This Is How Development Works

A while ago, I was on the phone with a member of my Board of Directors. We were talking about plans for a trip to visit his congregation, but at the end of the call he brought up another subject: that congregation had recently finished a capital campaign, it had some money left over, and was going to send a significant amount to my organization.

And I’ve been thinking about that ever since. Here’s why.

On the one hand, I didn’t do anything to get that gift. I didn’t solicit it. I didn’t even know that the congregation was doing a capital campaign, let alone that it had exceeded its goal. It isn’t a gift that I would brag about bringing it.

On the other hand, I — and people who came before me — did everything to get that gift. Through years of visits, volunteer opportunities, newsletters, appeals, and other relationship-building, I created the climate that led that congregation to think about my organization when it had extra money. It was good cultivation and stewardship that led to that gift. And I was critical to making sure that happened.

It can be hard to remember that this is how development works. This is what makes development different from fundraising.

Fundraising is transactional. If I were a mere fundraiser, I would have had to ask for that gift. I would have to ask for every gift. I would be constantly chasing those next few dollars. I would be starting over new with every donor every time.

But I am not a fundraiser. I am a development professional. And development is the slow, steady nurturing of relationships to the point that donors are ready to give on their own. And while I still have to ask and remind, I’m never chasing dollars; I’m helping donors do what they already want to do.

And, sometimes, that means I get a nice surprise: all the work I’ve been doing pays off without even asking.

People I Listen To: Pretty Much Everyone at Crooked Media

A while ago, I did a series of posts called ‘People I Read’. In that series, I gave little blurbs about the other blogs and sites I regularly read. It was sort of a callback to the blogrolls of the early days of blogs. I thought it would be nice to do something similar for the podcasts I listen to. So here is a new series of blurbs. As with the previous series, I’ll try to put up a new one every couple of weeks.

Today’s person I listen to is pretty much everyone at Crooked Media.

Crooked Media is a podcasting network founded by three Obama administration staffers: Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor. It features podcasts by those founders, plus others with media personalities like Ana Marie Cox and activists like DeRay McKesson. Every one of their podcasts is excellent, bringing deep conversations, serious analysis, and humor together in “a no-bullshit conversation about politics and culture where you can laugh, cry, scream, ridicule us daily, share your ideas, and hopefully decide that you want to help fix this mess too.”

Here’s the list of Crooked Media podcasts (current as of the time I’m writing this):

Crooked Conversations

Lovett Or Leave It

Pod Save America

Pod Save the People

Pod Save the World

With Friends Like These

Listen on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Economic and Political Empowerment

A couple of weeks ago, I shared this link to a story at the Washington Post. Here’s the gist. A lot of international organizations focus on women’s empowerment. But a lot of those organizations think of empowerment in terms of the ability to make a livelihood. They give women chicken or goats, or microloans to start a small shop in their home, or a sewing machine. Now empowering women is good, but the ability to make a living is good. But women aren’t suffering just because they can’t make money. Women are suffering because they don’t have political power. And organizations tend not to focus on that.

So women end up receiving financial or material help that doesn’t lead to longterm economic gains. And women still end up being denied the political power that they could use to change the systems that are keeping them — and their communities — in the ways that would lead to longterm economic and social improvement.

As the article puts it:

This narrow definition ignores something important: Women suffer not just because they don’t have a form of income. Women are part of a system that fundamentally doesn’t favor them, that makes it hard for them to obtain and stay in power. To change that, the report says, these women need political power. As one of the report’s co-authors, Rafia Zakaria, wrote in the New York Times: “Without political change, the structures that discriminate against women can’t be dismantled and any advances they do make will be unsustainable.”

Many of us in the West — especially, maybe, charity skeptics — tend to have a narrow view of empowerment that is focused on providing people with the tools to find economic livelihoods. Job training, soft-skills education, and other employment programs become the beginning and end of empowerment. Often, that means taking on work that serves the interests of the relatively wealthy more than it does those of people experiencing poverty.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t work on economic empowerment. But any economic empowerment project needs to be paired with political empowerment projects. People living in poverty need to have a substantial voice in the issues that affect them, from minimum wages and universal basic incomes to health care and criminal justice reform. Economic empowerment by itself can only help people survive in the system as it is; political empowerment can change the system so that it is more egalitarian and more likely to actually benefit people experiencing poverty.

