I’m a person who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. There were six of us living south of Seattle in a little shack made out of Boeing Aircraft Company packing crates. I know our house was used to ship airplane parts because it was stenciled in large black letters all over the outside. Not a thing you want the kids in your neighborhood to notice, “Hey you wanna play ball with that kid that lives in the box?”
As kids, my three sisters and me knew we didn’t have much money but because it was the only world we knew, we had no context for understanding how desperately poor we really were. Oh, my dad would sometimes make comments about his own upbringing that were meant to make us feel fortunate to have a roof over our heads. One of his more repeatable and memorable lines was, “When I was growing up I was so poor I couldn’t pay attention.”
So my formative years were times that might have seemed normal in the days of the pioneers; we built our own little place to live, at first there was no electricity, and running water meant getting a bucket and running outside to the cistern to get it. The outhouse was just far enough out back of the cabin to be supposedly sanitary (can any out-house really be sanitary?) and certainly very inconvenient and scary in the dark, the rain and the snow. My mother cooked dinner on a Coleman gas stove and the lantern rested on the kitchen table making its hissing sounds as the air we pumped into it forced the white gas up into the cloth of the hot glowing mantle.
We basically lived a life of subsistence among other people who must have been curious, amazed or concerned at our standard of living. I was certain we were the family that people pined about saying things like, “There goes the neighborhood!” especially on the day my dad decided to cut his old turtleback Chrysler sedan in half with a hacksaw. He needed a pick-up truck for his trade, bricklaying, but he couldn’t afford to buy one so he just chopped the car off right behind the driver’s seat and built a plywood platform to carry his tools, bricks and mortar. Of course he did it in the driveway in full view of all the property owners on our street.
Most of our neighbors were just ordinary hard-working people. Many of them worked for the company for which our house was stenciled, Boeing. They had small 2-bedroom houses, cut their grass on Saturday and watered the gravel road in front of their homes to keep the dust down.
Speaking of dust, my dad, his parents and 9 siblings were part of the great migration that took place during what he called “the hungry thirties.” They moved from a rock-infested Missouri dry farm to the Seattle area to escape the poverty of the dust bowl. To my young mind it seemed like they just brought it with them.
We only aspired to have been considered working class. In fact we were just glad when my dad, with his third-grade education and a trade, had work of any kind.
With my beginnings I still find it pretty amazing that I was able to graduate from high school, college and even graduate school. It wasn’t until college, with many evenings of hanging out with friends and hearing their life stories that I began to realize just how poor we really were.
I haven’t written about my early years because I seek sympathy. In fact, most of the world has a more desperate existence than what I experienced as a child. Rather, my reason for telling you of my beginnings is to impress upon you that even though, at the time of writing, our country is in a fiscal mess, and our elected officials seem to have lost their way, this is still, very much the land of tremendous opportunity. Just ask any immigrant cab driver, landscaper or housekeeper and they’ll tell you how good we have it here in North America.
It was experiencing the powerlessness of poverty, first-hand, that led my wife, Stevey, and I to work at World Relief, a Christian relief and development organization. It was there that we were able to travel to far off places where entire families spent their whole lives scavenging the land-fills of major cities like Manila or Mumbai. Later our journey would take us into the streets of the U.S. and Canada where homeless and addicted men and women had lost all hope. Our faith has grown as we’ve seen the lives of millions of people directly impacted by the generosity of God’s people and the expertise of the great ministries we have served.
For thirty years now I’ve had the privilege of participating in fundraising for Christian organizations. My apprenticeship began right out of seminary. It was a fulfilling and exhilarating experience to help provide food, clothing, shelter, medical assistance, self-sustaining work and Christian hope to hundreds of thousands of the world’s most destitute people. My inspiring international experiences led to a burning desire to see more people engaged in this life-changing work by becoming donors. When a fundraising position opened up, within the ministry, I decided, with the encouragement of a colleague, to throw my hat in the ring. My life has never been the same.
Today I have the privilege of serving as Chairman of Douglas Shaw & Associates. We’re a for-profit fundraising consulting firm of 60 very talented individuals who innovate, strategize, create and produce a vast array of fundraising and communications services for Christian ministries. It’s through close association with my colleagues that I am able present these rules of fundraising to you.
I have to confess though, it’s a little difficult for a guy like me to try and tell anybody about the “rules” of anything. Mrs. Roberts, my third grade teacher, would vouch for this, if she were still alive. Back then I hated rules. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that rules can be gifts. And that’s my hope for you that you will see the rules of fundraising for what they really are; a helpful set of tools to encourage you, to clear the path ahead of you and give you a craftsman’s confidence as you use them to serve in this great effort of philanthropic encouragement for God’s Kingdom.
These Rules are being submitted to you as this old fundraiser’s way of giving back to a community of dedicated, caring women and men who often work unnoticed, changing the world one life at a time.
It’s written for development officers who need an old friend to turn to for expertise as they begin their journey, or to re-orient the veteran fundraiser who wants to take the next step in his/her professional growth.
This book is also written for presidents or executive directors who need a road map for leading their development staff, and to learn how important their leadership is in securing funding for the ministry they lead.
It’s also written for board members who know there must be some kind of fundraising best practices somewhere out there. It’s a place they can turn to in order to serve their cause with greater knowledge and to make well-informed decisions about guiding the development efforts of the ministry they’ve volunteered to serve.
My hope is that you will use this book as a reality-check, as a kind of road map to help strengthen you on your journey. After all, it’s all too easy to become entangled in the terminology, politics and culture of your own ministry and perhaps lose sight of the well-worn path where others have gone before. I’m so glad to share with you The Rules, which are one traveler’s gift to another, with stories and examples to help you get to where you feel the road is calling you.