is the racial wealth gap. I personally think this is an important topic for everybody to understand — that some of the structural foundations of the economy since the founding of the United States prevent some families from growing the same kind of wealth that other families have.

Pastor David Brown

David Brown: I would add to that, I think that theology can be a lens through which a lot of how we experience things can be understood.

The sort of economics that Laura deals in from day to day is built on that idea of scarce resources. From a Christian point of view, we worship and follow a Jesus who was inaugurated in a kingdom where the bottom line was abundance.

It’s not an economy, perhaps, that we will experience on this planet. But our calling as Christians is to move our lived experience in this world toward that ideal.

That interplay between the scarcity that we actually experience in our economy versus this vision of what human flourishing might be — I think that’s the tension in which we live as followers of Jesus.

F&L: How can pastors or congregants or Christian individuals use this information?

DB: I would say that for those of us who are Christians, and Christian leaders, it’s a spiritual crisis as well. How do we respond faithfully to the volatility that’s going on around us?

What do we actually learn from in times of volatility? Can we sense new directions of God’s spirit that are moving us into new ways of being through disruptions? Are disruptions actually a learning opportunity for us?

Moving into the future, all leaders are going to have to intentionally increase their capacity to deal with change, uncertainty, volatility.

I think the other way to come at it is through the best of our tradition and heritage and history. How can we not be paying attention to economics and the situation in which our neighbors are living?

I think Jesus talks more about money than just about anything. The law and the prophets really talk about how we order society to lead toward human flourishing.

Our goal, our telos, our end goal in Christian leadership, what sets us apart from other types of firms or businesses or other types of leaders, is that we’re framed by the beginning and the ending of the biblical story.

We’re framed by the goodness of God’s creation in the beginning, and we’re framed by the re-creation we believe is in process and will come to completion one day.

F&L: What would you like people to understand about economics?

LU: I think that leaders of churches have a responsibility to try to make people aware of what the world looks like outside the walls of their particular churches, because even on the same street, it can be very different. And data can help with that.

A big part of my job is educating people about what’s actually going on. It’s really easy to get tunnel vision. If you live in a community with people, including in your church life, that look very much like you, have income levels that are about where yours are, you really can be in a place where you do not realize what the data actually show.

Has the wage gap between men and women or Black individuals and white individuals narrowed? Yes. But what are the data around what’s actually going on in terms of wealth?

The most recent data show that Black families are 20 times more likely to have zero or negative wealth than they are to have a million dollars in assets. That comes from the Institute for Policy Studies.

So a church that relies on white membership might have a pretty constant stream of money from people leaving money to them in their wills and things like that. They’re also getting regular large gifts from people as they start giving away assets as they get older.

A church with predominantly Black membership may struggle from a financial point of view in a way that’s likely different from a white church simply because of that statistic.

On the behavioral economics side, there are things that leaders within churches can do to encourage tithing or increase tithing. There are ways that they can practically impact the financial viability of their churches by thinking through how people make decisions.

What engages people at a deeper level than they might be giving otherwise?

So I think there’s a practical side of it, too, just from actually funding your organization. I’m sure it’s something pastors don’t feel as comfortable talking about, but it’s a very important part of running a church.

DB: I think No. 1 is the ability to look up from trying to preserve our institution and to see what God is up to in the world around us. And to believe that the Spirit is already at work, that God is already on a mission in the world outside the institutions of our churches.

Listening, asking questions, really assuming that we have something we can learn from our neighbors who are similar to us in some ways and different from us in other ways.

Take an asset-based approach to our neighborhoods, and to our ministry alongside our neighbors. Instead of focusing on problems we might solve — especially white, resourced churches — really look at what assets are in the neighborhoods around us. How can we invest out of our resources in those assets?

And when we share those things that we have with one another, and when we build on the assets that God’s planted in the community, that’s really where this vision of God’s kingdom begins to take root and bloom.

F&L: Does a policy focus make sense, or do you see other ways to effect change?

LU: Churches and all organizations have to be careful with policy, because you don’t want it to be overly political.

But there are certain policies that really aren’t political in nature. There are some policies where it’s pretty clear that if there were relatively small changes, it could have a big impact.

An example was the GI Bill. When the GI Bill was passed, years ago, on paper it looked like it was this amazing opportunity for all veterans.