Timothy Burke: Enough

If America is not great, it is not for a lack of attention to our sensitive right-wing snowflakes. They said: hands off our guns. Well, we stand now at the moment of the most intense judicial restraint on any attempt to restrict gun ownership and use in the history of this republic. They said: lower our taxes! We are the least taxed liberal democracy on the planet, we are 37 years into a national regime of ceaseless tax reduction. They said: cut the welfare state, get rid of the safety net! The safety net has been cut, the great revolution of the late 19th and early 20th Century in favor of public goods is nearly totally undone. They said: stop teaching our children what we don’t want them to know. Creationism is back in schools, the government is actively hostile to science, it’s ok for the top leaders of this country to endorse historical falsehoods and insist they be taught to the nation’s children. They said: we’re too free to see pornography and get divorced and live together outside of marriage and take drugs. And where is it that pornography is most popular and adultery flourishes and opoids and meth take hold? In Trumplandia, where people apparently need the Nanny State to stop them from doing what they blame on others who do it far less. They said: stop crime at all costs! And thirty years later, they’re still afraid in a country that locks up more of its own people than any other comparable nation, that allows cops to kill black men with impunity.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry So Much about #GivingTuesday

Every year in mid to late October, I see posts and questions about #givingtuesday appear in my feeds. A lot of people want to give you — or sell you — advice on how your organization can have a record breaking #givingtuesday. And a lot of organizations, development professionals, and executive directors are wondering how they can make this the best #givingtuesday every for their organization.

And they all use the hashtag.

Giving Tuesday can be a great opportunity for you and your organization. And it’s not difficult to make it work:

Spend the weeks leading up to Giving Tuesday priming your donors. This means communicating with them about the work your organization does, why they should care, and what impact their gifts can have. You should do this through every channel you have, and it’s even more effective when it’s peer-to-peer. Encourage supporters to share the reasons they give to your organization on their social media channels.

Find ways to increase the impact on and around Giving Tuesday. This is a great opportunity for a matching gift campaign. If you have a donor that will do a dollar-for-dollar match for every gift on Giving Tuesday, that will be even more motivation for people to give!

Create lots of opportunities to give. The time around Giving Tuesday is a good time to remind people about Amazon Smile, to host an event, or to find other avenues for giving (besides the website and direct mail appeal). Make sure that people can give no matter what they’re doing.

Don’t forget to ask! Make sure that your Giving Tuesday schedule includes asking for gifts, preferably several times. Let people know how the day is going and encourage folks to put you over the top.

Most of all… don’t worry too much about #GivingTuesday.

Giving Tuesday is a big deal to fundraisers and nonprofit organizations. That’s why we all start getting antsy about it in October. But for most people, Giving Tuesday could come and go without a mention and they wouldn’t even notice. As much as we might want to think that this is a big celebration on par with Black Friday, it just doesn’t live in the people’s imaginations in the same way. And that alright… the first Giving Tuesday was just a few years ago, in 2012.

And here’s the thing: good fundraising works every day. It works on Giving Tuesday, it works on local giving days, it works on Christmas, and it works on June 4. If you’re a fundraiser, you should always be priming people to give, finding ways to increase the impact, giving people the opportunity to give, and asking for (and stewarding) those gifts. Fundraising, even on Giving Tuesday, isn’t about clever gimmicks. It’s about working a plan every single day.

So yes, do something for #givingtuesday. It’s a good opportunity and you shouldn’t waste it. But don’t worry so much about it. Don’t stress about it. Don’t panic about it. Do the work on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and normal Wednesday, too. That’s how you raise money.

Food Stamps and Fungibility

A week or so ago, a Facebook friend of mine posted about his experience meeting someone outside of a Chicago grocery. The person he met tried to sell him food stamps, offering $100 in purchases on her EBT card for $80 in cash. My friend thought this was funny, because this person was doing what he thought was a terrible job of negotiating. And, of course, the comments on his post were predictable: this person doesn’t have a job, this is taxpayer money, and so on.

