Nathan Ball "The Spirituality of Fundraising" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society and I want to welcome you to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the Nouwen Society is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences right around the world. Every week our desire is to bring you either a new interview with someone who’s been deeply influenced by the writings of Henri Nouwen or perhaps even a clip of Henri himself. Because we’re new to the world of podcasts taking time to give us a review or a thumbs up or even sharing this episode will mean a great deal to us and allow us to reach more people with programs that continually remind us of Henri’s inspiring writings and teachings.
Today. I have the pleasure of interviewing a dear friend of mine and former head of the Henri Nouwen Society, Nathan Ball. Nathan and Henri were great friends and worked together in the L’Arche Daybreak community north of Toronto for the last 10 years of Henri’s life. Nathan has had a long connection with the L’Arche movement providing leadership in Canada at L’Arche Daybreak and then as the founding Executive Director of the L’Arche International Foundation. Today, Nathan lives with his family in St. Louis and he’s involved in partnerships and development for L’Arche USA. Nathan has completed a new workbook edition of Henri Nouwen’s well-known book, A Spirituality of Fundraising.
On October 28th in partnership with the publisher Upper Room Books and the Lake Institute for Faith and Giving we’re offering a free webinar featuring Nathan Ball and exploring some of the most important things Henri Nouwen had to share with those tasked with the job of raising funds for their organizations. I thought it would be good to give you a taste of what is coming in that free webinar. So in today’s podcast, Nathan will give you insights into one of Henri Nouwen’s best known books.
I’m so glad to get a chance to talk with you, Nathan. Why did you agree to write the workbook edition for this Nouwen classic?
Nathan Ball: Well, frankly the publisher had the idea that a workbook might be a way of extending the impact of this little book that’s been so important for so many people. And they reached out and asked me if I would be interested in writing it. At first I wasn’t sure, because writing workbooks is not in my wheelhouse or at least it hasn’t been. But I quickly grew fond of the idea and took some time over several months to think about how it could be structured. So for those several months when I was working on the workbook I was able to think a lot about Henri’s impact on me and my awareness of the impact of his book, A Spirituality of Fundraising. And it was a very blessed experience for me. So I would say I did it because I was asked and I stuck with it because it was a really good personal experience.
Karen: Well, what is so interesting to me, I’m sure you didn’t see this coming when you and Henri first formed a friendship. I can’t imagine that you were thinking someday I’ll be a fundraiser, and this is where I’ll be. It’s intriguing to me how Henri has spoken into your life in this way. And somehow that’s evolved. I mean, you bring much to this book, you bring a wealth of experience which really enhances it. But also at the same time I sense that somehow it is grounded in that relationship with Henri in the first place.
Can you just maybe explain a little bit? I remember reading this wonderful quote in here about the central theme of Henri’s writing is that our human and spiritual journey must be one of letting go of the illusion that our identity can be found in what we do, how much money we have and give away, or what others think of us. Living a spiritual life, says Henri, is fundamentally about claiming and reclaiming the truth of our eternal belovedness and allowing the inner voice of love to be the compass that directs our thoughts and words and actions. How does that sense of our belovedness marry with this book?
Nathan: Karen, that’s so quintessential Henri, isn’t it? Someone once said Henri wrote 40 books, which was 40 different ways of making simple a deeply spiritual and human point in reality, which is that we are on a journey where we’re so often grasping for the answers to who we are, to our sense of purpose and meaning outside of ourself and outside of what Henri calls, the inner sacred place, our heart, our soul in which the precious name that we’ve been called has been nurtured and deepened. And so much of what Henri says is giving us the practices, the reminders, the vision, for how to trust that we were born in love, and that we’re called to love, that we’re capable of loving. We’re capable of forgiving, and that all of those things apply to what we often consider a very non-spiritual work, which is the work of fundraising, of raising money for the things that matter.
And certainly my experience of Henri was that he walked the talk. He was an incredibly passionate and very relational man who sort of fumbled in terms of cooking and driving the car and figuring out some of the practical aspects of day to day life, but he certainly knew about our heart; the universal experience of our heart, the longing of our heart to love, and to be loved. He inspired us and called us to return to that place of honoring ourselves and honoring our need for relationship.
