by Melissa Spas, Managing Director of Education & Engagement
The changes wrought through this year’s intersecting crises continue to require the sustained attention and creative engagement of leaders in all kinds of religious organizations, from congregations to faith-based non-profits. The on-going COVID-19 pandemic and related economic crisis, alongside the ever more clearly illuminated racial injustices in the United States, have roiled the waters of everyday life. This impact is felt in religious organizations along with all other aspects of civic life. As found in our Lake Institute COVID-19 Congregational Study, these crises have impacted revenue and budget planning, and all of this upheaval demands creative response. This is nowhere more apparent than in strategic communications for fundraising and advancement of mission. Leaders of religious organizations cannot pretend to carry on business as usual, but instead have an opportunity to articulate the unique way that they, as leaders and organizations, will respond. That clarity of communication will enable meaningful invitation, inviting friends, donors, and constituents to further an organizational mission that makes a real difference.
Earlier this year, Andy Crouch, an evangelical Christian leader, published an article in the online Praxis Journal with Kurt Keilhacker and Dave Blanchard, for an audience of religious leaders and social entrepreneurs, entitled “Leading Beyond the Blizzard,” and followed it up with “Strategies for Winter: Leadership in Survival Times.” This latter article includes strategic advice about the transformative impact that leaders can make by naming assumptions, telling the truth, and identifying philosophical shifts that might be needed. I was reminded of this article a few weeks ago when I heard an interview on the radio with Raphael Bostic, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Bostic says, following up on an essay he wrote in June, that he continues to observe “… a less-than economy, where there are parts of the economy that are doing quite well and are in full swing, things like the Amazons and the Home Depots. But then you have a lot of other parts of the economy that are struggling — the restaurants, hotels, small businesses, people living in minority, lower-income and immigrant communities. All those places are struggling.”
Bostic is telling the truth about how the pandemic has had a disproportionately negative impact on people of color and those living at the economic margins, and I would add that many faith communities and non-profits in those communities are observing and experiencing hardship as well, much of which pre-dates this current season. Truth-telling by the leader of the Atlanta Fed also has the power to encourage a philosophical shift; in his essay he says “A commitment to an inclusive society also means a commitment to an inclusive economy.” He is committing his own leadership to the change that is needed, and he is communicating about it using all the power of his platform. This is something religious leaders can do in their own locations as well.
Our strategy for mission advancement and fundraising can contribute to meaningful transformation in these difficult circumstances. There are concrete communication steps that leaders can take, which include naming assumptions, telling hard truths, and offering a framework for philosophical shifts that may be required.
- First, religious leaders can acknowledge the circumstances we find ourselves in, collectively and organizationally. This truth-telling gives us credibility, and will allow us to be accountable to our stakeholders. We do not know what the future will hold, but we can be honest and transparent about our current finances and program impacts, and set realistic fundraising goals.
- Next, leaders can focus on organizational mission, and remind people of why we do what we do. This allows us to tie fundraising goals to the purpose of our organization, and demonstrate the value of what we provide to the community.
- Focusing on mission also allows us to celebrate the impact of organizational work, made possible by the contributions of many. It is through the efforts of volunteers, donors, staff, partners, and members that the work of any organization is accomplished – and stories of changed lives and renewed hope will illustrate the difference that is made.
None of this work happens in a vacuum. Rather, fundraising communication in religious organizations depends upon the network of relationships that make up the strength of any mission advancement effort. Bostic knew this when making observations on the economy and injustice – as leaders we can influence those with whom we have established trust, and this requires telling the truth, being transparent, and imagining aloud the change that might be possible. Leadership is a function of relationship, and strategic communication for mission advancement will reinforce, develop, and affirm the interconnections that make us strong, even in times of upheaval and change.