But here’s the thing: that person trying to sell access to her EBT card at a discount makes sense. It’s a sensible thing to do.

And here’s why.

First, food stamps (or, more accurately, SNAP benefits, usually stored on an EBT card) are non-fungible. People can only spend those dollars on things that the state has decided that she can spend them on: bread, cereal, fruit, meat, dairy products and so on. People cannot spend those benefits on alcohol, pet food, hot food, or anything that would be eaten in the store.

And that’s all fine and good. But it also means that people can’t spend them on household supplies that you might find in the store, like paper towels, toilet paper, soap, or feminine hygiene products. And, of course, it also means that people can’t spend them on other necessary things like medicine, doctor visits, rent, utilities, or clothing.

Food stamps are for food only. And as long as the person needs food, that works fine.

Second, poverty involves a lot of trade-off thinking. People who don’t live in poverty often think of prices in terms of money. For example, since I had to buy a new dress shirt recently, I know that dress shirts at a certain store cost about $89 plus tax. But we can also think of prices in terms of goods. I could think of that shirt as two dinners out or a month’s internet bill. People living in poverty often think in terms of trade-offs: every purchase made means being unable to make a different purchase later.

And people living in poverty think that way because they have to. When someone doesn’t have enough money to make it through a month, she has to decide what necessities she will buy and which ones she’ll try to forego. This person who my friend met may have had a car repair, a rent payment, or medication that she needed to pay for. And she may have been willing to give up a certain number of meals for that.

Food stamps are for food only. When the person needs something else, that doesn’t work at all.

What this person was willing to do was commit benefit fraud (an extremely rare occurrence) to purchase fungibility. And she was willing to pay a premium for it.

And, if what she needed was money for rent, transportation, or heat, that is entirely reasonable.

Washington Post: Aid Groups Say They’re ‘Empowering’ Women with Cows and Chickens. They’re Not.

A lot of these programs were actually disempowering, Cronin-Furman found. They kept women at home, disconnected from their networks and from opportunities to organize. One government official told Cronin-Furman that despite years of training programs, she had never seen any of the women earn a living from these skills. “It’s not just that they failed to help,” Cronin-Furman said. “It’s that it actually made them worse off, cutting them off from political power.”

The Present of the Church

This sermon was delivered at Church of Peace, United Church of Christ, in Rock Island, Illinois, on October 15, 2017. The scripture for this sermon is Mark 3:19b-31.

Last summer, I went to the United Church of Christ’s General Synod. This is the big meeting we have every two years where delegates from all over the denomination come together to elect officers and debate resolutions and do all of those kinds of things. And as part of this, there are youth and young adults who are encouraged to speak… to bring a ‘youth perspective’ to issues facing the church.

One of the resolutions this year was about gun violence. It was a resolution calling on Congress to allow the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence and to suggest methods to improve gun safety. And whatever you think about guns or gun control or anything like that, I want you to consider something: if today is an average day in America, 93 people will die from gun violence, 58 of those will be suicides, and the CDC is not allowed to study that.

And I want you to consider something else: if tomorrow is an average day, somewhere in America a classroom of children will have a drill where they hide in a closet and stay quiet. And they’ll have that drill because we’re afraid that someday won’t be an average day, and that staying quiet in a closet in a classroom will keep our sons and daughters alive.

When delegates were talking about this resolution, some young people got up to speak. They shared their stories of hiding in closets and making escape plans and going through active shooter drills and hearing the simulated sound of gunfire. And a little while later an adult stood up and said that he had been through active shooter training and that some elements of their stories — like the simulated gunfire — weren’t true.

Today’s reading starts with four simple words: “Then he went home.”

It sounds good. It sounds comfortable.

Jesus is a nice Jewish boy and — and even here in the third chapter of Mark — he’s been out in the world for a little while. He’s been baptized by John. He’s been tempted in the wilderness. He’s called some disciples. He’s healed people and cast out demons and preached to crowds and challenged Pharisees.

