Fearless Fundraising: Creamcakes

“Fearless Fundraising” is a series on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising and now, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-making. For more information, videos and model documents go to fearlesschurchfundraising.com.



This is a tea cake from the kitchens of the St. Columba Hotel in Iona in the Scottish Inner Hebrides.  A heavy, moist cake is cut and filled with a layer of jam and a layer of heavy, whipped cream.  Served with warm tea on a cold day, this is bounty. You get some if you join John Philip Newell on a retreat there.  You get much more than a tea cake.  But a tea cake is a wonderful addition.


One of the great mysteries of life in the church is the question of and tension between bounty and scarcity.  It is so much easier to talk in church of things “spiritual” like the Trinity, sin, hope, eternal life.  Angels and incense –chalices not calluses.  The stakes are rather low if lovely.  They are mysteries, traditions we have passed on from generation to generation and which happen around us in the divine cosmos and kairotic time.


But money and resources are quite temporal, worldly, grounded.  If you get a bit of your theology wrong about the Trinity or Eternal Life, well, you may get a scolding from a Bishop (absolutely sure as he may be …of a mystery…) but all will be well when the dust settles.  However, if you miscalculate on your budgets you stand to lose your home to debt collectors in retirement or loose a key employee in budget cuts which shrinks mission.


Resistance in fundraising for churches and non-profits is not a resistance from the donor.  I am speaking, rather, of the resistance from the clergy and lay-leaders whose job it is to raise the money.  Remember when you were in college and you had an exam the next day?  It was then that I would clean my room, do my laundry, replace my typewriter ribbon (remember those?!) and just about ANYTHING other than study for the examination.


It was not that I was lazy.  I was frightened.  I was afraid to tackle the material because I was afraid of failure.  Inevitably I did just fine on the exam.  I was not taking into account that I really had been doing the preparation all along the way in classes and in homework and reading. Indeed, sometimes I wonder if all that laundry and room-cleaning served me well by simply emptying my mind and preparing for the experience rather than cramming the words.


I believe the same dynamics are at play when raising money in our churches and non-profits.  If we are doing the good work along the way – managing an effective budget, doing work Jesus or civic leaders would actually recognize, easing human suffering, gathering the faithful in real community, teaching with humility to the mystery…well then, we have been preparing (even if unawares) for the work we need to do in raising money.  It is that day-to-day integrity which a donor notices and to which they are responding when they are making a pledge or major gift to your church’s mission or your non-profit’s mission.


The problem comes when we, the people, who need to ask for the money, become internally and psychically constipated with fear, anxiety, procrastination or envy when encountering our potential donors.


The average person faces 2-3 requests for philanthropy in a day, higher in urban areas.  Your job is to distinguish yourself with a personal touch, a clarity of “ask” and a clarity of “mission.” Too often I am approached by an angry, frustrated vestry or Bishop’s leadership team with phrases like “She just won’t ask for the gifts we need for our mission!  What should we do?”  My natural response is to ask if they can terminate their leader, release them to find a job they WILL do, and find a leader who will actually do the job that they are being paid for.


However, we are unable to fire our Bishops (sometimes we are even unable to ask uncomfortable questions about their work!) and our clergy are often so busy caring for their flock and keeping light bills paid for that they are unable or unwilling to have these conversations.  So, my plan B for such a conversation is to offer these few tips for people who need to raise money but face internal resistance to doing that part of their job.

  1. Do the hard stuff first. Make those calls and write those notes which maintain the conversation about pledges and gifts first thing in the morning after your spiritual practice.
  2. Set goals. A clergy person in a parish of 100 families should set goals to write 12 notes each week and make 3 face-to-face visits to discuss money and giving per week.
  3. Gather a team. Bring together lay-leaders who will be your finical development community.  Hold them accountable to their work in fundraising and let them hold you accountable.  What gets measured, gets done.
  4. Have some fun. Never host a meeting about development without a cream-cake, some good tea and the Holy Spirit present.
  5. Spread the work out. Stop trying to raise your money in a panic each fall. Financial development is a year-round activity with a few concentrations seasonally.  Set goals for how much money you need to raise each week in order to fund your budget and the seek to accomplish that weekly!  September mass emails with panic-stricken pleas for pledges only tell your donors that you cannot plan well and are therefore not a very good philanthropic investment.


In the end, the cream cake is a good metaphor for fundraising – a layered attempt at consumption.  Imagine the cake as mission. Imagine the jam as worship and imagine the cream as fundraising.  Leadership is about the three – together.

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