Over the years, the In Trust Center for Theological Schools has used the phrase “mission fulfillment with economic vitality” as shorthand for the overarching goal of a theological school — or of any nonprofit organization. Including “economic vitality” next to “mission fulfillment” is a reminder that without financial stability, it’s impossible for an organization’s work to be fruitful in the long run. 

While leaders in theological education understandably feel excited to talk about their school’s mission to form new leaders for the church and the world, the “economic vitality” part — money and fundraising — may prompt discomfort. Faith and money have a long and challenging history together, and no one wants to be accused of “always talking about money.” 


However, mission and money are not opposite ends of a continuum. Indeed, they are intertwined, and the most successful fundraisers view them as such. How can we invite all stakeholders — board members, administrators, staff, faculty, students, and alumni — to regard them in this way? 


Henri Nouwen offers a helpful framework. “From the perspective of the Gospel,” he says, “fundraising is not a response to a crisis. Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry.  It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission” (The Spirituality of Fundraising, p. 3). 


This invitation into mission and the excitement over it is expressed by Douglass Lewis in his book, Leadership and Change, which is reviewed by Emilie Babcox. “Over the years, people would ask me if I ever got tired of fundraising,” Lewis writes. “No! It is actually fun and the most meaningful thing I do. Fellow seminary presidents would ask how often I thought about fundraising. My answer: every day.” 


Lewis’s focus on mission and vision dovetails with the ideas presented in the In Trust Center’s Transformational Philanthropy webinar (part of a library of webinars available online at www.intrust.org/webinars). In that webinar, presenter Aimée Laramore draws on Nouwen’s work, describing fundraising as building relationships, sharing the vision, and seeking the voice of the giver. Fundraising is not transactional work, she says. There is no one single approach. And as important as it is to remember the three “T’s” (time, talent, and treasure), there’s a fourth T as well — testimony. That’s what’s often most engaging, both to the giver and to other, potential givers. 


Consider this as you read Gary Hoag’s reflections on the book Keeping Faith in Fundraising by Peter Harris and Rod Wilson. Hoag’s review highlights the ways that the book challenges readers to think deeply about “why” they do fundraising the way they do it. 


Fundraising encompasses many activities, including the annual fund, capital campaigns, alumni engagement, major gifts, and more.


How does a small fundraising staff decide where to invest time and resources? In an interview with Wesley Brown, associate dean for leadership giving at Duke Divinity School, he suggests that efforts be balanced to meet current and future needs — immediate gifts to balance this year’s budget and planned gifts for long-range needs. 


Do you need help in fundraising, or in other finance-related areas like planning or investing? The In Trust Center’s staff can assist you to find the resources you need. We would be happy to connect you to fundraising consultants, peers at other institutions, articles, webinars, or any other help for the challenges you are facing and the opportunities you are exploring. I invite you to email us at resources@intrust.org.


For more on the origins of the phrase “mission fulfillment with economic vitality,” see www.intrust.org/mission-fulfillment.

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