Then he went home.

And then things got out of hand.

Today, we’re continuing our series on choosing family. Today, we’re talking about sons and daughters. And that’s a bit of a clunky way of talking about children. And that’s a weird word. Sometimes, ‘children’ means ‘offspring’. My brother and I are the children of Robert and Janet Warfield. Sometimes, though, ‘children’ means ‘not adults’. A group of ten year olds is a group of children. A group of forty year olds is not.

And sometimes, in families, that line between being a child and being a child gets blurry. We all know that feeling, right? That feeling we get when we go home and we’re not just our parents’ children, but we’re treated like our parents’ children? That feeling when we know we have a role we’re supposed to play and a lane we’re supposed to stay in?

I wonder if Jesus felt that when he went home.

Because when Jesus went home, the crowd came together and they couldn’t even eat. And then things got out of hand. Some of the people were coming to be healed or have demons cast out or hear some good news. But others were saying, “He has gone out of his mind… He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”

And that, for sure, was not okay. If people really believed that Jesus was out of his mind — if people really believed that Jesus had Beelzebul and was casting out demons by the ruler of demons — that wouldn’t just be bad for him. That would be bad for his entire family. This was a time and a place and a community where you really could ruin a family name. Everything could fall apart. And Jesus’s family isn’t going to have any of it.

Now, I don’t have children, but I’ve seen that expression on parents’ faces — I’ve been the cause of that expression on parents’ faces — when they think their child is misbehaving in a public place. It’s a combination of embarrassment and shame and fear of judgement. And imagine that feeling, but a thousand times worse because there’s not going to be any understanding shrugs from strangers. People are saying that Jesus is out of his mind, that he’s an agent of the devil.

So Jesus’s family goes out to restrain him. That word — ‘restrain’ — is important. It’s the same word that gets used when people go out to arrest Jesus later. That’s how serious this is. Jesus’s own family goes out to kind-of-arrest him because he is a threat to the family; because he is a child who is out of control; because he isn’t playing the role he is supposed to play.

And when that guy at Synod stood up and said that those young people had embellished their stories, he didn’t touch them, but he restrained them, too. They were children who were out of control; they weren’t playing the role they were supposed to play.

But those youth didn’t stand for it. The next morning, there were speak outs, when anyone can take the microphone and share their thoughts or make an announcement. And some young people — some sons and daughters of this denomination — stood up and reminded us all of two things. First, that they are not the future of the church, but the present of the church; after all, they were speaking at Synod because we needed their perspective. Second, that no one would dismiss the experiences of older delegates, and no one had the right to dismiss theirs.

I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of the youth of the United Church of Christ. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as committed to a standing ovation. Because here’s the thing: Jesus did something like that, too.

When Jesus’s family went out to restrain him, they found the crowd. And some people said to Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” And Jesus replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers? They’re here. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother.”

Look, I know. That sounds like rejection. It sounds like Jesus is saying that his mother and his brothers and his sisters aren’t his family. It sounds like the people who raised him don’t matter anymore. it sounds like he won’t be coming home again.

And, so often, that’s what it sounds like when the young people in our communities — when our sons and our daughters — insist on a new way of doing things. We see congregations shrinking and fraternal organizations closing and millennials and post-millennials killing fast casual restaurants and cereal and napkins and diamonds and dozens of other things… and we think they are rejecting us.

But Jesus isn’t rejecting anyone. He’s inviting his family into a new possibility.

You see, Jesus isn’t be the holy infant, so tender and mild, anymore.

He’s been baptized. He’s been tempted in the wilderness. He’s called some disciples. He’s healed people and cast our demons and preached to crowds and challenged Pharisees. And while he might still be Mary’s child, he isn’t Mary’s child anymore.

And his family has a choice. They can try to restrain him, or they can walk alongside him. They can try to hold him back, or they can be part of a common vision and a supportive community. They can try to arrest him, or they can follow him into the Kingdom of God.

