Gathering the Harvest: Fundraising, Poetry, and Thankfulness

Columbia river gorge

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone. As if life

were a progressive and cunning crime

with no witness to the tiny hidden

transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny

the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,

even you, at times, have felt the grand array;

the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding

out your solo voice You must note

the way the soap dish enables you,

or the window latch grants you freedom.

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.

The stairs are your mentor of things

to come, the doors have always been there

to frighten you and invite you,

and the tiny speaker in the phone

is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into

the conversation. The kettle is singing

even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots

have left their arrogant aloofness and

seen the good in you at last. All the birds

and creatures of the world are unutterably

themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

  -David Whyte

from Everything is Waiting for You 

 ©2003 Many Rivers Press

Last fall I headed through Portland and into the beautiful Columbia River Gorge to the Menucha (men-OOH-ka) Retreat Center. Normally, I love this drive. The Columbia River roars on your left, the winds through the gorge buffet your car as you hurtle down I-84, and the cliffs climb on both sides of the river. It’s not called…wait for it…’gorgeous’ for nothing. (You’re welcome.) But this time, I have to have to admit I was kind of dreading the trip.

I was heading to a fundraising training. More specifically, I was attending the Lake Institute of Indiana University training to gain my (drum roll, please) Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising.

I’m not a huge fan of the word of ‘executive’; even less so the word ‘fundraising.’

When I think fundraising, I think sales, and I didn’t go into ministry to sell people stuff. I don’t sell church. I don’t sell myself. And I certainly don’t sell God or salvation. (Above all of our pay grades, thank you very much.) Before this training, it always seemed to me the churchy word ‘stewardship’ was just an ecclesial euphemism for sales. While ‘fundraising’ seemed to be, at least, a more honest word- I was not looking forward to it. (Sorry, David King!) Not at all.

But I could not have been more wrong.

At the same time as I was doing this fundraising training, I was also studying with David Whyte near his home on Whidbey Island. At that point poetry and fundraising could not be more disparate. Poetry feels like it’s all about thankfulness, expansiveness, and opening to new possibilities, and fundraising seemed more like control and manipulation and trying to get people to cough up something they didn’t want to freely give.

David’s poetry is about thankfulness, expansiveness and opening to new possibilities- even frightening ones. But what I learned is that fundraising, when done faithfully and well, is also, surprisingly to me, primarily about thankfulness, expansiveness, and opening to new possibilities.

The Lake Institute stresses that giving isn’t about money. Giving is about relationship. Giving is about relationship and trust. Development director of the St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel at Yale University, Kerry Robinson once sat down with a person capable of making a lead gift to her project. But in speaking with this person, she discerned that they might have a greater sense of call to another project. At the time Robinson felt underprepared and overwhelmed. A part of her felt pressed to squeeze this person for as much as possible. But a deeper side of her sensed this was not the best way forward. Robinson connected this giver to the project she felt would be a better fit, and indeed she was right. That giver did wind up making a lead gift to that other effort. BUT. That giver also remember Kerry and the St. Thomas More Chapel in their estate. They remembered her because she had the integrity to value the relationship over the money.

When I speak about stewardship now, I emphasize passion and abundance. Many church members have more than enough resources. And when they give to something they feel passionate about, it isn’t painful. It doesn’t feel like loss. It’s joyful. So, I tell them give. Give. Give to our church or give to our school district, or give to a cause that you love. But give, and give to something you care about.

This sense of passion and abundance- you hear this in Whyte’s Everything Is Waiting For You. In this poem David invites us to see the entire world around us as in relationship with us. Rather than feeling alone, we could feel abundantly surrounded by all manner of things wanting to be in relationship with us- doors, soap dishes, window latches, and singing tea kettles.

The other thing the Lake Institute teaches is that fundraising is never about guilt; it’s always about gratitude. Giving and generosity don’t come from feeling bad. True giving and authentic generosity stem from feeling thankful and grateful to be part of the world.

As part of the certificate program I had to come up with a project to implement in my congregation. Most of it is what I expected. Our finance team has acknowledged that hardly anyone carries cash anymore, and we’ve studied and recommended more relevant ways for people to give. We’re living through one of the greatest period of wealth transfer in the history of the world and have had no planned giving program, and we’re addressing that. But do you know the most significant, vital practice I’ve started?

The most important practice I’ve started, thanks to the Lake folks, is simply praying for people and letting them know I’m thinking about them. Our congregation (about 300 people) is split into twelve parishes. Every month I pray for one parish and write each of those families a very small note letting them know I lifted them up in prayer and explaining my petition. I’m not asking them for money. I’m not thanking them for money. I’m praying and giving thanks for them and their presence in my life. And I have seen an incredible response. Some people write back heartfelt notes, telling me my prayer came at just the right time. Other people I haven’t seen for a long time have come back to church, feeling seen for the first time in a long time. The Lake Institute knows what they are teaching when they tell us giving isn’t about money; it’s about gratitude.

This sense of gratitude is what I hear most deeply in David’s Everything Is Waiting For You. The window latch grants us freedom; the tiny speaker in the phone is our dream ladder to divinity. Whyte tells us “alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.” Instead of taking the people and things around us for granted, he tells us to take notice of them and to give thanks.

Who are you in relationship with? With whom have you lost touch? What, or who, are the tiny, overlooked members of your community? What would happen if you took the time to see them? What would it be like to feel less alone and more a part of this grand array?