As I traveled from Boston to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for my final interview, I was thrilled at the prospect of joining HOPE International. With a clear identity and compelling mission, HOPE was an organization poised for growth.
Addressing the board of directors, I enthusiastically presented my assessment of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats through a carefully scripted presentation I’d spent weeks rehearsing.
And then the interview questions began. Most of them I’d anticipated and felt prepared to answer.
“Where do you see the organization in five years?”
“Who are three people who had the most significant influence on you and why?”
“What criteria would you use to assess potential expansion opportunities?”
Then, one of the board members, asked, “We’ve been speaking primarily about our operations, but do you have any experience fundraising?”
A hush fell over the room as my eyes widened. Until that point, I’d somehow missed the critical detail that fundraising was an important component of the role for which I was interviewing.
“Well, I’ve managed some technical grants . . . and I have raised funds when I went on a church mission trip in high school . . .” I stammered.
Pausing, I realized the more direct answer to his question.
“No, I’ve never done any significant fundraising.”
I will forever be deeply grateful that despite my lack of knowledge or experience, the board still offered me a role—but they gave me a clear assignment along with my job offer.
“In the next three months, we would like you to raise your annual salary.”
I was wildly enthusiastic about every part of my new role—except fundraising.
Where would I even begin?
After moving with my wife to Pennsylvania and fully committing to the organization, I discovered an alarming fact: Our organization’s bank account was dangerously low, and we had already tapped into our emergency line of credit.
Our passion for the mission became overshadowed by the reality that without funding, it would be impossible to accomplish any of the organization’s objectives.
With a clear vision and a growing program, we had a road map and a car—but little gas in the tank. While our founder had covered the majority of the organization’s expenses since its inception, we needed to broaden our base of support. And we needed to act quickly.
With nervous excitement, I discovered a foundation that, on paper, seemed like it would have an interest in our Christ-centered microfinance model. Hopping in my car with a stack of brochures and a stomach full of butterflies, I drove to my first potential major donor meeting.
Arriving in Richmond at a posh colonial office complex, I entered with sweaty palms and a wildly beating heart. Seated at a round wooden table with Adrianne, I nervously began to verbally vomit our mission, key objectives, and plans for the future.
Adrianne listened and asked thoughtful questions. But she made it clear it was unlikely the foundation would ever give to HOPE. They simply had other priorities in other parts of the world.
My heart sank.
However, Adrianne didn’t let me leave that meeting empty handed. Sensing my trepidation in this first feeble fundraising effort, she understood that more than a check, what I needed was a change in perspective.
She spoke about fundraising in terms of partnership. Then she handed me a copy of Henri Nouwen’s The Spirituality of Fundraising. Our conversation began a process of radically redesigning how I view fundraising.
It wasn’t until I started reading Nouwen’s book that I recognized I had an Oliver Twist perspective of fundraising. Subconsciously, I believed that there are people with money and power, and there are others with their heads down and hands up, timidly asking for “just a little more” porridge.
Adrianne understood that this perspective did a gross disservice to the donors that I would be interacting with, to the organization that I represented, and to the God who owned all of the resources. She graciously shared with me that my idea of fundraising had to be fundamentally altered.
Walking out of this meeting, my mind was spinning with questions:
What if giving, at its core, is a spiritual exercise?
What if fundraising has the potential to be good for the giver, and not just the receiver?
What if fundraising is about love and service, and not just “What’s in it for me?”
Several months later, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with a small group of successful entrepreneurs from Texas. We were on a trip to observe Christ-centered microfinance through our partnership with Esperanza International. As we drove through winding, dusty roads amid sugarcane fields, we talked about strategic planning, and I soaked up their wisdom like a sponge.
On the plane ride home, one of the businessmen commented, “Peter, we’ve spent time together visiting the program and talking about the future. I like what I see. But you have not talked at all about the needs and opportunities to come alongside you in this ministry or invited me to participate.” Smiling, he added, “We’re about to land—don’t you want to ask for something?”
Though I was energized by the programmatic aspects of my role, I was uncomfortable, awkward, and ill-prepared for anything having to do with fundraising. So, I avoided it completely.
His words were still fresh in my mind when we landed back in Texas. As we got ready to say our goodbyes, one of the trip participants pulled me aside and warmly said, “Thank you, Peter.”
Baffled, I remember thinking, Why in the world is he thanking me?
He continued, “I don’t have the flexibility to travel around the world making a Kingdom impact. But God has blessed me with resources, and you’re an essential partner in using those resources for God’s glory.”
He concluded, “I can’t do what God has called me to do without you.”
My mind raced. He needed me in order to do what God had called him to do?
Without knowing it, he erased my Oliver Twist perspective of fundraising. He upended my perception of the power dynamics, revealing fundraising as a partnership in which both the giver and the receiver mutually need each other. No longer was I sheepishly holding out my empty hands, begging for just enough to get by. Rather, I was a business partner, or as the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:5, “a partner in the gospel.”
This perspective has changed everything about how I view my work.
In Kingdom fundraising, we acknowledge that together, we can accomplish something far greater than we could ever accomplish alone. It’s a collaboration in which both parties have something to give and something to receive. It’s a spiritual exercise, rooted in relationship, for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. It’s about something much bigger and more important than meeting an annual budget.
It’s time to change our approach and rediscover a truly Kingdom-oriented perspective on fundraising—one that, at its core, is based on relationships. In this new paradigm, we seek not just what is best for the giver or for our goals or for the organization; rather, we look for ways to love and serve God and each other.
To learn more about the relational approach to fundraising, check out Peter Greer and David Weekley’s book, The Giver and The Gift.
About the Author
HOPE International is a global, Christ-centered economic development organization serving several continents. Prior to joining HOPE, Peter Greer worked internationally as a microfinance adviser in Cambodia and Zimbabwe and as managing director for Urwego Bank in Rwanda. He received a B.S. in international business from Messiah College and an MPP in political and economic development from Harvard’s Kennedy School. As an advocate for the Church’s role in missions and alleviating extreme poverty, he has co-authored several books, including “Mission Drift”, “Rooting for Rivals”, and “Created to Flourish”.