The Rich Young Ruler: Transformational Giving

I thought and thought about posting this article or not. I know that many of my readers do not have a faith background (or come from a different background than me) and was a little afraid they might find a “parable” offensive. Then I started to think more about some of the ideas I found in this parable and how much they benefited my thinking on fundraising. So if you are offended or angry at this post please either post a comment with concrete reasons why or send me an email and let me know.Eric Foley from the Mission Increase Foundation has some really unique ideas about transformational giving that you can read in his quotes throughout this post.

You know the intrinsic problem with fund raising? We try to mediate meaning, instead of assisting others to make meaning. What I mean by this is that we identify a good cause, we share it with people, we ask them for money, they give it to us, and then we send them a letter saying, “Oh, you should have seen little Timmy’s eyes light up when we gave him that new computer we bought with the money you sent us!”…That’s meaning mediation. That makes us the middleman. The meaning goes through us. Instead, let donors communicate with donors. Let donors ask other donors. Instead of jumping in and doing the work, stand on the sidelines and coach. Offer them tools. Challenge them. Most of all, set them loose and stay out of their way.-Eric Foley

You can read the story for yourself in the Bible in Mark chapter 10 starting at verse 17. Here is a paraphrase as to how the story goes. A man approaches Jesus and asks him what he must do to be perfect. Jesus answers by asking the man if he has followed the commandments and the man responds that he has kept them all since he was a young boy. Jesus then tells him that he must sell all that he has and give his money to the poor. Saddened the man then leaves because he has great wealth.Lets look at Jesus as the key leader of his non-profit (or ministry). In that situation if I was asked the same questions by the rich young ruler I probably would have directed him donate to a couple of the villages I was headed to or passed him off to one of my disciples to talk with him about how he can fund a new project that I’m working on. But this is not what Jesus said:

Well, if you want to be perfect, I have put together a great brochure with some of our key ministries that could really use your support, and here are some fantastic testimonials from folks I’ve healed.-Eric Foley

This made me realize that one of the key problems in fundraising today is that we don’t care about the cultivation process of the donor. The process is not meant to help the donor better understand their own reasons for giving and connect them to how they can be fulfilled and make a real difference. The process is built around how can we get them to better understand what we do in such a way that they will want to give more money. Jesus responded to the needs he saw in the life of the rich young ruler.

But Jesus didn’t focus on what the young ruler could do for his ministry. Instead, he perceived that the young ruler had a lack …It wasn’t that the poor needed the young ruler’s money – it was that the young ruler needed to give his money away.-Eric Foley

This is where the idea of transformational giving begins. This kind of giving allows the donor and the organization to be changed. It involves giving that goes far beyond a financial gift and is more about a lifestyle or an attitude of the heart. It involves stewarding and cultivating donors in such a way that partnerships are being really created. This kind of cultivation allows donors to take ownership of the process and invest themselves in the purpose/mission of your non-profit.


8 Responses to The Rich Young Ruler: Transformational Giving

  1. Roger Carr says:

    I love this post. The concept that giving is just as important for the donor is right on target. Yes, it is about attitude. Jesus also said the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

  2. John Boyle says:


    I enjoyed the back-and-forth about the parable, but I’ll comment primarily on Eric’s first quote.

    I agree that we ARE the middlemen (and women) and that we are meaning mediators, but in most cases – that seems to be the best and most effective way to meet the needs of the donor, the institution and the population that that the institution serves.

    I mean, if you can set up peer-to-peer fundraising, that’s greatl! But donors come and go, and even your donor-champions get burned out. We’re the ones that are tasked with keeping the engine moving, especially when people are stretched. As fundraisers, we definitely should aspire to be coaches and not direct players, but I believe that the reality of how and why people give requires us to be much more involved than Eric would probably like.

    As for setting them loose and staying out of their way… well, it’s a nice thought, but I haven’t seen any initiatives that are self-sustaining enough for me to really get behind that.

    I hope others chime in. I’d love to discuss this some more!


  3. Jason says:

    Those are the exact same questions that I have been asking myself. At this point I have decided that I think there could be some great opportunities to use peer-to-peer fundraising to enhance a program that is already going on but I do not think it can replace the work that we are currently happening.

    I’d love others to chime in as well. I think the peer-to-peer fundraising, social networking for non-profits, and online fundraising are some really new and developing ideas and I’d love to hear more from other people about their views. If you have any ideas as to how I can create more dynamic conversation I’m all ears.
    Thanks for writing in,

  4. Roger Carr says:

    If you want the mission of the organization to turn into a movement, I believe the peer-to-peer fundraising is one key to it. Fundraising, volunteering, etc. then grows out of the the passion of others. The “middleman” is still required to continually put the tools n place and encourage the communication, because even the “movement” is not going to sustain itself over the long term without help.

  5. Gareth Keown says:

    I would like to address the idea of self propagation. I find these modern day phenomenons interesting: GeoCaching, Wikipedia and the phenomenon discovered by Heath Ledgers’ death.

    Granted, these are phenomenons that are not necessarily related to ‘fundraising,’ but they do have one come thread – they are initiated and propagated by peer-to-peer involvement.

    GeoCaching is the largest modern day ‘treasure hunt’ phenomenon on the globe – its dependence for maintained ‘treasure’ is peer-to-peer.

    Wikipedia currently in the top ten most visited sites in the world – peer-to-peer in the fact that it’s content is derived by people like you and me.

    For the first time in modern history it was the peer-to-peer (texts, blogs, mms etc) that resulted in a greater penetration and saturation of the news of Heath Ledgers death over the institutional news media.

    If these phenomenons do exist in one facet of our society’s fabric is it too much to conceive that maybe, just maybe there is something to this peer-to-peer fundraising?

  6. […] thoughts on how we think about and communicate with donors, check out Jason Dick’s earlier The Rich Young Ruler for some very provocative thoughts on how we too often “mediate meaning” rather than […]

  7. Quen says:

    For me this is a call to change how we give or how we ask people to give. Donors will get burned out if they feel that they are filling in a need of another person or a group. How Jesus changed the perspective of giving from mere doling-out to a desire to be like Him is very humbling. It lifts the morality of giving to a higher stage.

    Thanks for this post. It gave me an idea what to keep in mind when soliciting and giving.

  8. […]  Dick’s A Small Change blog recently carried a post on “transformational giving” that I’d like to share and applaud.   Read that and see what you get out of it.   Looking […]

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