Illustrations by Nolan Pelletier
Dr. Carla Maxwell Ray has been part of raising more than $1 billion for a variety of colleges, universities, churches, institutions, and non-profit organizations. A senior generosity strategist at Generis, she helps groups define and create fundraising campaigns. She describes generosity as a spiritual discipline, and her book, Five Pillars of a First Class Life, is a guide to financial freedom based on biblical principles.
She spoke with In Trust’s Matt Hufman on Episode 45 of the Center's Good Governance podcast.
How did you come to fundraising and to see this as a form of a spiritual act?
I came to fundraising naturally.
First, I had a dad who was an excellent steward of resources dedicated to the kingdom of God. And then I had a mother who was a generosity champion, one of those people that just pour out generosity. She sought out every opportunity to give, and I would look at her face when she would hand a fist full of money to someone, such as a single mom of eight children, and joy exuded from her eyes and her spirit. I wanted to experience that same feeling in my own life and work.
So through my mom’s example and my father’s, I really wanted to share that with the world. Just experiencing that kind of joy felt so refreshing, and I felt that my purpose in life was being fulfilled as I helped and shepherded others to fulfill their purpose in life. Fundraising is just something that I leaned into as a ministry, and as a calling. It certainly has been something that feeds my soul and gives me energy every day.
What does it mean to be a generosity champion?
God talks about giving and money and possessions in his Word some 2,300 times. Money can be used as a tool to elevate vision and mission. So one of the things that I underline when I talk about generosity champions is how generosity is connected to discipleship and doing God’s word. God’s generosity is a way to show God’s love, but it’s also an obedience issue. So sometimes it’s not as much about directly impacting someone’s life, but it is about being obedient and really not knowing the outcome. When we reach a point of true generosity, it really means that we’re walking in a different path. When you have God’s spirit, being generous is something that you must embrace and must do. It comes naturally to a few, but most of us have to work on that journey.
I had a mother who was a generosity champion, one of those people that just pour out generosity. She sought out every opportunity to give, and I would look at her face when she would hand a fist full of money to someone, and joy exuded from her...
In the church, people often equate money with evil. At best, talking about money is uncomfortable. How do you approach this discomfort in the discussion about fundraising?
Everyone has their own personal experience with money. Some of us grew up very poor. Others grew up where money was used as a tool to advance an agenda or selfish ambitions. So our experiences are broad, and most people are uncomfortable talking about money. One reason why we may be uncomfortable is because we think it’s ours. So, after people go through a conversion to Christianity, there’s what I call the generosity conversion. It’s like a second conversion. We realize that money is a tool to accomplish God’s will.
One of my colleagues at Generis, Mark Dillon, in his book Giving and Getting in the Kingdom, says vision without fundraising is visionary. Fundraising without vision is mercenary. But vision combined with fundraising is missionary. And that’s what we as churches, seminaries, and Christian organizations are called to do. We are called to pursue a mission that God has placed in our hearts and to invite others to join us in that mission. And though the conversation may be uncomfortable, God doesn’t say we have to be comfortable. What he does say is that we have to trust him.
If you’re talking to a seminary board or leaders, many of whom may have come up through the pastoral ranks or the ministry ranks, what do you see them getting wrong about fundraising?
The first is avoiding talking about money. Just study God’s word. In 1 Chronicles 28 and 29, King David was challenged to build the temple, not for his own edification, because he really wouldn’t be around to enjoy it, but for the future, for the growth of God’s kingdom. It’s been my observation that in some instances fundraisers in the secular world use God’s model better than the seminaries do in giving campaigns.
I just enjoy coming next to the leaders of seminaries and churches and escorting them through this generosity journey. We as leaders in the church are charged with being shepherds of generosity. Many of us just don’t know how to do it because we’re dependent on our own knowledge and wealth to help get us through. We must be champions of generosity.
