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Faith, Finance & Other Lessons in Fundraising with Rodney Eric López

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There are few areas in our personal or professional lives in which money is not a significant factor. Whether it’s managing the family budget, fundraising for nonprofit organizations, attracting business investments or asking your congregations for tithes and offerings, money matters. For many, talking about money can be daunting, especially if our respective cultures and traditions have made such discussions uncomfortable or taboo. However, for those leading a venture or organization of any kind, it's essential to hone in on your relationship with money and to speak confidently about the resources you'll need to fulfill your goals. Glean Network's Assistant Director, Sandy Hong, sat down with consultant and founder of the Generosity and Abundance Process (G.A.P.), Rodney Eric López, to discuss the importance of doing the personal work of examining your money story and how to leverage powerful frameworks like invitation storytelling to invite others to share in your vision.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Sandy Hong: Thank you so much for being with us today, Rodney. We're curious to hear a little more of your back story, how you've come to be involved in the work of faith and finance and how important that really is, especially to spiritual entrepreneurs.

Rodney Eric López: I appreciate that. I’m happy to be here.

Rodney Eric López: What brought me to faith and finances was my personal experience with financial lack and financial scarcity, a lack of understanding of my emotional relationship to money, and the stress that that causes.

I graduated from college with a particular career. That career was supposed to give me a certain level of income, professional success, and so on.

And I started along that path and then switched to a career in the arts which was personally fulfilling and rewarding but less financially stable.

I was moving from having a sort of predictable, dependable, and upwardly mobile income to one that was variable and based on things outside of my control so that introduced this real sense of scarcity.

I had experienced scarcity as a child, but this was a different thing as an adult.

Rodney Eric López: And so, between starting a family, switching careers, and then experiencing debt in a very suffocating way: credit card debt, student loan debt, tax debt, you know, and all of these things being the results of just mistakes I had made with my finances. It put me in a position where I was just feeling very stressed and having a hard time paying bills.

The financial stress was the feeling of shame about it, the sense of embarrassment that I had made dumb mistakes, dumb choices, that I didn't know what I was doing, I was supposed to be smarter than this. My parents weren't approving of my career choices. And I believed all the stories and the narratives that family and society put on me, plus the stories I told myself.

So while this is happening, I am returning to church after giving up on it for over ten years. And I had experienced a difficult, painful breakup with my previous faith community, and it took ten years to heal from that. I was dipping my toes back in the water of faith again.

Rodney Eric López: The first sermon and the first messages I hear are about financial peace and what it takes to achieve financial peace, and the messages were about giving and how giving is the first step–which is counterintuitive for most people–but for me, it made some kind of intuitive sense and so, without getting into too much of the details, I started a giving practice and began to realize that God was there for me.

You know, God showed up for me in ways I couldn't even imagine.

Rodney Eric López: And that just got me interested in the relationship between one's faith practice and giving practice and how that brings clarity and peace to your situation.

It doesn't solve your financial problems, but what it does is it allows you to face your finances, receive a spirit of peace, and it enables you to let go of some of the shame.

And so, giving became a significant part of my faith practice, which remains crucial today. I’m interested in helping others, or rather, I should say, inviting others to join that conversation of generosity and abundance with me.

Sandy Hong: So much of what you said resonated with me. Something that I heard from what you were sharing was just how much of an emotional experience it is to relate to money.

Sandy Hong: I love the idea of having more faith leaders and faith communities be able to talk about money. In your upcoming workshop, you talk about “Invitational Storytelling”. Can you tell us about this and why it’s important for faith-rooted leaders?

Rodney Eric López: I think it matters for faith leaders or anybody who is adjacent to asking for money, right? So whether that's the nonprofit executive or the faith leader, I think many of us get hung up on this idea of asking for money and there are a lot of reasons for that. Many of us are raised not to talk about money. We're not supposed to talk about what we earn or give. It’s very personal and private. And some aspects of this are true.

But I also think that if we need the resources to do ministry, if we need the resources to serve people, then it requires asking for those resources, applying for those resources, or otherwise fundraising, in one way or equivalent.

Often if I tell somebody we'll put together a request for X amount of dollars, people might feel uncomfortable with that. But if I say, let’s talk passionately about your vision and invite your community into the story of WHY you're passionate about this vision. At the end of the day, that's all that's necessary.

How do we energize other people to be just as excited about the vision we’re being called to, whether it's a ministry, or it's our church, or it's starting a new program somewhere, or it's building a new building, whatever it is?

Yes, we have to talk about the dollars and cents at some point, and you have to put together the budgets and fundraising plans.

But it all starts with getting people excited about your vision, essentially invitational storytelling's approach and framework.

And I think if we can just let people know it's about telling a story and inviting people into your narrative about why it’s important right now. That isn't quite as scary as just “asking for money”.

Sandy Hong: At Glean Network, we support and train faith-rooted leaders with the entrepreneurial skills to transform their ministries into new models of faith and hope in action. In your view, what are some of the things faith-rooted leaders can learn from entrepreneurs and their ways of fundraising, and what might entrepreneurs learn from the ways faith leaders and houses of worship have also resourced themselves?

Rodney Eric López: Yeah, it's a good question. I think that a faith leader is sitting in a tradition and an institution that's sometimes with decades, or hundreds and thousands of years of history, and they're stewarding a community of people who are relating to their faith in a very personal way. And so, faith leaders often have mindfulness and attunement to serving the community's needs in a deeply caring way that respects and understands that people are here to work on, negotiate, and explore their relationship with God, spirit, and the divine.

I think that entrepreneurs have a lot to learn from faith leaders and houses of worship about how cultivating a solid relationship with people is essential.

There's always going to be crowdfunding, gofundme’s, kickstarters, indiegogos and things that are about mass fundraising, where it's a little bit impersonal.

Ultimately, if you’re an entrepreneur of any kind, it matters what relationships you build, create, and sustain to lift up your venture. And that's what a good faith leader does. A good faith leader builds strong relationships with the members of their congregation and knows the people intimately and personally so that when there is an ask, it's coming from a place of relatedness and relationship.

And I think that what a faith leader can learn from an entrepreneur is out-of-the-box thinking. Innovative thinking is about seeing a problem and maybe looking at it from a different perspective.

Faith leaders are already very good at doing that with their sermons. Right?

They're very good at taking the same scriptural text and looking at it in 100 different ways. Well, what if they looked at a problem in their community a 100 different ways, Right?

And if they could take that entrepreneurial lens to the ministries they are serving and not just be stuck in a pattern of, “well, this is the way we've always done it.”

Sandy Hong: So powerful! I'm very, very inspired by how you're drawing these comparisons and inspirations, and I'm sure there's so much more that will emerge in your workshop on October 12th.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today!

Rodney Eric López: Of course! Thank you for having me.

Join Rodney on October 12th for The Art of Invitational Storytelling: A Fundraising Workshop to learn more about how to apply these practices and frameworks in a supportive space for faith-rooted leaders and spiritual entrepreneurs.

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