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Café Pride: How Do We Raise Funds?

How a ministry raises money, how it thanks its donors and how it uses that money says a lot about the organization’s values and beliefs. After over nine years observing and participating in many of the ministries and social service organizations at work in Chicago, I have become convinced that often money is collected and given in ways that do more harm than good.

Fundraising that Respects the Spiritual Needs of Donors

All too often money is raised in ways that do damage to the persons who are donating. Most of us have had some experience with "guilt-tripping" by groups soliciting funds. These groups attempt to make potential donors feel guilty for having money and to make a donation in an attempt to assuage that guilt. This is a crude method of obtaining funds that is shameful for religious institutions to use.

Our institutions exist in large part to pass on divinely revealed teachings to help persons make peace with God not to prey on those who have not fully integrated their tradition’s teachings regarding atonement.

It is shameful to teach that God will love you better if you give more money or that it is possible to buy access to God (Acts 8:9-24). As ministers, the job of the staff of Pride Ministries and Café Pride is to teach that God’s love is already offered full force to all of us. If any individual—whether a youth or a donor—feels guilt, it is our job to facilitate the repentance and/or acceptance that will enable that individual to experience peace.

In a like manner, we must reject any fundraising appeals that suggest that God will love anyone more because of some donation. Our style of fundraising must teach donation as a response to God’s love not an obligation based on fear, punishment, or craving for divine attention or increased love.

Thanking Donors in Ways that Respect Gifts of All Sizes

We are tempted, especially when we need large sums of money for God’s work, to get more excited about big checks and think them more worthy of honor than little ones. This is allowing the values of the world to distort our ministry.

Follow me on this if you will. If the gifts are actually given to God and those of us at Pride Ministries are depending on God and not on "deep-pocket donors," then the five-dollar donation is no less from God than the five thousand dollar one. If we honor them differently, we are inserting partiality into our own relationship with God. For we will always be able to know someone whose contribution is bigger than our own.

Distinctions make for unhealthy relationships around our common table and before God. We must thank donors for every gift to this ministry even for the widow’s mite (Luke 21:1-4).

There are numerous Scripture passages that discuss the dangers of human distinctions before God but let me paraphrase just one. Even if we exercise great spiritual gifts, give all the money we have, and give our bodies to be burned, if we do not have love, our lives are just meaningless noise (I Corinthians 13:1-3). This passage does not say that large donations are bad, but that the quality of the love behind the gift is more important than the size.

Ministry that Respects the Spiritual Needs of the Recipient

In my experience, the way ministry is done, the way services are provided, or the way the recipients of a gift are treated often reveals the distortions that work their way through a ministry as a result of bad fundraising philosophy. If there is a distinction at "the table" that honors large gifts from wealthy donors more than the sacrificial giving of those of more modest means, then the organization will be teaching its staff to hold in lower respect those who have less—less money, less title, less education, or less community "respectability."

There will always be a tendency for ministries that make distinctions between rich and poor to begin to make a distinction between the outcast and those who have power—to move from doing ministry with the poor to doing ministry to the poor. Ministries that begin to court and flatter the powerful may still do the same activities when examined on a superficial level, but eventually the parishioners will recognize condescension and patronizing. Café Pride as a ministry to sexual minority youth must be particularly careful to never let go of a commitment to honor and stand with those with less power. These young people have little political power, social connection, or even public acceptance. They have enough of people doing things to them or for them.

Additionally, if we give these young women and men the feeling that they should be beholden to those with power, we make it harder for them to feel the self confidence, independence, integration into the community and harmony with God that is at the root of Café Pride’s being.

The Story of St. Nicholas: Double Blind Giving

Santa Claus is often treated like the patron saint of conspicuous consumption in our culture. The story of the jolly, old elf with the red coat and eight reindeer has little to do with the pugilistic1 bishop of the little town of Myra in what is now Turkey. St. Nicholas was sainted in part because of the example he left the church of what we now call double blind giving.

As a young boy from a wealthy family he witnessed a slave auction and was so horrified by what he understood to be happening that he spent all the money he could to buy slaves with the idea of giving them their freedom. He quickly realized that freedom was more complicated than he thought.

Freed slaves who thought of themselves as forever beholden to their new "owner" were still slaves even when given freedom of movement. When they remained mentally obligated to Nicholas they were still held in a kind of slavery. He began to provide money anonymously to buy slaves their freedom so that the thanks could go to God and not to him (Tossing bags of coins down a chimney or through an open window). To expand this freedom ministry, he solicited money from wealthier members of his congregation to buy more slaves. He found, however, that the congregation began to treat these donors differently from the rest of the congregation.

He saw division at the Lord’s table as a result of good work being done. He reorganized the ministry and made the recipients as anonymous as possible and kept the donors names secret. He wanted his entire congregation to recognize itself as united in what God was doing in their midst not divided by the knowledge of who was the donor and who was the "needy."

St. Nicholas was honored not just for his giving but for his recognition that giving if not well thought out is a danger to the community of faith and the unity of the table. Our goal at Café Pride is to integrate sexual minority youths into a larger community of gay and straight people of many beliefs who care about them—who see them not as clients for a new form of outreach but as our younger sisters and brothers.

Stu Smith


1 According to some accounts in the hagiography of Nicholas of Myra, debate at the council became so heated that at one point, Nicholas struck Arius across the face. The majority of the bishops ultimately agreed with Nicholas and produced a creed, known thereafter as the Nicene creed.
From the Wikepedia article on Arius, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arius, 12 June 2015.

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