This work — the work of being church — will not soon be over. Tomorrow there will be hungry people to feed. Next week there will be strangers to welcome. Next month there will be sick people to visit. And on an average day next year there might be 93 deaths from gun violence, 58 of them suicides. The work of the kingdom goes on and I doubt I’ll live to see it finished. Our ancestors laid the foundation, and we have continued the work, and our children — and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren and our great-great-grandchildren — will keep going until that long bending arc of history finally reaches justice.

Our sons and daughters are not the future of the church. Our parents and grandparents aren’t the past of the church. Together, we are all the present of the church. Together, we hold onto the best of the past and embrace the best of the future. Together, we bring diverse perspectives and powerful experiences. Together, we strive to be one family defined by the will of God.

And when we do that, the possibilities are endless.


Hubs and Networks (and the United Church of Christ)

Last week, my denomination — the United Church of Christ — released a bit of bad news. Fourteen people were laid off as the national setting of the denomination reorganized itself around new mission priorities.  Among the transitions are the combining of operations and global ministries; the combining of justice work and local church ministries; and the combining of Publishing, Identity, and Communication with the Office of Philanthropy and Stewardship to form an Office of Philanthropy and Marketing. As a colleague and friend who used to work at the national offices pointed out on Facebook, this continues a precipitous decline in staff there: from around 300 near the beginning of the century to slightly more than 100 now (someone else pointed out that there were more than 400 in the early 90s).

These layoffs aren’t surprising. The national setting and muddle judicatories have been shrinking as long as the denomination has existed. Every year brings predictions about when the United Church of Christ will close its doors, even if individual congregations keep going.

One of the biggest challenges for the United Church of Christ is how money flows through it. Offerings are collected in struggling local congregations. Some of that money — almost always a shrinking amount — is sent to middle judicatories. Those struggling middle judicatories then send some of that monty — again, almost always a shrinking amount — on to the national setting. The pie keeps getting smaller every year and at every level, and much of the reorganization at every level is about surviving on less and less.

And, unfortunately, too many of the expressions of the United Church of Christ — from local churches to the national setting — respond to that shrinking pie by focusing on how they can get more instead of how they can connect more. We focus more and more on our hubs; we focus less and less on our networks.

Let me give a simple example. The new Director of Marketing and Philanthropy will be tasked with raising money for the United Church of Christ, meaning, by and large, the national setting and its initiatives. She will also be responsible for developing stewardship materials for local congregations. Historically, those materials include some third-party books on stewardship, as well as annual themed posters, bulletin inserts, pledge cards, letters, and so on (which, of course, local congregations have to pay for). That means she’s focused mostly on raising money for her hub: the national setting.

What’s missing? Real coaching and training for the local congregations who want to support the national setting and who are themselves struggling. In other words: the creation of networks that will connect professionals and successful congregations with congregations that they can help.

And that’s also true on a broader scale. As a denomination — and like many other mainline denominations — we are focused on the survival of hubs, from local churches through middle judicatories to the national setting.

But any future for the United Church of Christ, I suspect, isn’t found in keeping hubs alive. It’s found in creating and sustaining dynamic networks. If the United Church of Christ wants to be an effective denomination in the future, it needs to invest in serving and connecting its local congregations, covenanted ministries, and other expressions. For example:

  • we might invest substantially in a group of consultants and coaches focused on stewardship and church vitality
  • we might look at how congregations who are successful at a certain ministry can be connected to congregations interested in developing a similar ministry and share resources
  • we might provide smaller congregations merge into single church bodies with multiple campuses
  • we might investigate what new models of membership — models that recognize that fewer people are likely to belong to the same congregation for their entire lives — might look like

There are any number of options here, but they are all based on networks. And it is investment in creating and sustaining those networks — not keeping hubs functioning — that will help the United Church of Christ remain a powerful force in the future.

Consumerist: More Than 40% Of Americans Struggling To Make Ends Meet

The survey, which was conducted in 2016, asked respondents 10 questions, on which they were then given a score from 0 to 100.

In all, the average consumer score was 54. About a third of all adults in the U.S. have financial well-being scores of 50 or below, meaning they struggle to make ends meet or experience material hardship