Adventures in Generosity

The occasionally coherent ramblings of a Stewardship Advisor in the Church of England

Archive for Basic Principles

Storing up trouble …

Those who follow my twitter stream may have witnessed me getting somewhat ‘snippy’ at Scope last night.  Having been chugged on my doorstep at 8.50pm on the coldest night of the year I suggested to them, via Twitter that this might not be the best way to build relationships with potential donors.  I got a response from them almost immediately apologising for ‘disturbing me’ and asking me for my address so that they could avoid doing so in future.

Which somewhat misses the point.

I wasn’t upset at the disturbance – let’s face it 30 seconds on the doorstep was hardly going to make an impact on my evening. What I was trying to say was that seeing a clearly idealistic 20 yr old freezing to death on my doorstep for what I assume is a commission does nothing to enhance my opinion of Scope.  The fact that the girl then started telling me about Scope ‘working with disabled children’ – clearly from a script designed to appeal to the emotional buttons of someone who has children (note the children’s toys in our yard) created still further disappointment.  Ok I’m unusual because I’m ‘in the trade’ as it were, but I am also informed enough to know that Scope do excellent work with people of all ages – and I therefore know that this script is designed to emphasise the emotionally and socially acceptable work of Scope without troubling the potential donor with anything like, you know, the facts, the underlying issues or indeed the cause for which Scope stands (and which might turn off a potential donor).

You see, we have a problem which has been growing worse over the last decade and which impacts directly on my work , and is exemplified by my encounter last night.  We have allowed fundraising to become an industry in its own right, and as industrial practices have come in, and we have become more and more strategically sophisticated in our understanding of what makes people give – we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture.

We know that emotional and engaging stories motivate people to give, we know that chugging produces a rate of return for the charity which is predictable and measurable and we know that the loss of good will that accompanies these practices is outweighed, at least in the short term, by the financial returns which Fundraising Managers and Directors can then gleefully report to their trustees as success.

But we have grasped these short term measurable gains at the cost, in my opinion, of the long term health and generosity of our nation.

We have trained donors that charity is only worth supporting if it pushes our emotional buttons.  That giving is something we do to make us feel good about ourselves when we hear a sad story or see a doe eyed picture of a starving ‘victim’.  We have also allowed potential donors – and therefore everyone, to believe that a small token gesture somehow ‘solves’ underlying problems, when rather it ‘absolves’ us of having to truly consider the issues.  “ a small gift of £2 per month” allows us to retreat from our duty to our communities without the inconvenience of having to consider how what we have, and what we choose to give and to keep, impacts on the rest of our world.  There is no sense in this transaction that giving is a benefit to the giver, no sense that how we give, how much we give and why we give is something we should take seriously if we are to build a better society and improve our relationship with our material wealth.

The more people are encouraged to ‘Give £5 to save the world’, the more they give on the doorstep out of sympathy for the freezing chugger, or because they like the latest script; the less engaged they will become in how much we actually have, how much we could actually do if we acted in a truly generous way.  Instead the new donor, having filled in the direct debit, closes the door on the problem and experiences a short lived warm glow which divorces her still further from the real need and the real sacrifice needed to heal our world.

True generosity does not start with sympathy for the victim, it starts with ourselves.  It is a recognition that we have been given much and that the truly human, the truly fulfilling response to that gift is to share it whole heartedly in pursuit of building better relationships with one another –  rather than simply in response to a growing sense of guilt and disconnection from our fellow man.

I hope that we as fundraising professionals will come to recognise the long term impact of what we do, and I hope we do it before it is too late and we are faced with a generation of ‘donors’ only capable of generosity when they are guilted into it.

A risky business

Sacrifice – it’s an interesting word and one that I come back to a lot in my line of work.  We talk about ‘Sacrificial’ giving all the time, but this weekend at Greenbelt I’ve had cause to reflect on what it actually means, both to me personally, in my work and to the parishes I support.

It’s a big word.  It’s a scary word and the tendency is to downplay it – Sacrifice, we tell ourselves, means how much a thing inconveniences us.  My giving is sacrificial because it means I go without some of the material pleasures  of life.  My volunteering is sacrificial because it is time that I could have given to my friends, my family or to catching up with Dr Who on iplayer.

But what I have heard time and time again this weekend isn’t about inconvenience, it isn’t about how many hours I spend in terminally dull PCC meetings, it isn’t about getting up at stupid o clock to be at a church on the other side of the Diocese for their 9.30 Mass, it isn’t about the percentage of my income I give away.