But then when you actually dug in, there was a major push in the South, specifically, in Congress and the Senate, to get the GI Bill to be locally administered versus federally administered. And the impact of that ended up being pretty significant discrimination at the local level.

And so the reality was the GI Bill could help you buy a house as a veteran, but those opportunities were not equal across race and gender. Redlining was in place with banks, so you couldn’t get a mortgage in a lot of the predominantly minority neighborhoods. And in the South, many of the white neighborhoods had covenants that said minorities couldn’t live there.

So the practical application of this local policy, the fact that it was locally administered, resulted in some pretty significant discrimination.

So that’s an example of a policy where decisions that were made led to generational outcome differences. At the time, if people had been more aware of how these decisions were made, maybe something could have been different, right?

DB: There’s a good bit of variance across denominations in this area. There may be specific ways in which denominational structures either encourage or discourage that.

You can hardly read Scripture and not be called to act for, not just the common good, but the flourishing of all people. So I think our faith requires us to be political but not partisan.

I think there are two things that are helpful here. One of them is oriented toward the past; one of them is oriented toward the future.

Oriented toward the past, I think that particularly white Christians and churches who have been a part of the power system in the United States can acknowledge and repent. And repentance isn’t just something you say; it’s something you do.

And then the forward-looking piece: I’m teaching strategy, where the rubber hits the road for ministry. There’s this interplay between theology and economics and Christian practice.

One of the ways we define strategy in the class is “what we are doing in the present.” Everyone has a strategy; how well thought out, how intentional it is, is the question.

I think that to be more intentional about that would be to say, “Who is it that we are as churches? What are we called to do? What is God’s intention for us? And how are we living into that?”

I think that’s more than just, “How do we keep the lights on in the church building or pay down the mortgage or increase our budget?”

F&L: What is your advice for folks struggling with whether there is going to be a recession?

LU: There are a lot of people that were literally taught in school that the definition of recession is two quarters of negative GDP growth. That’s not true. There’s no true definition of a recession. However, because so many people believe that definition, that changes how they make decisions, right?

I think people are right to feel unsettled right now. We have the highest inflation we’ve had in 40-plus years. The last time inflation was this high, David and I were in preschool.

And for a large percentage of the population, this is truly causing them stress. It is difficult for them to maintain their lifestyle right now compared with how it was six months or a year ago. So the discomfort is understandable and real.

On the more positive side, for most of us, the only recessions we remember well are the COVID recession, which was a bizarre situation, and then the Great Recession, which is called the Great Recession because it was so significant.

A lot of people who are working today don’t remember the recession in 2001, or in 1992, 1993. They were recessions but were not as significant. So when a lot of people hear “recession,” they think of something more extreme than it might be in the end.

As of right now, employment remains very strong. We are adding an impressive number of jobs in the U.S. each month. Until that pattern changes, it is less likely that we will officially be in a recession.

F&L: David, what do you think church leaders should do in this period of uncertainty?

DB: Pastors and other church leaders have to intentionally cultivate a sense of hopeful realism.

As pastors, part of our calling is to be companions and shepherds of our congregations as we move through life together. You can’t do that with either a Pollyannaish sense of optimism or a sense of cynicism.

The place that I would start is with a core belief statement, that the God that we believe in is a God who has guided God’s people through all sorts of times of uncertainty and challenge. God invites us to be active participants in that story of ongoing redemption. God’s grace and love will sustain us no matter what.

Even in the midst of all that’s going on, and the real actual pain and uncertainty, God is still present in the lives of God’s people. And so we can find reasons for hope.

When we share those things that we have with one another, and when we build on the assets that God’s planted in the community, that’s really where this vision of God’s kingdom begins to take root and bloom.

In the pandemic struggles for financial footing, church leaders have watched congregations and budgets shrink and felt a new urgency to address our financial futures. As a result, churches have been gradually sliding toward nonprofit management and economics for decades.

Today we have books about how the church can learn from companies like Starbucks and Southwest Airlines how to brand itself. I’ve been in church-giving seminars where I was told that I need to start thinking about Gen Z givers. These givers want to see tangible and productive results and to hear what they’re getting for their money. When there are so many ways to give and so many needs, I have to learn to compete for the dollars.

