catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 14 :: 2013.07.05 — 2013.07.18


The wildflower way

Gratitude flows from the recognition that who we are and what we have are gifts to be received and shared.  Gratitude releases us from the bonds of obligation and prepares us to offer ourselves freely and fully for the work of the Kingdom.  When we approach fund-raising with a spirit of gratitude, we do so knowing that God has already given us what we most need for life in abundance.

Henri Nouwen, The Spirituality of Fund-raising

As a kid, I hated going door-to-door hawking whatever I had been tasked to sell to raise money for some activity or cause: chocolate bars for my school, raffle tickets for my softball team.  Even though I was offering my neighbors something in exchange for their contribution, I much preferred to eat the chocolate bars myself and pay for them out of my babysitting money (and perhaps the organizers counted on that, even if they didn’t push it in the opening pep rally).  And yet, I also have fond memories of picking wildflowers at my grandparents’ cottage, wrapping their delicate stems in wet paper towel and foil and going door-to-door selling bouquets for a quarter.  One cynical old farmer chastised us for selling “weeds,” but I’ll never forget the look of delight on the face of one young woman when she opened the door and gladly paid for our foraged goods.  A few years later, that cottage burned down and I never saw her again.  The lot is still just an open space of turf grass, nary a wildflower to be seen.

So what was the difference between selling raffle tickets and flowers?  Those familiar with my firstborn independence will quickly tell you that one of the significant differences was my sense of agency.  As opposed to being handed four cases of candy bars, I chose to organize my friends and sisters, source supplies, plot the strategy through the neighborhood (“don’t go to that house — he’ll just say you’re selling weeds”).  Some might guess the money motivated me — getting to keep the coin in my pocket instead of having to turn it over to the man — but I don’t supposed the $2.00 we ended up splitting three or four ways was a sufficient profit motive.  So it was more the sense of agency than the result that motivated me as a kid, but when I consider what I’m learning about myself as a fundraiser now, I also realize how I’m motivated by the spirit of the process.

Since December, our community here in Three Rivers has been conducting a capital campaign to raise $100,000.  Motivated (scared?) by a balloon payment on our mortgage, we who prefer to think in terms of simplicity and bartering and foraging and sharing have committed together to raise not just hundreds of dollars, but tens-of-thousands of dollars — and that’s just the beginning of what we’ll need to fully renovate our building. Though I’m sure we could benefit from looking to tried-and-true models, it’s felt better to dream and organize and work side-by-side as a group of inexperts, assessing our gifts and resources and then figuring out how to raise money in ways that feel good to us. We haven’t always succeeded perfectly, but I think we’ve done pretty well at working together to do this thing in a wildflower sort of way.

Several people have predicted that in this economic climate, in a small town we’ll probably fail.  In one sense, they were right.  We didn’t meet our first goal of raising $100,000 by June 15.  However we did meet our adapted goal of $50,000, raising $1,000 a day as we neared the deadline and surpassing our goal.  I am proud of volunteers and donors for making the numbers, and the numbers certainly give us a concrete form of measurement and make us giddy as we watch them go up, but they remain cold, hard facts.  What has been more gratifying is seeing friends who didn’t know each other before sharing a delicious meal around a beautiful table at one of our whimsical fundraising dinners.  Members of the community have shared skills in printmaking to create our thank-you gifts for donors.  Others have made glasses, mugs, jewelry, hats and other arts and crafts to sell for the cause.  And we’ve continued to feel a sense of awe and gratitude each time someone shares what they have to give, be it money or a story or an idea.  Bit by bit, the dollars have come in, but other kinds of capital have been amassing as well: wonder, creativity, friendship, imagination.

I still have a lot to learn and we still have a ton of money to raise, but the lessons that have emerged so far are invaluable, extending far beyond the specifics of a campaign goal.  A wise friend suggested several years ago to trust that God is already providing exactly what we need, and this process has continued to validate a posture of gratitude and contentment, even while we push forward in our longing.  Gratitude seems to lend integrity to longing, making fundraising about us, not about me.  Asking for money has helped me remember how kind and generous people can be, which in turn, makes me want to be more kind and generous, and anything that helps me love more seems worth doing. 

As for the cynics who say we’re selling weeds, I wouldn’t be surprised if the doorbell rings one day soon and they open up to find a free bouquet on the doorstep.  After all, the roadsides are exploding with yarrow and lilies right now, begging us to consider and share what’s been freely given, and when we are grateful together, we are rich together.

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