True sacrifice costs more, and less, than that.  True sacrifice exposes us, it opens up our very being and offers it to others – it costs us, at the very core of our soul.  Living sacrificially isn’t about time, or talents, or treasure.  Sacrificial living calls us to expose ourselves, to show the Self that God sees to the world and to offer it, to invite others to share in it.

This is true generosity, the generosity of the spirit, the generosity that risks all of ourselves and offers it, not just to God, but to each other.  When we are truly ourselves, when we place that true self in Gods hands, we are freed from the day to day inconveniences and, though it is risky, it might hurt, it might terrify and it WILL cost – we are freed to fully experience the person God has given us to be in sharing it with others.

Greenbelt for me this weekend was a very ‘raw’ place – where masks were dropped, where risks were taken and where, through the sacrificial generosity of one another, we took small steps closer to the God who dwells in the core of each of us.

 

 

Stewardship Soundings

To blog or not to blog – actually, I’d like to ask a question.

On Tuesday of this week I had a meeting, which could best be described as ‘possibly the most depressing conversation of my career’.

I have now moved on however and, ever the optimist, have chosen to take from it a selection of possible ways forward with regards to how we approach this whole giving thing here in the Jolly old Diocese of Wakefield ™.

OPTION 1

My initial suggestion was that in the 12 months leading to our 125 Anniversay we ought to have a focus on Stewardship, or more broadly on Generosity; based on recent years of Mission Action Planning, which have borne much fruit but which have now begun to wane a little (due to lack of resources amongst other things) .  Our year would not simply focus on the ‘paying the bills’ ‘getting more cash’ approach but would look at what it means to be a generous Christian, the theme could be looked at through the lense of our work in the community, our links with Africa, through building up and developing our volunteer force, through thanksgiving, through liturgy and study and, yes, through campaigns to help parishes find the resources to fulfil their dreams, it would bring together the mission team, finance, communications, liturgy, prayer and spirituality and the lovely volunteer PGO’s  -and underpinning it all would be a year of prayer for growing Generosity in all aspects of our discipleship.

Knowing that ‘Diocesan Initiative Fatigue’ is an ailment virulent on my patch I did however recognise that in order to be of any use the theme would have to be broad and the options for engagement many so as to meet each parish on its own terms. A challenging year lay ahead to pull these threads together – or so I thought.

However, for some, in these depressing and negative times, even this was at risk of being dismissed as overburdensome and centralised – and another way forward was requested.

So lets look at option 2 –  what if I shift focus away from ‘the Big Diocesan Picture’ and instead focus energy on specific parishes, spending most of my time working one to one on campaigns.  To be honest, I like this idea because such campaigns always have an impact, the planning process is great fun (I love meeting parishes) and when it’s all over I can point to a tick in a box as evidence of a job well done.  The major problem with the approach is the average campaign requires 6 visits, often more, from me, I still have other elements of the day job todo and in most cases, colleagues in other Diocese  reckon on a comforable maximum of 25 – 30 such campaigns in a year.  The campaigns have an impact in the parish, but barely scratch the surface at a Diocesan level and can only really happen once every 5 years or so if I am to cover the whole patch and still see the bigger picture.

Option 3 came from a most unexpected quarter, and appeals greatly to me – what if, it was suggested, I book a WHOLE WEEK in one parish ? spending time with clergy,wardens,pcc,volunteers, maybe a Sunday sermon slot – pulling together mission, vision, budget and communication (and a selection of other goodies) – I could really ‘get along side’ the parish ‘make them feel loved’ – and the often daunting thought of 6 months of planning a campaign could be condensed into an enticing fortnight of focus.  Again, bonus for me, time in the parishes, measurable results, boxes ticked – but again, lets say, 20 parishes a year (I do need to see my desk occasionally, not to mention my family).

When I took on this job it was with a remit to provide resources to enable the whole Diocese to grow in its giving – Parish Giving Officers Networks, training seminars and conferences, newsletters, website, deliberatly fewer campaigns – all focused up to now on a Diocese wide, strategic approach – this week was the first time that I’ve heard that remit challenged – and it’s interesting because it chimes with something that came up last week at the National Stewardship Conference – perhaps the time has come to take stock and reflect a little …

So, I’m putting it out there – I know fellow Stewardship types occasionally pass this way, and I always value the opinion of the punters in the pews (and, ok, I admit it, the clergy often come out with some sense) what would you say was your favourite option of the 3 ? do you have any other suggestions to offer ?