Karen: It’s interesting because one of the things that I’ve discovered over the last five years as the Executive Director of the Nouwen Society – I know people for example know some of Henri’s favorites like The Return of the Prodigal Son and Life of the Beloved and Compassion and many wonderful books. But interestingly enough, the one where I find more people have discovered Henri is actually in that little tiny book, A Spirituality of Fundraising. And it’s an amazing gift that is given with that book, because in a way Henri just helps you get rid of the fear that you have and invites you into this business that God’s giving you a vision and you can share it, and you can invite people into that vision. And I think that’s one of the gifts with Henri again, going back to this ability to sort of somehow flip it and suddenly you’re seeing it from a different angle and you’re also feeling empowered in it, which I love.
I think what I find exciting about what you’re doing Nathan is, I’m sure that you’re bringing so much more to it because you’ve been doing this for the last 20 years. I mean really, you’ve had to roll up your sleeves and raise funds and learn what that meant. And I’m sure Henri has been a rich resource to you, but you’re bringing more to the table. This workbook edition is such a special book, and I really would encourage people to get it. So now, as you go into this, I’d like to know who do you think you want to speak to? Who is this book for? Help me with that.
Nathan: Interesting. One thing I would say is as I got into the workbook I know that if I had to do it over again I might broaden the workbook because it was so evident to me that the book and that Henri’s message is as much about giving as it is about asking. So is it fundraising and spirituality, or the spirituality of fundraising puts the emphasis on the asking. But in fact, it’s about the heart and spirit of the giver and the heart and spirit of the asker. And ultimately we are all called to be both givers and askers. Now, many of us won’t be professional fundraisers. Many of us won’t be on the development or campaign committee of our congregation or our not-for-profit, but many, many, many people are in situations where they are being asked for money, small amounts of money or larger, and having to process that and discern what their response will be.
And many people are involved in, if you just think of people in not-for-profit, you know, there’s several million not-for-profit organizations in North America and more around the world and boards and parishes and congregations and schools, and they all need money. In order to take an idea or to take a vision and put legs on it we need financial fuel. And that’s what money is. It’s an energy source. It’s a carrier of the deep values that we have, hopefully the values of justice and peace and community and care. So when we’re out doing that work we need to have money. So I know that there’s many, many people who feel responsible, they want to contribute. And very quickly, when it comes to asking or trying to have a vision of how they could be constructively part of the asking process, we kind of meet this place of resistance or this place of, ‘Oh, this is hard. I don’t want to do it.’ This is an unfriendly area to have to work in. It’s a burden, it’s an unwanted task. It’s a necessary evil. And what Henri does is he shines a light on this, which moves from that place of burden or even curse.
I once heard a person call fundraising a curse, and Henri unpacks this whole notion that actually fundraising is a blessing. Fundraising is a way of proclaiming what you most deeply believe in and inviting others to participate. It’s not a burden. It’s a gift. And when people think often of spirituality, they think of purity and holiness and goodness and ease, you know, spirit. When they think of fundraising they think of confusion, emotionally complicated, maybe dishonest manipulative. There’s all this: one is of God and the other is kind of from the dark side of the world. And Henri, even the title of A Spirituality of Fundraising brings those words together and it sort of jolts people. But as soon as you focus on it, of course Henri’s answer is that spirituality,that fundraising, as any other aspect of our life, is deeply spiritual. It’s deeply human. It’s human, spiritual; we need money. We need food. We need prayer. We need relationship. And fundraising is one way of expressing your faith and in fact, a way that will bring life and vitality to all of us.
I know there’s been tens of thousands of copies of that book sold and that particularly churches and not-for-profit organizations, institutions have purchased them by the dozens.
Karen: If you’ve never read it just inspires you. It empowers you, that’s what it does. But I think it’s so exciting because we are actually going to offer a free webinar for folks who are in this area or in this arena, or are interested, on October 28th. The Lake Institute for Faith and Giving, the Henri Nouwen Society, and Upper Room are coming together and we’re featuring you. It’s a conversation between you and Melissa Spas. And I think it’s going to be really valuable. I think it’s going to address some of the questions. It should be a time of real encouragement. It’s free, it’s October 28th at four o’clock. Tell me some of the questions that you think people will bring to the table for that.
