On January 20, 2017, the United States experienced a transition in leadership as Barack Obama completed his second term as President of the United States and Donald Trump took the oath of office as our forty-fifth president. The transition process began when the two men met at the White House on November 10, 2016, and even though the actual transfer of leadership has happened, the transition will continue for some time.
The reality is that transition takes lots of time, energy, and patience, and ironically, it is often steeped in tradition. The Presidential Inauguration was a perfect example of an entire day carefully orchestrated but almost entirely prescribed by tradition. This is because change doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Transition is informed by the past, happens in the context of the present, and impacts the future. Transition challenges us to recognize that a decision has been made, a direction has been set, and the “point of no return” has been reached. Thus, a new context and framework has been created.
While understanding the importance of tradition, fundraising should be about the “why.”
Framing transition in the context of tradition sometimes helps to normalize what can sometimes be a very difficult time. The challenge in times of transition is to recognize exactly what traditions have changed, what will remain the same, and what is at stake. Those of us in fundraising or mission advancement focusing on anticipated and realized outcomes can often help bridge the gap between what was, what is, and what might be.
Understanding the “why” of what we do is often more important than the who, what, where, and when of it all.
If we choose, for example, to discontinue doing something, what are the consequences? And we must understand that those consequences cannot be measured in dollars alone. Mission equity and donor relationships should remain our primary benchmarks.
Traditions can serve as bridges to build new donor relationships.
Perhaps one of the most significant examples of giving patterns being passed along happens in many of our places of worship on weekends, when a child is given the envelope or some money by a parent to drop into the traditional collection basket. Studies tell us that many of our own giving patterns are learned through the example of our parents.
My fondest memory of the traditional Sunday collection happened a couple years ago in my local parish. A young boy noticed that his Dad’s usual collection basket partner wasn’t in Church that particular Sunday morning. They were seated directly in front of me, and I could see the young man whisper in his father’s ear and gesture. I think he was asking his dad if he could help him out with the collection basket. The boy’s father smiled and the two of them left their pew and went to the back of the Church. Soon both of them were marching up the main aisle with baskets in hand. The little boy bowed in front of the altar, just like his Dad did and then began moving from pew to pew down his side of the Church. As the young man began extending the basket across the pews he noticed several people with their hands in their pockets and their heads down. They didn’t seem to notice the offering basket pass in front of them.
Recognizing this, the little boy very quietly began tapping these folks on the shoulder, looked them right in the eye with an irresistible “I know you just forgot” look on his face as he moved the basket in front of them one more time. Suddenly people who didn’t seem to care a moment before were fumbling about to find something to put into the collection basket. By the time he got to the third pew, everyone was scrambling in their coat pockets and purses.
After Mass, everyone was smiling and talking about the little boy and some stopped to thank him for good job he did with the collection. I am not sure who was prouder that Sunday morning standing outside Church, the father or the son. It was a special Sunday that I will always remember.
So how do we couple necessary transition with the importance of tradition?
While I realize the many benefits of parish giving programs that are electronic, I wonder how will asking and giving be witnessed in our parish churches when the last collection basket is put in the closet for good? But while it’s important that as fundraisers, we keep in touch with our traditions and ideals, it’s also imperative to adopt a mindset that allows us to inspire and educate our donors as a means of bringing awareness and gaining more support.
Sort of reminds me of an old Crosby, Stills and Nash song… Ah, traditions!