The Spirituality of Major Gift Fundraising
My guess is that you or some of your colleagues in the field are thinking, "What the heck is Jeff talking about now? Spirituality and major gift fundraising? What’s this all about?"
OK, I get it. Today, when you hear the word "spirituality," all kinds of stuff comes bubbling up. Some of what comes up is pretty negative. There is no doubt about that. And I want to be clear that I’m not talking about religion here.
However, I absolutely believe that major gift fundraising is a spiritual practice. Whether you believe in a god, God or not, it just is. You can deny that it is, but I believe you still are practicing it.
My definition of pursuing a spiritual life or practicing spirituality is when we go beyond ourselves, let go of our egos (for even a minute) and move toward "the other." It’s a recognition that there is more in life than our selves.
This is not easy, nor lightly pursued. In fact, much of the time I fail at this miserably, but because I get to be with major gift fundraisers for a majority of my day, I get to experience this mystical thing where donors, major gift fundraisers and need come together to create something that’s hard to describe. The best I can think of is it’s some kind of spiritual or mystical moment.
I had the privilege to be on a retreat with 13 CEOs from different types of nonprofits. We were discussing all the nuts and bolts of how to start a major gift program. It got pretty technical, but was all necessary and good. Before we parted on the first day, the leader of the group assigned everyone to read the first two chapters of "It’s Not Just About the Money," a new book from Richard and myself.
I wasn’t aware that the group leader was going to do this. It was kind of embarrassing. He told the CEOs to come back the next morning and discuss their impressions. The next morning, I was a little nervous about what they were going to say.
What they did say astonished me. They all agreed that what resonated with them most was that fundraising is really a mystical, spiritual thing, meaning donors experience the "grace of giving," and major gift fundraisers are trying to help donors experience that in their lives. Let me tell you—these were not particularly religious people.
One CEO said that while she was getting ready that morning, she broke down and cried when she read the passage in the book that "fundraising is ultimately about love." She said she had never thought of it that way, but that for her, it really turned her whole thinking around regarding asking donors to give. She said, "When I thought about asking people for money, I just cringed, but now I have a whole new perspective on it. Now, I can’t wait to ask!"
You see, what these CEOs realized was that people need to give. It’s in our DNA. We will die inside if we don’t give of ourselves. And that giving releases the pressure valve of the power money has over a giver—it blesses the giver and transforms lives.
And, it also transforms the life of the major gift fundraiser.
Richard and I believe it’s at that point—when the act of giving is over and you, the major gift officer, are helping the donor to ease a need—that this mystical, spiritual moment happens. It’s incredibly powerful.
We know it’s powerful because all kinds of studies tell us what happens to donors when they give. They feel good. Dopamine rushes through their brains. Not only that but good things happen to people who give. They are happier, healthier and wealthier than those who keep it all to themselves. All this good stuff is happening—and their money does incredible things to make the world a better place!
Pretty cool. Now, all that is a deeply spiritual moment and pursuit to me.
Think about those times when you were able to be that bridge between a donor’s greatest desire and need to change the world, and a need your organization met that did just that. What did that feel like?
I know what it felt like. It felt like love.
You have the greatest job in the world. Go out there and continue to be "brokers of love." And, if you would, tell us about your mystical, spiritual moment of being a major gift fundraiser. The passionate giving community would love to hear it.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.