One book suggests hosting a dinner for major donors of the congregation, a thank-you for their investment in the ministries of the church. People like the attention, the book said; it will increase their giving and let them know they are appreciated.

I see churches publish on their websites the amount of money they give back to the community. I’ve been told we should set targets, perhaps 25% of our budget, to flow to specific charities in our community.

This advice leaves me scratching my head.

My church — Raleigh Mennonite — isn’t a nonprofit, not in the formal sense of targeting issues that impact the most vulnerable in our community and formulating and funding specific solutions to them.

I am grateful for nonprofits. I’m on the board of one, and I give to this organization and many like it. I know that others in my church also give substantially to such efforts.

And I’m glad they do, but my church isn’t a siphon that gathers monies to redistribute them. People can give directly to these organizations without my church’s name being attached. The church’s work is different. We’re a worshipping community, people who have been drawn together in following Jesus and creating a particular form of life.

What we do will look like a waste of time and money to the broader order of utilitarianism. We sing together, we share bread, we tell stories. We form people in the church to be very bad at capitalism.

But I am aware that the people who come to worship at my church are inundated with the message that their worth is tied to production — that we are what we make, what we make of ourselves, how we use our potential for the good of the world. On Sunday mornings, they could be working, they’re told; indeed, on Sunday mornings, they should be working.

But instead, at my church, we take time — we take time — to worship. We recall that the world is held in the care of God’s love and that we are called to that love. There is nothing we have to do or say or be that will make us more beloved, more worthy of love. We are simply creatures, frail and vulnerable, whose being flows from a God who is love. We are grateful.

Rather than an exercise in navel-gazing, worship that invokes this love is a lesson in paying attention. We’ve learned to give our attention to places that fall beyond what nonprofit management is often required to cast as goals and objectives.

I doubt we could make a good case to wealthy donors for the reason for our existence.

My church gives money away — but often to lost causes, to places where there aren’t receipts, to people who don’t register as productive and good citizens.

We gather our money to throw birthday parties at a women’s prison, a token of care in a system of profound dehumanization. My church bails people out of ICE detention, with no word about their status after release. We buy laptops for Colombian farmers. We pay the tuition for the children of a Salvadoran friend of our congregation.

We pay attention to the places where people are abandoned to “get what they deserve.” Raleigh Mennonite provides loans for people in my church who’ve made bad financial decisions that haunt them for decades. We pay people’s rent. And we love each other — so, for example, when a couple in my church took a bare-bones honeymoon, camping for two weeks with money they had scraped together, we all put in a few extra dollars to offer them a bit of comfort and care.

But by far the most expensive part of my church is me, the pastor. My salary comes from the collective decision of a group of people to hire someone like me to lead the church. Often, that leadership means saying difficult things, making space for conflict and calling us back to the life of Jesus. If I give people exactly what they want or what conforms to the logic that dominates the other aspects of their lives, I’m not doing my job very well.

I’m a good preacher, but so are others in my congregation, and I work to cultivate their gifts for public worship. We have loving and thoughtful church people who offer one another pastoral care, show up in times of struggle and hold one another through the messiest times of life.

In other words, anyone could do what I do. My individual activities, were they to be assessed by an HR manager, would surely be considered redundant.

And yet my church has chosen to hire me to help them pay attention to themselves, their gifts, our worship and the world. I often call myself a “freelancer for Jesus,” and my congregation can send me to join a task force on reparations for slavery, lead an action around affordable housing, or speak at a protest for the dignity and rights of LGBTQ youth in our state.

My church hired me because they wanted someone who shows up. They also wanted someone who could give attention to the collective life we lead that flows from worship. Because they take seriously their commitments to laborers, my church pays me a living wage, plus benefits, including health insurance for me and my family. If we cannot model this among ourselves, we cannot expect it of others.

Most of the press for Christianity these days goes to those churches with opulent spending and absurd theatrics. My church doesn’t have a fog machine, and we’ve never produced fake rain during one of our sermons. Instead, we are permanent renters, vulnerable to the hospitality of other churches and schools who make space for us.

We don’t have programs; there are plenty of those offered at the YMCA, our public library and our community centers. If people want to pay for those services, they can get them there, just as I do.