We invite those partners – donors and contributors – to help us fulfill God’s word, through the seminary itself and through the pastors that we are preparing to go forth and lead.
In Chronicles, David is putting resources aside for his son, DSolomon, to build the temple. He’s passing on a legacy.
Absolutely. The legacy of planned giving is that it is not only important to raise money for today’s needs to get out of debt or to expand or to offer scholarships, but also for tomorrow. So God shows us the biblical example throughout his Bible, throughout his word of how he uses money to edify his kingdom and to grow.
What do you see that theological leaders may be missing about fundraising that may make them either uncomfortable in doing it or inefficient?
I was sitting at a table with Christian leaders, pastors and others, and they said, “Carla, we want to help people be more generous in God’s kingdom, but they really don’t how to handle their money.” Maybe they’re in debt. And if they aren’t in debt, maybe they’re living paycheck to paycheck. And then we look at those who do have, and they’re living a life that doesn’t edify God, even though they show up in church and feel good about giving because they’re giving more than that dedicated member that’s really making a sacrifice to give.
God says two things about that: first it’s equal sacrifice, not equal giving. That’s a message that we have to get across. God honors the sacrifice. He wants us to be abundant in our giving. Secondly, he wants us to know Him and His Word. He wants us to be able to have finances that are healthy. There’s a promise, and this is one of my favorite scriptures, it’s 2 Corinthians 9:11-12. It says that because of your generosity, your lives will be enriched in all ways, and you’ll be given more and on every occasion you’ll be able to be even more generous.
Are there other things that you think that people are missing in this generosity conversation?
Generosity is really about sharing. Acts 2 talks about having all things in common and making sure the kingdom of God is well-resourced, that there’s no one in need. Some of us have the spirit of greed or the spirit of pride, and we are really not being prayerful and thoughtful about where we should invest our money. That selfishness is just hoarding and not trusting God to grow what He promises will grow.
When I was around 9 or 10 my twin sister and I would play a game called “wagon train.” You would go out into the desert in your wagon. I got crackers and water for me and my cousin. My sister and my other cousin, they had sandwiches and cookies and soda and everything. And I was so angry with my twin. I said, “You’re taking all of mom and dad’s food. You shouldn’t mess with their food wagon train.” The next morning, my cousins and my twin were teasing me, and my mother tapped me on the shoulder and she said, “Carla, there is abundance in this house; we share everything that we have.”
So, this is a question about vision and where you place your trust?
Absolutely. We have to trust God. And it is amazing how God moves people’s hearts. I’ll go into a seminary and conduct donor analytics. Then I pray and ask God to move someone to give at the top of the gift chart – whatever needs to be funded. When prayer with practical skills and evaluation come together, it is powerful what God will do and how he moves people. But someone needs to ask.
What about the difficulty people have with asking?
I have spoken with many presidents, heads of seminaries, heads of organizations and pastors that are really uncomfortable about asking for money because they feel that there is something biblically off about asking. God says, “Ask and it will be given unto you.” So we must surround ourselves with individuals that have the capacity to invest, respect them for making a choice, and then seek their partnership as we move forward. Some boards see the president as the one who raises money. What do you tell them?
The board is correct that the president is the chief officer to go and seek funding. However, the board is key to that process and board members must own the fundraising goals. Number one, they must give generously and sacrificially to support the mission. And though it is wonderful to have named buildings and named scholarships and programs, unrestricted giving is so important and the board needs to lead the way in giving those unrestricted gifts. So first, they must be generous themselves. Number two, although the vice president or director of advancement and the president must help navigate the board towards the fundraising process, the board must own it. They must open the doors, sit at the solicitation table. They must identify individuals, families, foundations, and even corporations that align with the mission. The board has that responsibility and must do it. God gives us examples throughout that we as leaders in his kingdom have a responsibility to not only talk about money, but to seek money to fund vision.
This is an edited version of the conversation. Click here to listen to the full episode.