by Melissa Spas, Managing Director of Education & Engagement
In each of our education and training programs, we talk about the ways in which our world and work have changed. The landscape of giving to religion has shifted; we all have greater immediate access to information and shared experience than at any time in the past; donors demand greater transparency and accountability than ever before; and technology has changed nearly every aspect of our daily lives. This shift creates challenges for religious leaders and fundraisers in faith-based organizations, and it can be difficult to know where to begin changing organizational culture in order to be effective today. Sometimes it seems impossible to get our minds around the scale of change, and our own perspective is inherently limited by our particular location or context.
A few weeks ago I had the chance to engage some of this conversation with alumni of Indiana University, start-up entrepreneurs who have developed an app for mobile giving, called Givelify, and their team of engineers, user experience experts, and software developers. This group brings a unique perspective to the intersection of technology and fundraising in a faith context, and I was struck by the significance of faith practices and meaning-making to their work. I don’t know anything about how to make an app easy to use, or how that changes depending on the operating system of the tiny, powerful computer an individual happens to carry around, but I was grateful for the chance to hear from people who do and see what drives their innovation. This company has a particular focus on building a platform for giving that is easy to use and allows for effective communication and connection between a donor and the organizations they support. What became clear to me in our conversation was the importance of supporting people as they integrate this new technology into the routine of a life that has the same priorities human lives have always had.
One of the great challenges for religious organizations, and the people who lead them, is to avoid (or resist!) confusing the platform for the practice especially when it comes to new technology, communication tools, and ways of connecting in the fast-paced, digital age. Whether the platform in question is a new form of social media, an online fundraising campaign, or a specially-designed app, the practices are still very much the same – life lived together; time, talent, and resources shared in community; identity shaped by regular contact with the life of the organization. Given the many new platforms that might support these practices today, and the fast pace of change, it is easy to confuse the medium for the message. When we cling too tightly to the print newsletter, checks written on a weekly or monthly basis, or even our organizational Facebook pages or email list-serves, we miss the opportunity to encourage religious practices that might be even richer when supported by another platform for some people of faith.
We can make a pragmatic case for adopting new technology, connecting with our members and stakeholders on ever-changing social media platforms, and reducing barriers to giving by making online philanthropy easy and accessible. Those practical considerations are worth attending to, and they often reflect a commitment to hospitality, but that approach isn’t enough. If we want to nurture generous organizations, we also need to understand that underneath the technology, there is a deeply relevant question of faith formation.