“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” — Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life.
Henri Nouwen, who died 22 years ago this month, continues to be an influential “warm and tender hand” in the lives of many around the world familiar with his writings. I count myself among them having been a student at Yale Divinity School when he served on the faculty.
Little did I realize that what he was teaching me by example would become preparation for helping me to become a professional fundraiser and a consultant to others.
Through his very presence with his students, he taught us to be good listeners. He cared deeply about what you thought and about what your questions or concerns were.
Outside of the classroom, Henri often could be found sitting with students under a tree enjoying the outdoors and listening to their stories, their questions, and their aspirations. For those of us who have received mentoring in the professional fundraising area, we understand the importance of listening closely to the prospective donor – even before we state our case or need for support.
Through his listening and gentle style of raising questions, he helped you to learn more about your values or what you care about in life. He encouraged you to explore what your passions are and how you might engage in building upon those values and passions.
Similarly, in fundraising, after we’ve listened to our donors, we must seek to connect the donor’s values to our values and then to the values of the organization and its mission.
Through this all, I recognize, that Henri was teaching us not only about the importance of strengthening relationships, but more importantly about recognizing the impact that relationships have in influencing and even changing lives.
In a real sense, we learn to listen, connect with shared values, and then look for common ways to impact lives. Isn’t that what good, solid fundraising professionals should be about?
In the years since his death, some of Henri’s lectures in which he referenced fundraising were compiled into a compendium, The Spirituality of Fundraising.
“Fundraising is also always a call conversion. And this comes to both those who seek funds and those who have funds. Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration.” —The Spirituality of Fundraising
Not to get too theological or “deep” about this, but when working with volunteers in congregations or faith-based groups, I often talk about “philanthropy” from the etymological starting point by saying that the word really means (literally) “love of/or deep caring for humankind.” This has little to do with wealth but is more about how individuals use their resources to make a positive impact on the world around them. It’s bigger than anyone of us.
Or as Nouwen said, “When we give ourselves to planting and nurturing love here on earth, our efforts will reach beyond our own chronological existence.”