During the past 30 years, Catholic organizations throughout the United States and beyond have relied on two movements that are transforming the way funds are raised in support of the Church’s mission. The first is the broadly based introduction of “the spirituality of stewardship”, which the U.S. bishops strongly endorsed in the 1992 pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response. The second is the professionalization of fundraising practice that has taken place in recent decades as part of a growing recognition by nonprofit organizations of both the art and science of philanthropic fundraising. Graham-Pelton Consulting has been privileged to play a leading role in both movements.

The Spirituality of Stewardship

The American bishops’ pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, describes a Christian steward as “one who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, and returns them with increase to the Lord”. Thus, there are four characteristics of a Christian steward.

The first characteristic is gratitude. A Christian steward is “one who receives God’s gifts gratefully”. Gratitude assumes that we acknowledge God as the true owner of all that we have and all that we are. Gratitude to God, and to those who have shared themselves with us, helps us maintain a true sense of identity as Christ’s disciples.

The second characteristic is accountability. A good steward is “one who cherishes and tends God’s gifts in a responsible and accountable manner”. Accountability reminds us that we are responsible for what we do (or fail to do) with our time, our talent, and our money. As Christ’s disciples, we are responsible for building up God’s kingdom, and on the Last Day, we will be held accountable.

The third characteristic is generosity. A Christian steward is “one who shares God’s gifts with others out of justice and love”. Generosity propels us outside of ourselves – often in ways that contradict our own interests. The lives of the saints give us countless examples of individuals whose generosity won them true freedom and joy. Giving is good for us; it is also right and just to share what we have been given with others.

The final characteristic is the willingness to give back to the Lord with increase. God wants us to take his gifts and develop them. A Christian steward is called to be productive, to make a difference in the world.

Traditional Christian spirituality teaches us to give back to the Lord by means of the ascetical principles of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In prayer, we give back to God our time (and our hearts). By fasting, we deny ourselves the good things that we want and need; the more genuine our self-denial is, the more we flourish and grow. Through almsgiving, we share what God has given us with others; if we give from the heart, we gain infinitely more than we have given away. Prayer, self-denial, and sacrificial giving are the essence of what Christian stewardship is all about!

The Professionalization of Fundraising Practices

There was a time when all fundraising activities in the Church, and society at large, were “amateur” or nonprofessional efforts to solicit funds for the benefit of religious, educational, charitable, or other worthy causes. Collections were taken up, events were organized, and well-intentioned people provided volunteer leadership for a wide range of activities designed to raise money for good causes.

Especially in the past three decades, the number of organizations engaged in fundraising has sky-rocketed, and their activities have become increasingly professional. No longer content to simply “pass the hat” or conduct bake sales, or do mail appeals and telemarketing, nonprofit organizations have established formal fundraising programs and adopted strategies that have been tested and proven successful in a wide variety of religious, educational, and charitable contexts. Professional fundraising is now taught in major universities committed to the furtherance of strategies and practices that successfully advance the sponsoring organizations’ missions.

For Catholic organizations, including (arch)dioceses, parishes, schools, social service agencies, and other Church ministries, it has become increasingly clear that successful mission advancement requires a thoughtful integration of biblically based stewardship principles and the best practices of professional fundraising as adopted by nonprofit organizations across the philanthropic sector. At the same time, these practices must be integrated and available to the growing diversity of cultures and languages in the church. Understanding the culture and language differences is imperative, but integrating the best means of addressing these differences is also important.