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Advice From Les Misérables On Charitable Giving

Posted by Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, OSF on 12/21/18 2:15 PM
Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, OSF

 

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As many of you may be aware, last week the National Catholic Development Conference announced that I will be completing my final year as President and CEO of our organization in December 2019.

Over the last week I have reflected a bit on the announcement, and its implications as NCDC concludes its 50th anniversary. 2019 will begin a new time for NCDC in many ways, or so I hope. I would like to share with you some of my hopes and dreams, as I begin my last year as President and CEO.

“One more year…one year more.” This reminds me of one of my favorite songs from the musical Les Misérables, “One Day More.” In the song all the characters sing about what “one day more” means to them. As the song moves to its finale, they all sing their own lyrics in a tapestry of harmony that concludes with them singing in unison - “Tomorrow we'll discover what our God in Heaven has in store. One more dawn. One more day. One day more!”

So what does the cast of Les Misérables have to do with NCDC entering it 51st year? What do the lyrics of this song say to us as we bid farewell to 2018? What are our hopes and dreams about advancing the mission of our organizations, agencies, and institutions? What is on the horizon for us in our offices, as a national association, and as part of the larger charitable fundraising sector?

Seeing the Face of God In Those We Serve

Jean Valjean, the main character, talks about another day as another destiny. Although literally he means another location, the lyrics are filled with deeper meaning and allegory. For Valjean that destiny is eternal life. He is a man who has experienced incredible conversion through the kindness of a stranger, someone he had just robbed. Valjean believes because someone has recognized his dignity and self-worth. Someone has given him a second chance. Someone saw more than the calloused heart of a criminal. Someone saw in him, the Face of God.

Is this not at the heart of our calling, our ministry? To help others recognize the Face of God in those who are poor, homeless, sick, abused, incarcerated, beaten down, crippled and broken, aged and afraid?

The partnerships we build with our donors are truly transformational. We must never be afraid to tell our stories, not just for one more day or one more time, but until no one is abandoned, excluded, or cast aside as less important than another.

NCDC’s Mission to Serve

As an association NCDC must challenge itself to continue to provide educational and informational resources, so that our members can continue to be the voices of the voiceless in our world. Our association needs to continue to be a learning community of shared experiences that is open to the new and innovative, both within our own sector and beyond it as well.

There are new ideas and new strategies yearning to be skillfully used to advance our missions. There is no room for “same old-same old” in mission-driven organizations. Our missions are bigger than the sum of all our programs and resources. No one is too small to grow. No one is too large to learn from others.

Finding Success Through Community

Annually we ask our members during the late fall to renew membership in NCDC. So, the question that Marius a student at the barricade, poses - “do I stay and do I dare,” becomes a critical one at this time of the year. Perhaps, the critical question is not simply “do we stay members?” Perhaps, the question is “do we dare as a member and as an organization to make a difference in the Catholic philanthropic community?”

It is said that the success of a exercise and diet program, often depends on whether an individual attempts these things alone or with others. The most sophisticated exercise equipment is a total gym experience in one machine, offering interactive coaching and dialogue with trainers while you exercise. The person exercising isn’t alone. There is a virtual and real support team working out with him or her.

Eponine sings about being alone. Being a community of support has always been at the heart of NCDC’s mission. In the future, we encourage our members to engage more in forums, affinity groups, mentoring programs, digital and telephone conversations so that no member feels they are trying to do this incredible work alone.

While NCDC can offer networking opportunities, our members need to tell us what they want.  NCDC will be assessing our members needs in this coming year. We will be offering programs for our members to help them deal with the critical issues and concerns we are all facing. Stay tuned and pay attention to our postings.  Don’t go at it alone! Dare to do one thing a month to stay engaged with your community of support.

The Challenge to be True

Marius and Cossette, the daughter of Valjean, promise “to be true,” to each other and their ideals.

“Be true” in the dynamic of the story, is about loyalty and integrity. When budgets get tight and we find it difficult to recognize “bounty,” we are challenged to remain “true” to our mission. Well-meant decisions are made based strictly on revenue. Donors are labeled by how much they give rather than by how they empower mission. We look at this year’s income compared to last year in terms of how much more or how much less was raised, instead of being amazed at the generosity of others and all the good we will be able to do with what we have received.

“Be true” is also a challenge to all of us to hold ourselves accountable. NCDC will be revising its White Paper on Accountability for Mission so that it contains both the latest financial standards as well as resources and examples of how to prepare internal and external reports. We ask our members to have an external report prepared annually that is available to be shared with donors. While many of our members do this, we hope to grow our organizational integrity by having 100 percent participation in producing these documents. Donors have a right to know how we have used the funds they have given us.

Knowing A Donor’s Needs

When Javert, the police officer who has chased Valjean his entire life, sings about studying the revolutionaries so that he can defeat them, there is a good deal of wisdom in his words. He sings, “we will join them, follow them, learn from them and know what they know.” One could applaud Javert’s cunningness in wanting to “know thy enemy,” and his character offers us some food for thought.

Joining, following, learning, and knowing is at the core of building relationships. In our fundraising ministry everything we do should be about getting to know and understand the wishes and desires, hopes and dreams of our donors. In this next year how can we seek ways to create engagement experiences that are meaningful and relevant to both our current and future donors?

Be assured these experiences will look very differently from each other and one size will not fit all. NCDC will be offering opportunities to grow both as an association and in our personal ministries in terms of experiential ways of engagement, based on wisdom and insights from a variety of disciplines. If it is really about the donor, then let’s learn more about our donors. Let’s listen to what they have to say. Let’s give them options that are transformative for them, for our mission, and those whom we serve.

Our Calling In Year 51 and Beyond

People of all ages are looking to be called to something more meaningful. Most people of good will want to make a difference. Our job is to give meaningfulness a place of engagement. Our calling is to help others see the Face of God in all the unrecognized faces in our world. And, oh my, what a difference that will make.

The Lord hears the cry of those who are poor. Our ministry is to ask the world, “Can you hear the cry of the poor?” If we our faithful to our calling in time, one day at a time, the world will begin to “hear the people sing!”

For me at NCDC, it is one year more. On his deathbed, the founder of my religious order, Francis of Assisi, told the brothers not to weep or worry. “I have done what was mine to do, may Christ now teach you what you are to do.”

First, I don’t mean to in any way exaggerate the significance of my leave-taking of NCDC as a cause to weep or worry. Secondly, I am not dying, but I do believe I have done just about everything that was mine to do as NCDC President and CEO. However, I do invite all of you to consider what is yours to do and what is ours to do as membership community, moving into our 51st year.

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About The Fundraiser's Outlook

The Fundraiser's Outlook is a blog written by Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, President of the National Catholic Development Conference.  Her blog always emphasizes the ministry of fundraising and the importance of your work for your organization’s mission. Applying her decades of experience in the nonprofit sector, she often reflects on current events, pop culture, and travel and how our world impacts Catholic nonprofits.

About Sr. Georgette Lehmuth

Sr. Georgette Lehmuth, OSF has been President/CEO of NCDC since 2001.

She is a noted speaker on the ministry of fundraising and has spoken at the conferences of: the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), the National Association for Treasurers of Religious Institutes (NATRI), the Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the Independent Sector. She has also presented at the Ascension HealthCare Council on Philanthropy, Catholic Charities USA Ministry Conference and at the Caritas gathering of charitable fundraisers in Lima, Peru, which represented 24 countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean.

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