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Learning How to Pay Our Bills While We Pursue Our Dreams

By Paul Chaffee


Relishing fundraising may be the rarest character trait of all among faith-based and interfaith leadership groups. In this culture, rich beyond measure, stricken with poverty, and addicted to consumerism, it may be your most important (new) skill if you treasure your group’s survival. Of course, most of us didn’t become vestry members or trustees of a cause or community because we love to raise money. Indeed, most of us have complicated lives financially, don’t talk about it in public, and have issues about asking for money.

So this month’s TIO, focused on funding interfaith, starts with a profile of Lynne Twist’s landmark contribution, The Soul of Money (2003). She helps reframe (and liberate) how we understand money, giving, and what we find important. A cottage-industry has published dozens of fundraising resources for nonprofits and congregations, but Twist’s book is the place to start. Be fortified, because Bud Heckman’s overview of interfaith funding that follows, details the difficult terrain ahead for anyone interested in sustaining the nonprofit facility, community, or interfaith cause you care about.

Financially, this past year has been particularly grim for interfaith projects. Large programs and small have folded and many more live on the razor’s edge of survivability. This may not be the most popular issue of TIO, but the wisdom and counsel here could be critical for your own interfaith project. The joy in assembling this material came in discovering how much good advice and encouraging outcomes exist in the midst of our difficulties. Numerous interfaith programs are thriving. A few of them are profiled here, and it is instructive to see their idiosyncratic ways for keeping their agencies vital.

Frank Fredericks offers some of the most sage advice, subverting the attitude that ‘more money’ is the only answer to our problems. Like Lynne Twist, Fredericks reframes how we see our needs and respond to them. He turned the economic assumptions of our culture upside down in creating World Faith and has generated thriving projects in 15 of the world’s toughest countries.

Defying cultural norms of success puts me in mind of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), thriving after a quarter-century of grassroots interfaith activity. What’s the secret sauce? NAIN, profiled here three years ago, has no staff; trustees do the work; the annual budget is about $15,000, largely membership fees – half of which goes to y0ung adult scholarships; host cities each year are offered start-up loans; and a small savings account buffers the annual budget. Not your typical American corporation, nonprofit or otherwise, but healthy and sustainable because the commitment of its membership makes this work of love available to us all.

This month’s final ‘funding interfaith’ selection leaves aside money altogether. Instead it tells the story of a small Buddhist lay movement in Japan called Myochikai, founded in 1950. Over the past 64 years they have created an interfaith ministry, Arigatou International, on behalf of the well-being of the children of the world. Today it has offices in Africa, Asia, Europe and the U.S., with programs in more than 50 countries. With very little press, Arigatou has become a global pioneer in interfaith collaboration on behalf of the neediest among us, improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and their families.

How did they fund this?! That story has yet to be written. The point here is that their leaders have had the energy, imagination, patience, and clear focus to grow and deliver on their long-term goals and vision. They prove it can be done, whatever business model you use. Don’t be surprised if their story makes the rest of this issue more resonant. Myochikai seemed to know all about the advice you’ll read in this issue, long before the rest of us started thinking about it. And a bonus this month: above the theme-line in your table-of-contents you’ll find an essay by Keishi Miyamoto, the third-generation leader of Arigatou International, titled “What the Young Can Teach Us – If Given the Chance.”