I don’t imagine that my church is a place for re-creating the structures of philanthropy and enrichment around us. Those have their role, and we have ours. We are not committed to physical permanence.

As it is, my church may not produce results that work well for an end-of-year board report. We certainly won’t make people better citizens or more productive workers. I don’t know that I can say we’re giving people “bang for their buck” or branding ourselves in a way that makes us essential for meaning-making.

But I do hope that we are carving out space to rest our lives in the care of the living God. I hope that meeting this God forges the way into the forgotten places among the forgotten people where God is already at work. I hope that I can be a pastor who helps us set down our lives here, among God’s good news to the poor.

What does having a financially sustainable ministry mean? The one-size-fits-all answer is simple. The revenue coming in is consistently more than the expenses going out. But this simple answer obscures the gap between those benefiting from generations of building wealth and those in Black and brown America who have had wealth stolen across the years. Calculating sustainability needs to account for this gap.

I hope that the current pandemic, economic recession and renewed attention to racial inequity is teaching those in the dominant culture that one size does not fit all. When “we” talk about money, the field is never level.

African Americans were treated as property for generations while white Americans were acquiring land and accumulating money. The starting places for families in these communities today is not equal. Whenever we discuss financial sustainability, we have to examine the conditions that create, or that make it difficult to create, wealth.

Sustainability is a sought-after goal in new-program development. In financial terms, it refers to developing revenue sources that provide funding to keep the program going. Sometimes it is as simple as one funder asking the program to find other donors. Sometimes it means adding fees to the service or getting somebody else’s budget to pay the cost. Often it includes reducing the cost of the service to match the expected revenue.

As a white leader in a dominant-culture organization, I hear the talk about making adjustments and raising more money — and it all seems doable. The pandemic has thrown up a roadblock, so reaching sustainability will likely take more time, but “we” believe that “we” can be back to normal in six months or a year. A few think that “we” are in for a decade of economic difficulty.

The use of “we” covers up the different experiences in different communities. When listening to colleagues in organizations founded by and rooted in African American and Latino/a communities, I recognize that they hear talk of sustainability differently. They have learned to say what funders want to hear, but they translate the words into a different set of actions.

For example, I have encountered a handful of organizations in these communities that recently had applied for but did not receive a $1 million grant to serve pastors. Most of these organizations moved forward to develop and deliver as much as they could of the proposed program without the money. How? Mostly through unpaid labor. People affiliated with these organizations took on a second (and sometimes third or fourth) job to serve pastors. In economic terms, these organizations were investing sweat in place of money in order to do what was both most important and possible.

In financial terms, it looks as if these programs are doing great. In fact, they don’t seem to need the grant money. But when we listen to their stories, it is clear that valuable ministry is being performed by exhausted leaders.

The white-culture organizations where I have worked talk about priorities. These organizations have the privilege of deciding how to serve according to the financial resources available. But I have observed many organizations that are part of African American and Latino/a communities prioritize according to the needs of their communities and the world. The leaders of these organizations do what is needed regardless of the money.

How can I learn from this dedication and not participate in taking advantage of it? One element of privilege is not recognizing the impact of categories like sustainability on those without privilege.

This realization has made me more careful when planning a collaborative project with organizations from different cultural, racial and ethnic communities. For example, I now ask partners about pay equity across the project for the same work. I don’t assume that because employees at my white, dominant-culture organization are paid a fair wage, all the collaborating organizations are able to do the same. How do we plan the project so that people are paid equitably?

In fact, the concern starts in the planning phase. What creates the conditions so that all the organizations involved in planning a project have the resources to do the planning? Those with wealth have the option of choosing to shift their efforts to a new project. Those with no resources have to double up on their work to do something new.

If a project is underway, what would it be like to count the labor of these leaders as part of sustainability? What would it be like for donors to see that they are matching a contribution of labor and recognize that effort as part of sustainability?

What would happen if donors recognized the vast disparity between the assets accumulated by white-dominant organizations and white families when compared with African American and immigrant institutions and families? What if the funding levels were calibrated to address these disparities? What would happen if organizations in these communities had significantly longer to develop sustainability plans for donors?

