Raising givers instead of funds

As I drive around communities in our diocese, both large and small, I see many signs about a craft sale or bake sale with theme basket raffles and auctions. My heart always stops a minute because I love to see peoples’ incredible creativity shine forth in their artwork and if there is homemade chocolate covered anything, you can count me in. I have some beautiful Christmas decorations and a few extra pounds to prove it.

I also know how much time dedicated volunteers put into these events, hoping to earn money for their parish or school. Most of us have participated on some level and know the preparation can be a year-round process. For some parishes, it has become a well-oiled machine with the same group overseeing the process and increasing the profits each year. We truly need to commend their years of dedication and fundraising on behalf of their parishes and schools. But what if there were another way, a way that God calls us to?

Increasingly, Catholic parishes around the country are taking less of a “retail” approach to funding the important mission and ministries of our church. They believe that the gifts and talents of their members should be harnessed for spreading the “good news” and making disciples and not so much in duplicating the marketplace or encouraging consumerism. These parishes, in fact, do not sell anything before or after Mass in their gathering areas or promote fundraising events in their bulletins or newsletters. I know it is hard to imagine.

So what do they do? Catholic parishes such as Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., asked their parishioners to prayerfully reflect on the blessings God has placed in their care and do four things.

In their book, “Rebuilt,” Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran suggest the following: become planned givers (designating money in your household budget to give), become priority givers (give to God before other expenses), be percentage givers (not a dollar amount) and be progressive givers (increase your percentage regularly.)

For most of us, this seems such a leap of faith. We were not raised with a scriptural attitude toward money or giving. Our Evangelical brothers and sisters seem to do better in this area and are reaping some of the benefits in their churches today.

As I have embarked on my journey to become better Christian steward of my treasure, the phrases — everything belongs to God; give your first fruits; don’t rob God of his portion (tithe); trust in God — have been placed on my heart. Of course this message wrestles with my human nature to hold back and only give if I am receiving the services I need or something in return for my offering. Unlike the poor widow who gave everything she had, I tend to want to be in control of my giving and make sure I get an expected return on my investment.

So how have successful parishes helped members like you and me wean ourselves out of our consumer-driven mentality? Most start slowly, eliminating an event and educating the community at what it might look like if the members of the parish were to share in giving that amount through their weekly offerings. I know the hearts of pastors, business administrators and finance councils are probably beating faster just thinking of it. We are used to including fundraisers in our revenues to help balance the bottom line. We also know the incredible amount of volunteers it takes to do the work.

It is interesting to me to have encountered parishes in the diocese that have begun to eliminate some fundraisers and the groups did not know what their role or mission was. They had always done bake sales, etc. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our gifts and talents could be put into making and becoming disciples of Jesus and being his light in the world? Wouldn’t it be great if our parishes could be known for having the best Sunday experiences and most outreach to the community instead of the best fish fry?

There are Catholic stewardship parishes in the country that have been doing this for 50 years and have accomplished incredible things and have bright futures but they did not do it overnight. It started with households like yours and mine sitting down in prayer and asking God to change our hearts and the way we view the financial blessings placed in our care. We can do this.

Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.