Nathan: Well, I think if people have not read Henri’s book or read the additional commentary that’s part of the workbook, I think they will be surprised and delighted to be part of, or to witness a conversation that really frames fundraising in a very exciting, forward-thinking manner. Just as we were talking about from something that is a burden to something that has an enormous amount of potential to facilitate transformation, not just for the cause for the people that we’re serving, but for the giver and for the asker. People that have read the book – this would be a really common experience – where people read the book and say, wow, that’s it, I can do this! They’re kind of hair on fire, ready to go.
And then about six weeks or two months or three months later they kind of come back head in hand and say, boy this isn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be. And how do I actually put legs on this vision? That was so inspiring to me that Henri really gave me something that I know is valuable, but out there, when I got back to my committee, when I went out to talk with somebody, when I, we started the work, I quickly lost the vision because I couldn’t bridge the practical work that was needed with the vision that was there.
So I do think Melissa and I will talk about some of those issues. Not simply what fundraising is, but you know, what money is and why is money so complicated, so emotionally complicated for all of us, not just for some of us, but for all of us. How do we articulate the project, the need or the vision that we have and why is vision so important? How do we change our language so that the way in which we do our fundraising reflects the sacredness of the relationships that we have with one another?
I have a fundraising friend who says fundraising for a lot of people – they seem to think about fundraising as fracking. Like we can extract money out of people if we do it in the right way. And she said no, it’s about building friendships. It’s about building partnerships. Henri is so radical in his focus on being in relationship and building lasting relationships that he even says this, Karen, he says, unless asking for money is good for you as the asker, it’s good for your spiritual life and your wellbeing and it is good for the person you’re asking, you shouldn’t ask. That’s a really, really strong statement that many people would raise their eyebrows at. But I love it. He’s asking us to really, to never – fundraising is about money. As I said, we need financial fuel. We need to have money. It’s part of the daily bread that we need. But what happens is so often money becomes the focus and not the reason why we need the money, which is to change lives, to save lives, to build community, to bring racial justice into the world. And it’s not about – the goal isn’t to raise $10,000 or $10 million, the goal is to eradicate cancer, or the goal is to build communities of belonging for people with and without disabilities so they can live together and be a sign of hope and peace.
So that’s why vision is so important and language is important. So I think Melissa, and I will talk a little bit about that, the whole shift from thinking about fundraising as transactions to thinking about it as a way of building community or the task of building community. Knowing that money is so complicated and that we need money, how do we take money off the table when we begin talking to people enough so that we can focus on the relationship and then kind of put money back on the table. If there’s an alignment of values, then there’s a sense of connection between the person and the person’s heart that I’m talking to and the people that I’m representing. Then I always say to people, I have never once asked somebody for money who wasn’t ready to be asked. Why? Because I always ask them, can I have a conversation with you about supporting this project? Is it okay? It’s called permission to proceed. Can I have a conversation with you about how you might partner with us?
And so I think there’s some very practical ways in which we can live out the vision that Henri has given to us, which of course, Henri didn’t enumerate in his own text. And I hope that Melissa and I will take some time to talk about that. In addition to just this core issue of what are the practices that we need to embrace and live if we want to live out the vision that Henri has articulated over an extended period of time.
Karen: I hear in you the lovely imprint and echo of Henri. Clearly you are a person who received and you give it out with great depth and I thank you, Nathan. Thank you so much. It’s lovely to chat with you. And I just want to encourage people. It would be great if you join us on October 28th. But if you don’t get a chance to do that, I highly recommend you take a look at the workbook edition of A Spirituality of Fundraising. You will be enriched. Thanks for joining us today. I always love having the chance to sit down and talk with Nathan Ball.
You’ll find links in the show notes for our website and any content resources or books discussed today. You’ll also find a link to the free webinar scheduled for October 28th, at 4:00 PM Eastern standard time. If you did enjoy this podcast, again we’d so grateful if you take time to give it a stellar review or a thumbs up or share it with your friends and family. I bet there are people you know who face the challenge of raising funds. So they may find this helpful. Thank you again for listening until next time.
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