In the midst of economic challenges, more complex and nuanced definitions of sustainability need to be used. All who donate and benefit from donations can learn to pay attention to the needs in communities, as well as who can be supported to address these needs. Moving too quickly to asking a program to “pay for itself” can continue a cycle that takes resources away from long-disadvantaged people.

As a white leader, I must learn more about the challenges faced by my colleagues in different racial, ethnic and cultural communities and advocate for adjustments that provide a path to more equity. I must not leave all the weight for making this case on these leaders.

The Rev. Ted Barbas, the chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, had built a strong relationship with a quiet, unassuming donor over the years. As parishes in the region closed in response to COVID-19, this donor reached out. After speaking with Father Ted, the donor decided to give a “gift of love.”

He sent $5,000 checks to each parish in the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston and communicated that he wanted his financial support to give the congregations an opportunity to “catch their breath” while navigating online worship and digital giving.

Father Ted is a past participant in the course I teach, the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising, and he shared this story with me in April because he wanted to affirm for others the blessing that comes from fundraising that is built in relationship and conversation.

Lake Institute on Faith & Giving encourages religious leaders to embrace relationship-focused fundraising. We believe that fundraising is not about the pitch but about inviting others to join in an organization’s mission. In relationship, fundraising becomes a practice of hospitality, honoring the gifts of generosity and helping faithful givers live out their faith.

Even in the best of times, many religious leaders actively dislike fundraising and avoid it. Often, it’s relegated to the business operations of an organization rather than being integrated as a robust part of ministry. With multiple crises facing our communities, the pressure is even more intense.

That’s not surprising. If “stewardship” is just the religious word for transactional fundraising — and let’s be honest, too often that’s all it is — it can feel disingenuous to make a spiritual case for giving. In the transactional mode, fundraising can feel like sales. The resulting sense of disconnection and missing integrity is at the root of many leaders’ dislike and distaste for fundraising work.

But what if fundraising is not about sales at all? What if, in fact, fundraising is about forming relationships that nurture faithful discernment, sharing the mission of your organization, and inviting others to participate in that mission?

Seen in this way, fundraising is not even primarily about money but truly about inviting others into deeper relationship with God and with their own vocation. As Henri Nouwen says, fundraising is ministry, and there is a deep spirituality connected to this aspect of our human lives.

So what does that look like now, in the midst of catastrophe, uncertainty and upended plans? Ideally, you have been inviting people to give in the context of relationship all along, and you feel confident that there is strong alignment between your organization’s mission and the motivation and vocation of your donors.

But it’s never too late to frame your appeal to donors in relationship, and the changed circumstances of a crisis can create an opening for that connection to deepen or develop anew.

Consider the following ways of practicing relationship-focused fundraising.

Nurture relationships

Above all else, fundraising is about relationships, which are nurtured and developed in one-on-one conversation and connection over time. Call your donors — to see how they are and to express your concern and care for them.

Most of the work of development is about that relationship, and this crisis may create an opening for you and your team of leaders (both staff and volunteers) to strengthen it. Reach out, without an agenda, and that conversation may lead you to the opportunity to invite a gift.

When you have the opportunity to talk with donors about their giving, you become recipients of their hospitality as well. They’ve invited you into their lives in a particular way. Relationship-focused fundraising is, in this sense, about mutuality and connection.

When you really know your donors and have a clear sense of their hopes for their philanthropy, you are then in a position to ask for a specific contribution with both confidence and humility.

Acknowledge that this is a time of crisis

Most faith-based nonprofit organizations, including congregations, rely on a base of individual donors who provide recurring, unrestricted financial support. We know that everyone is thinking differently today compared with just a few months ago.

When communicating about the regular, annual fundraising efforts of your organization, be attentive to the changed context in which you are asking for support.

Acknowledge it, and connect the change with your organization’s mission: Are you responding to some aspect of the crisis? Are you carrying on with your regular work in a challenging circumstance?

Celebrate the value of what your organization contributes to the world, and be specific.

Tell stories about your impact

Stories that illustrate the impact of your mission will be remembered long after facts and figures are forgotten — that’s why I shared Father Ted’s story. Impact is compelling; donors are more interested in making a difference than in understanding an organization’s operations.

A group of people connected to my congregation, for example, leveraged financial resources and social capital to prevent residents from having their utilities turned off during a shelter-in-place mandate.

