The Vocation of Religious Fundraising

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With very rare exception, each and every time pastors are surveyed they indicate a strong reticence to finances. By and large, church leaders do not enjoy talking about money, preaching about money, or administering the finances of their congregations. Summarizing his study (aptly entitled The Reluctant Steward), Daniel Conway writes:

“[Church leaders] have been taught to regard these [administrative, financial, and business] activities as somehow unworthy of the ‘higher calling’ church leaders have received, and . . . most . . . would much prefer to let someone else handle any . . . financial dirty work that must be done in connection with [their] ministry” (p. 5).

Yet, when you talk to religious fundraisers a strikingly different perspective emerges. Recently, I co-authored a report on the vocation of religious fundraising with Drs. David King and Thom Jeavons. You can access the full report here. In this report, our research team conducted a series of in-depth qualitative interviews and a national survey of religious fundraisers associated with ALDE–a professional association for religious development executives. 

Our study found that religious fundraisers see their work “as an expression of a calling or vocation rooted in faith.” Almost 90% of those we interviewed made connections between fundraising and their faith commitments, even seeing their work as a form of pastoral ministry. Guiding donors through a process of spiritual discernment related to their resources, many faith-based fundraisers we interviewed told us captivating stories of working with donors to make investments in the Kingdom of God. At times, both donors and fundraiser would openly weep when gifts were made because of the impact that would be realized in the Kingdom of God.

Nevertheless, we found that for many faith-based fundraisers this sense of calling emerged over time and often after working in the field. If you are a Church Leader who feels uncomfortable with the topic of finances, remember that you are not alone. There are resources available that may help improve your knowledge and training. Check with your denominational or conference office or consider enrolling a training seminar such as those offered by Lake Institute on Faith and Giving.


Thad Austin is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, a PhD candidate at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and William and Edie Enright Fellow at The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving. Thad also serves as Editor of the Church Leader Collective for Seedbed. Thad served as Executive Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In his free time, Thad loves to travel (41 countries and all 50 states, thus far), hike (has hiked the 1,100 miles between Pennsylvania and Georgia), sail, and spend time with friends.