Is stewardship the same thing as fundraising?

No, stewardship and fundraising are NOT the same thing.

In many parishes, confusion reigns over the difference between stewardship and fundraising. "Fundraising" is usually thought of as a dirty word, so no one wants to use it. "Stewardship" is a word most people seem to use when they want (but don't really want) to talk about fundraising.

Unfortunately, many parishes run their stewardship drives like United Way campaigns. Materials provided have a more "spiritual" focus, but at the end of the presentation, they hand out the exact same little pledge cards with an opportunity to make a monthly gift.

We have to change the way we think about these two important concepts.  Neither stewardship nor fundraising deserves a bad reputation, because both are very necessary for a healthy Church. Every local parish and every diocese everywhere runs off of donations. Even St. Paul wrote fundraising letters (read 1 Corinthians again, he requests a special collection).

Let's talk about the nature of stewardship and fundraising so we can get to the bottom of how they should be working together in a parish setting.

What is stewardship?

The US Bishops released a pastoral letter a few years ago entitled, "Stewardship: A Disciple's response." The letter addresses the responsibility of every Christian to use their time, personal gifts, and financial resources in a way that is pleasing to God. The title of the letter is also very enlightening. Stewardship is the way that a disciple of Jesus Christ will use the gifts that God has given.

At the heart of the concept of stewardship is accountability. Jesus tells us that we will be held accountable for God's gifts. He not only wants us to protect and keep them safe (like the steward who buried his talent in the ground and got severely punished), but increase them through using them in a way that is faithful and prudent.

So how does one become a good steward? The good news is that there are great resources available to teach stewardship. The bible talks a lot about how we should use our money and other resources. Programs like Compass Catholic Ministries or Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University can help parishioners to understand that stewardship is a lot more than volunteering to clean the alter linens or signing up for monthly offertory.

Being a good steward means bringing order to the way you manage your time, talent, and treasure so you can invest it in a way that will bear fruit that will last. It is the path of contentment and peace with the resources that God has given to you. When practiced fully, it will lead a person to give more to the Church and to other ministries, but this should not be the focus of stewardship training in the Church. It is one of the fruits of living a stewardship lifestyle, but it is not the purpose.

The purpose of practicing stewardship is to face your Master one day and hear, "Good and faithful servant, well done."

What is fundraising?

Fundraising specifically refers activities that communicate a need for funding to potential donors in a way that inspires them to give. Fundraising can be accomplished many different ways, even in a parish setting. Some ways work better than others.

A priest should never feel ashamed to ask for money to support the ministry of the Church. Giving to the Church, a practice that has been known as tithing for more than 3,000 years, is a virtuous act. When a priest encourages tithing, he is teaching his parishioners to live virtuously and in a way pleasing to God.

In generous spirit pay homage to the LORD, be not sparing of freewill gifts.
With each contribution show a cheerful countenance, and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy.
Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously, according to your means.
For the LORD is one who always repays, and he will give back to you sevenfold.

Sirach 35:10-13

Since Vatican II, the discussions of tithing and the practice of tithing have fallen off the radar in most parishes. This is unfortunate because tithing is a cornerstone of stewardship and a source of blessing to the person who tithes and to the Church.

When fundraising in a parish setting, tithing is one of the strongest possible foundations. Where else can you get a promise of a sevenfold return from Almighty God?

But fundraising in a parish doesn't stop with discussions of tithing from the pulpit. Fundraising includes all of the activities that you have in place to encourage appropriate giving.

So your fundraising activities can include things like:

  • Mentioning your new online recurring monthly giving web portal during announcements.
  • Meeting personally with parishioners who have the ability to make bigger gifts.
  • Using a campaign model to focus on giving to the Church with preaching and commitment cards.
  • Fundraising events and meals.
  • Running a capital campaign to build new facilities.
  • Putting the fundraising thermometer in the narthex with your Bishop's Annual Appeal goal.

Striking the right balance between stewardship and fundraising.

If the majority of your parish year is focused on either stewardship or fundraising, your parish is going to become very disgruntled very quickly. To use a farming analogy, if you spend less time feeding your goat than milking your goat, you're going to kill your goat.

You should try to limit your fundraising activities so that your parishioners don't get overwhelmed by being asked for money. Unless you have a big building campaign, it's appropriate to have one major fundraising push that lasts 1-2 months for the Bishop's annual appeal and one major offertory campaign that lasts for 1 month per year. Remember to put some months between those two to give your parishioners time to rest. You can scatter some announcements or meals in the rest periods, but you really should try to give it a rest.

Since stewardship is not specifically focused on fundraising, you can discuss stewardship whenever it seems appropriate given the season and the readings of the day. Remember, stewardship should be understood and practiced by all of your parishioners. What that will look like will differ from case to case, but it is something essential to our call to be disciples of Jesus.

If you approach stewardship and fundraising appropriately, you should have ample resources to accomplish your mission. Then most of your parish's energy can be invested in making disciples and evangelism, the way that it should be.

Remember the mission that Christ gave to His Church. Why do we talk about stewardship and fundraising in the first place? So we can do this:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Jesus Christ - Matthew 28:19-20

Looking for more articles on annual fund drives? Try these:

Check out The Fundraiser's Playbook for a full list of fundraising articles.

Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on Amazon.com. Image is The Dishonest Steward by Eugene Bernand,Public Domain, no rights reserved.