Learning that this group of neighbors helped a mother keep her kids safe at home says much more to me than listing the number of people who were helped or the dollars given.

Communicate in every way you can

Use every mechanism you have to communicate clearly, positively and with a warm welcome to your partners, constituents and stakeholders. Remember that this group supports your work, and it is natural to ask them to participate however they can.

Social media, email newsletters, mailings and video all create opportunities for you to invite others to join in your mission. Remember that this is part of relationship, and an expression of hospitality.

Further, make the process of giving easy. Online options reduce barriers to giving. Put the donate button where people expect it, in the upper right corner of your website, and employ a user-friendly platform.

While being sensitive to the changes wrought by this crisis, you can still create meaningful invitations for contribution. Remember that your existing donors and friends may be looking for ways to make a difference in the world, given all the suffering and uncertainty around us.

How to ask for a gift

Asking for a major gift — however that’s defined in your organization — can be nerve-wracking. But inviting a contribution actually involves a few simple steps.

First, do your homework. If you’ve taken the time to invest in this relationship, you’ll have learned about the donor’s previous giving and general capacity to give; you will know the donor’s priorities and what gift is reasonable to request.

Second, be clear about the relationship. Who is in the best position to ask the donor for a gift? Is it the committee chairperson, the development director, the pastor or executive director? Don’t be shy in enlisting help.

Then ask the prospective donor for a meeting (in today’s circumstance, a phone call or video meeting), transparently indicating that you’d like to discuss the work of the organization and ask for financial support.

In your conversation, listen to the donor. Really pay attention. How does your current need connect with the individual’s long-standing interest in your organization?

Ask the donor to tell you more. Get a sense of what he or she is excited about. This is part of the work of developing and deepening relationships.

At the same time, you are the expert and champion for your own mission, and your commitment to that mission positions you to ask others to join you.

Once you can see how the prospective donor’s interest aligns with your organization’s work, you’re ready to invite the donor to make a gift, clearly and specifically.

Practice what you want to say beforehand so you won’t stumble. For example, an Orthodox church I know of lost $100,000 of anticipated revenue when it was forced to cancel its Greek culture festival. If I were fundraising for this church, I might prepare to approach longtime members with a request framed in this way:

“James and Mary, you have been faithful supporters of our work for years. I am so grateful for your generosity and partnership. We are now in a new circumstance, given the crisis created by the coronavirus, but our mission remains the same. Will you consider making a gift of $10,000 this spring to help us maintain our focus and meet the new challenge?”

Once you’ve asked the question, listen to the response. Treat your request as a real question, one that requires thought and consideration. Be patient, with yourself and with your donor. Take a deep breath.

Most donors are glad to be asked, even if they are unable to make the gift you have requested; otherwise, they wouldn’t have accepted the meeting.

They may have questions. Go in with some prepared answers — about the scope of the work ahead, about where you are in the fundraising process, about how they can make or structure a gift.

And be prepared to follow up, if they are looking for information you don’t have at the ready or would like to consult with others before making a decision.

Finally, the most crucial aspect, regardless of the response to this immediate request: express your thanks. Thank them for their engagement with your organization and its mission. Thank them for their time and openness to the conversation, and thank them for considering your invitation.

If they’ve said yes, follow up with a letter or email confirming the gift, providing any information they might need and once again expressing your appreciation.

Relationships and results

When we focus on relationships and see development work as part of our ministry of connection and partnership, the bottom line recedes as the mission is brought to the fore.

As I said earlier, fundraising is not about money — although it requires us to talk about money openly, confidently and practically. Fundraising advances the mission of the organization, and developing robust stewardship is part of discipleship.

Father Ted celebrated the faithfulness of his donor in Boston, whose “gift of love” offered encouragement and affirmation as well as financial support. And it would not have been possible if he had not tended the relationship.

Religious leaders who operate in this way will find the work of fundraising rewarding and meaningful. The gifts you have in ministry will all serve your work of fundraising well: leading an organization, nurturing discernment, listening attentively, and seeing and celebrating God’s gifts in the lives of others.

Don’t hold back. Because of the investment you’ve made in connecting, others know that the mission you serve is important. Invite them into that mission with confidence.