(The following is part five of the Almoner’s blog, a series of fictional letters about fundraising from a parishioner to his parish priest.)
Dear Fr. Jacob,
We had a great vacation, thanks for asking. Strangely enough, I had a conversation during the wedding reception that applies directly to your question about how to talk about money with your parishioners.
One of my wife’s college friends works as a business manager for one of the parishes in the diocese in Virginia. The diocesan annual stewardship campaign and offertory are part of his responsibility. He made a comment about Saint Matthew that captured my attention. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and three key lessons jumped out at me.
LESSON #1 – Giving to Jesus is not the same as paying dues to a tax collector, therefore avoid this mandatory kind of language
The friend spoke to me not about “the Gospel according to St. Matthew” but rather Matthew’s personal journey. He reminded me that Matthew was a tax collector. He was the guy that everybody hated because he took their money and gave it to the Romans. However, everything changed when Jesus entered his life. The tax collector became the Evangelist.
Jesus tells his disciples (and Matthew), “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19:29
Matthew quite literally got up and left behind a table full of money. Why and how?
Under the old covenant, it was the duty to give a tenth of your income to support the temple, priests, and Levites. The tithe was a religious tax, but Jesus comes and changes things. He does not come to abolish the law, including the tithe, but rather he comes to fulfill it in the new covenant.
God doesn’t need our gifts. Rather, Jesus teaches us that we need to give because we need God. The fullness that Jesus proposes is, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven.” Matthew 19:21
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I think there is a nugget of gold in those words which Matthew wrote.
When you approach the stewardship campaign as an evangelist rather than a tax collector, you point your parishioners to a greater reliance on the God who saves. You teach them that their hunger is not satisfied by their many possessions but only by a fully active life with God.
Read this blog, 100 Effective Phrases to Use when Fundraising, to learn what words to use when fundraising.
LESSON #2 – Evangelize the INFINITE benefits of giving rather than your needs
In his previous job as tax collector, Matthew would say to a person, ‘You owe [this much].’ For this reason, people dread tax collectors, hiding when they see one coming. They even pay small fortunes to protect their money so tax collectors cannot find it.
Matthew’s message as the evangelist, however, is the opposite. Because of Jesus, he sees that the One True God is everything, and money can become a false God: “no one can serve two masters”. (Matthew 6:24) Matthew goes on to expand his newfound focus of life in three other stories: the Parable of the Young Rich Man (Matthew 19:16-30), the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the Conditions of Discipleship (Matthew 16:24-28).
Do you recognize the total transformation that Matthew teaches us? Matthew talks about giving money not simply as a tithe. Rather, he describes it as a complete change of a person’s perspective on life.
He left everything for an even bigger return on investment because he saw the fulfillment Our Lord offered him.
I encourage you to fast forward from St. Matthew’s Gospel to the Book of Acts. When the apostles spoke about giving, Christians responded with the same generosity St. Matthew did. (Acts 4:33-35) Whoever owned land sold it and gave it to the disciples.
How much could you do if you had this kind of response?
If you think of yourself as a tax collector, approaching fundraising like a religious tax which focuses on your needs, parishioners won’t listen. Also, you will share in their dread of this part of your work.
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Instead, I recommend taking the approach St. Matthew took by speaking as an evangelist by focusing on the infinite benefits of giving to God. Catholics respond differently to evangelists than they do to tax collectors, and this lesson is something to reflect on when speaking about money to parishioners.
Read this blog, Showing Your Value Increases Donations, to learn 7 ways to better communicate.
LESSON # 3 – When you give to God, he always gives 100 fold back, therefore set the example and others will follow
Matthew tells us how Jesus asks we prioritize life’s necessities, “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:25-31)
Matthew saw this as the best investment plan and jumped at the opportunity.
I am amazed at how many of our new priests here in Georgia come from Africa. How can they send so many priests to us? This puzzled me until I spoke to one directly. He said that in Africa, many people are forced by circumstance to trust entirely in God. And guess what? Jesus answers their prayers, over and over again. As a result, they discover that he is trustworthy.
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In our materialistic and consumer age, we can find living like they do challenging because of our material wealth and self-reliance. As a result, our hopes are founded in our retirement plan, not on the Rock of our Salvation. The consequences are empty churches and seminaries.
This is not the Prosperity Gospel.
Matthew shows us a different way. When we trust God and commit our lives to him, God gives us 100 times more in return. If we trust God, he gives us the riches of his eternal kingdom: peace, joy, contentment, fulfillment, love. Matthew lived this teaching.And, fast forward to today, we see very clearly that Matthew received more than 100 times in return.
And, fast forward to today, we see very clearly that Matthew received more than 100 times in return.
Therefore, we are not supposed to give because we owe it to God (although that isn’t a bad reason). Rather, we should seek God with 100% of our lives, and in exchange, He will give us EVERYTHING else that we need. I recommend that you follow Matthew’s example by living out this full commitment in God and sharing the generosity you receive with those around you.
This is really good news.
Read this blog, Catholic Leadership in Fundraising, to learn how to set an example to your colleagues and donors.
Conclusion – Living what we believe
Like Matthew, do you believe this to be true, Fr Jacob?
If you don’t believe that God is more generous than we are, then no one will believe you when you preach it as a part of our stewardship campaign. If you don’t believe that God will give back, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over”(Luke 6:28), then parishioners won’t listen. They will see you as a tax collector and groan when you mention giving.
If you’re like me, you’re probably saying, “I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) And when we do pray, God will increase our faith in His limitless generosity.
It’s a daily struggle, but thanks to the fullness of faith which we are blessed to have within the Catholic Church, we can carry forward as Matthew did in living out and proclaiming this radical way of giving.
Nathan, the Almoner
Nathan Krupa writes about fundraising at https://thealmoner.com. He lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife Mary and two sons. He has raised money by writing grants for Golden Harvest Food Bank (www.goldenharvest.org) for five years, and is a member of the Parish Council at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. He is also a member of the Alleluia Community, an ecumenical covenant community.
He writes a collection of letters called ‘The Almoner’s Blog.’ In the old days, the almoner was the office in the church that asked for money to support charitable work with the poor.