Book Review: “Imagining Abundance: Fundraising, Philanthropy, and a Spiritual Call to Service”
Imagining Abundance: Fundraising, Philanthropy, and Spiritual Call to Service
by Kerry Alys Robinson
Liturgical Press, 2014 (108 pages), Available from Cokesbury.
Serving in leadership is difficult; the work is never finished, and sometimes it’s hard to see if you are making a difference. Imagining Abundance will lift your spirits and encourage you. Robinson shines light on the joy of our calling to serve Christ where ever he has placed us. Her wealth of knowledge and insights about fundraising ministry and Christian life inspire hope and renewed commitment.
Kerry Alys Robinson is the executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, the mission of which is to equip pastors and leaders for excellence in service to the Catholic Church in the United States. As a member of the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, she evaluates organizations to support through grants. She received a M.A.R. degree from Yale Divinity School. These experiences, and time spent in prayer, prepared her to serve in fundraising ministry. For ten years she was the development director for a successful $75 million campaign to renew Catholic ministries at Yale University that led to the creation of a student ministry center and endowment. She is the first woman known to have preached at a Sunday liturgy at the Vatican: on March 8, 2015, International Women’s Day, she preached at the Chiesa di Santa Maria Regina della Famiglia.
Imagining Abundance lifts up treasures of wisdom that apply to pastors and church stewardship leaders as well as those serving in development. Through Imagining Abundance, you will reflect on leadership strengths and spiritual qualities needed for generosity, philanthropy and development (15). Robinson addresses seven misperceptions or attitudes that are detrimental to this important work (17-24). She describes in practical terms what it means for an organization like the church to “commit to being worthy of generosity” (35). She also advises pastors who are ambivalent or anxious about talking with people about money to understand fundraising as ministry (71-73). People “want to contribute to something meaningful and life-giving and successful. Like us, they too search for meaning, have fears and hopes, desires and regrets, and beliefs that should be acknowledged and reverenced” (71).
Reading this book is like consulting with a capable, knowledgeable and enthusiastic colleague who is like a spiritual director. Robinson firmly believes that God has provided what we need for our preparation and ongoing work. A problem in church leadership is thinking that you must become someone different from who you are as a person of mature faith in order to talk about money. She invites us to imagine and trust that, by God’s grace “at the end of the story, you would be far more the person you were meant to be, yearned to be, and the mission of your organization would be radically expanded, elevated to a far wider audience and that you would have been instrumental in raising all the money needed” (28). This shifts the focus from oneself to God’s sovereign actions.
Robinson urges us to seek wisdom from others and “pay attention to [personal moral heroes and heroines] … in your own life” (49). Developing our prayer practices is a vital part of the “habits of inner life for outward service” (48-54). As she says, “Unwavering conviction that it can be done is essential to success in any endeavor but it is especially true for those aspirations deemed impossible” (56). That’s a good start. But she counsels us not to be dour or emphasize giving as a duty. Instead, we should approach fundraising joyfully. A conversation about giving is a precious time to seek God’s will, to discern with an individual how they may feel led by God to share their time, talent and treasure. This approach keeps the project in perspective, including mistakes, with a sense of humor and celebration. “Confidence and joyful passion are an irresistible combination. It can be done, and it can be fun” (57). Relying confidently on God breathes life into our work!
Christian theology is a gift. In the midst of the world’s pain, injustice and chaos, the church has a word of hope to offer. Robinson writes, “Christianity’s response to the suffering of life is an incarnational God. That God took on human form entering so intimately into our experience, suffering, dying, and rising is the source of Christian joy. Our task as baptized members is to bear witness to that joy, even in the midst of sorrow” (59). She applies Paul’s instructions in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to our calling today (59).
We can trust that God’s providence is at work all the time, even though we may not see progress. Robinson writes, “rarely do we have the capacity to trace the intricate paths that lead from purposeful and faithful action to magnificent blessing. We can only trust in a future of beneficence and grace that bears signs of the seeds of sound intentions. We can only commit … with unwavering fidelity to purpose. And we can marvel and give thanks that God’s imagination is always greater than our own” (83-84).
Robinson also writes movingly about raising Christian children who live generously and express gratefulness (31). “Counting miracles” is a game-like spiritual exercise to enjoy together (33-34). Rejoicing in the good fortune of others brings joy to life and is a habit we can cultivate continually (63). Parents may follow Robinson’s example of praying a blessing for their children on the night before their birthday, lifting up their special qualities and the responsibility to make the world better (66). Adults can encourage young people to find their calling and make an impact by sharing their God-given gifts.
Pastors, church leaders, and stewardship and finance committees should read Imagining Abundance. It shows how stewardship is a ministry worthy of our best efforts as we seek to guide and nurture people of all ages in joyfully responding to Christ’s call as disciples.