Reflections of an Ardent Fundraiser
by June Costa
At Shalem I have noticed that my approach to asking for charitable gifts has changed. I now have to view through the prism of the Spirit that motivates the giving, and I have to convey that message to individuals who are experienced with Shalem. At the same time, I need to cultivate new participants and potential contributors.
In our high-tech era and volatile global society, my orientation to fundraising has been defined as a social investment in our future. Phrases such as “how you can get the most out of your donations,” “maximizing your giving,” and my favorite, “how we can convert tax-deductible contributions to great reward at little or no risk” are often used to promote giving in the 21st century. In this context, how do I raise funds for an institute whose mission is “to be an ecumenical community responding to a call to help mediate God’s Spirit in the world through the loving wisdom of contemplative tradition?”
My initial thought was that raising funds for Shalem would require a paradigm shift in how I develop the strategic marketing and fund development plans. But I discovered instead that being at Shalem has made me go deeper into my own spiritual consciousness and theology as an African American. The questions now become: How do I as a messenger and fundraiser articulate with passion the mission and future visions of Shalem? How do I integrate my spiritual connectedness that is rooted in the Black Southern Baptist and A.M.E. faith traditions into a contemplative practice? Will the integration of the two bring about a change in my professional methods and strategic planning of “Asking for the Charitable Gift” and “Marketing the Institute?” How will the long-term benefactors and founders of Shalem view my orientation to fundraising? Will they view my development leadership style as an opportunity for institutional growth? Lastly, will I have to conform to contemplative language to effectively raise funds for Shalem?
These questions are not fundamental and ordinary for even an experienced fundraiser. Or, perhaps, another way of looking at these questions is that for the first time I have an opportunity in quiet space to become introspective about my professional career and spirituality. What are the parallels that continue to draw these two extraordinary passions together in my life? These questions have evolved as a quest for me in my spiritual journey to probe deeper into the spiritual practices of other cultures looking for the common thread that binds us all. I am of the opinion that it is my belief in the Almighty that sustains me and my spiritual growth. As long as I maintain this belief and remain true to my theology, the practice and language will translate into the genuine message of an open spirit.
During my past six months on the Shalem staff, I have started reviewing and assessing the fundraising/marketing material, looking for the differences in my technique and language. For the first time in my career, my prepared phonathon script and outreach survey used these questions: What helps you remain spiritually focused in your professional life? Have you experienced or been asked by your friends and/or colleagues about your spiritual connectedness with Shalem? What are the authentic spiritual threads that continue to make the Shalem Institute unique in its offerings? How have Shalem programs assisted in your daily practices of meditation and prayer?
Pausing to look at a few testimonial letters from Shalem participants, one in particular that relates directly to the phonathon survey questions caught my eye. Written by Susan G. Parker, it reads:
Shalem has provided me with a grounding that has sustained me over the last 12 years. My touchstone is my spiritual direction group, which helps me see God where I sometimes cannot. Most of the major decisions over the last dozen years have been born with the quiet, steady presence of Shalem. I’ve gone off to live and work in Guatemala, graduated from divinity school, and started a writing business. My daily contemplative prayer practice keeps me sane in the midst of a world that we all know is often too hard and too unfair. Shalem has helped me remember what really matters.
A discerning moment evolved for me in realizing that the Shalem language is truly universal. When you substitute a few words in places that make reference to spirit, meditation, practice and prayer, it translates into passion, belief, joy, love, caring, belonging and peace for other organizations and institutes who are involved in preserving a civil society and environment.
I invite you to ponder these words in your own life and let me know of your experiences. Our journeys continue together.