Please bear in mind that if the answer is ‘all of the above’ (as it was here at CH towers ) then I would truly appreciate the blueprints to the TARDIS which I will assume must be in your possession.

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

 

No words necessary.

I really don’t have to say a single word about giving ever again – this man has said it all

The Road to Hell …

I’ve not been the most prolific blogger of late. I’ve also not been the most prolific prayer or reader of the bible. So, in an attempt to kill several birds with one stone I’ve decided to actually open the copy of ‘The Stewardship Study Bible’ that I was given as a new job present and find out what insights I can gleen on all things stewardship. Not bad, considering I’ve been in the job 7 months now.

It occurs to me that reading what the Bible has to say on the subject of stewardship ought to be something a stewardship advisor does on a regular basis,, but as ever am a bit slow on the uptake. It could never be said that I lack good intentions. It’s just that I what I do lack is any sense of focus or an attention span greater than a goldfish !

In an attempt to impose some discipline and develop intention into a regular habit I figured I’d follow the reading programme set out in the book. I also figured it would be more likely to happen if I also committed to track my progress via this blog.

We shall see …

Conspiracy of Freedom

Was put onto this site yesterday by the ever lovely Changing Worship.  Fabulous videos asking some searching questions about the way we live today.  Thought provoking materials presented in an accesible format to really get the conversation started.

An awesome week closes with a rude awakening

So clearly the week was a great success – I’ve not had chance to put digit to keyboard since Tuesday, and I was certainly looking forward to getting home and reflecting on some of the inspiring, insightful and challenging topics that have been filling my week.

I was particularly excited to share with you  my new favourite phrase – Reckless  Generosity and tell you how moved and inspired I was hearing about the experience of Christians working in Africa – with people who have little in the way of material wealth but are truly and joyfully, some might say insanely generous with everything they have.

I was also inspired to hear about the mission of churches in this country and challenged to take the message of mission focused stewardship back to my parishes.

But instead I find myself sat before you unable to express any of this joy, in fact unable to write about anything but deep unease and outright distress having discovered just how shallow my own generosity really is.

Our Careforce worker, Beth, is leaving after a year with us and I attended a family bring and share supper down at Church last night.  As you will know, Bring and Share always produces a table heaving with more food than any of us could hope to finish and we were just beginning to tuck into the banquet when we were joined be an unexpected guest.

I could tell you that my (our) response was down to genuine fear – the Vicar informed me quietly that he had been involved with the gentleman in the past and that he had just had a short term in prison as a result of a fight.  I could tell you that I feared that engaging with him as he sat at our table would place my children and those of my friends in danger.  But lets face it, if anyone had genuinly felt a real threat, with all those children present, we would have acted.

So no, we allowed the man (who’s name I maynever know) to help himself (gosh aren’t we gracious Christians) and we allowed him to take a seat.  We also allowed him to return to the table and leave with half a quiche after he’d emptied his plate.

But no – one, not one person, the whole time he was with us, spoke to him, acknowledged him, offered him a smile or even eye contact to recognise that here was a man clearly in need.

In need of food yes, in need of warmth and shelter on a wet night, in need, no doubt, of the warm cuppa that no-one offered him. But above all else, in need of acknowledgment of his humanity.  In need of someone to smile and say hello and offer him fellowship despite his grubby clothes, grizzled beard and hair and eyes that spoke of several hard lives lived.

But there he sat, and there he went, out into the night. unacknowledged, spiritually unfed and unwelcome.

Could we have been a worse example of a community living the gospel ?  Well, in fact yes.  As well as our church friends, several teens from the local high school, kids who Beth has been working with and who have not yet found a faith were there.  They saw what we saw, they saw what we didn’t say or do, they saw this from a merry and well fed group of shoddy Christians that should have done much much better – and they saw it from me.

Reckless Generosity ? More like Spineless.  Never again will I sit merrily bemoaning the lack of true Christian Generosity in some parishes I visit, never again will I throw the stone that ‘they just don’t get it’ – because I now know that I live in a very fragile glasshouse.

I just thank God that Sunday is coming and that The One who has shown so much faith in me will never turn away, no matter that I spent last night ignoring His Son.  Can I be better than this – please God tell me I can.