At Denver Institute for Faith & Work, we want to see people creating good work, serving others sacrificially, and thinking theologically about their work. And we enjoy the stories of people who do so.
Dan Reed is a friend who lives out of a thoughtful understanding of calling applied to his work in fundraising. Over lunch, Dan shared about his sense of work and calling in that field.
Brian Gray: Tell me a bit about your work – both your field and what it looks like in a given week.
Dan Reed: For about 15 years, I’ve been working as a frontline fundraiser or leading a team of fundraisers in the nonprofit and political sectors. Last year I launched the company Seed to focus solely on training other professional fundraisers.
I generally work with small teams or individuals to tell their story in a way that connects with donors and activates their generosity. I spend a lot of time developing executive directors and organization founders – people who got into their work to advance a cause they care deeply about, but then found themselves needing to focus more on donor development to do so.
BG: You’ve mentioned that this work is a “calling” for you. Define what you mean.
DR: In general, calling means people aligning their life activities with the way God has created them. It means asking the questions, “God, what do you want me to do with my life?” and “What should I be putting my hands to?”
BG: So what is a fundraiser called to?
DR: Simply put, inspiring generosity in others. God has called me to connect people’s hearts to impact via their generosity. The world is a better place when this is happening more.
BG: So, it’s not in advancing the cause of the organization they fundraise for?
DR: No. I think of the March of Dimes, founded to eradicate child polio – that work is done now. If you were a fundraiser for the March of Dimes 60 years ago, did you no longer have a calling – or did you need a new one – once the polio vaccine eliminated the cause?
Fundraisers are often treated as necessary evils in organizations. But the craft of inspiring generosity in others – that is work that stands on its own even beyond the cause it supports. In fact, a great fundraiser will help a donor to support an organization other than their own when that is where the donor’s heart lies.
BG: Talk more about this work as a craft.
DR: It’s not instrumental – a means to a higher end. Fundraisers who are exclusively connected to a cause or ideology often miss that their work is a craft, to be honed. My best year of fundraising I missed my goal because I took my work more seriously. I started asking people to give to sacrifice, not just from abundance. And I learned how to better listen to people's desires.
Fundraisers need to pay more attention to the space between their heart and their hands. The failures mount up – the No’s. To not devolve into self-focus takes a maturity of the heart. None of this work is done for your own end, so you have to pay attention to what you are doing and why you are doing it.
I knew I was doing deeper work when a donor called to talk about a significant life problem that had nothing to do with my organization. In the fundraising relationship, I had connected with their heart, so that conversation together made perfect sense.
Dan Reed is CEO of Seed Fundraisers, a nonprofit consulting firm that leads development professionals from vocational conviction to tactical execution. With more than 15 years of frontline and leadership experience in nonprofit and political fundraising, he has helped raise over $40 million dollars in private philanthropy. He has led fundraising teams at The Pittsburgh Project, Denver Public Schools Foundation and Morris Animal Foundation. He is passionate about helping fundraisers become catalysts for generous giving.
Brian is the VP of Formation here at DIFW and also leads our 5280 Fellowship program. Prior to landing at DIFW, he served in pastoral ministry for thirteen years and at Denver Seminary for four years. His vocation includes moving ideas out into life through relationships and conversation – whether that applies to God, work, the Church, good beer, or Liverpool Football Club. He married way out of his league, and spends most of his free-time being parented by his two daughters.