Today’s guest post is by Pablo Otaola. Pablo serves on staff with YoungLife in Denver. Previously he served with YoungLife in the Chicago Area. Pablo is also involved with CCDA, the Christian Community Development Association. The views and opinions he shares here are his own. We talked on the phone recently and I was encouraged and challenging by Pablo’s ingenuity and willingness to think outside the box. He’s a great leader on these issues.
A contextual model for fund-raising is of utmost importance to me. Eric’s articles have touched on something that can, and in many cases has, impeded indigenous leadership staff development within minority communities. The past five years on Young Life staff exposed me to fund-raising models that have some cross-cultural merit. However, the underlying cultural assumptions left me with tools I had to tweak and contextualize, or not use at all. Recently, Young Life was selected as one of the top 10 non-profits in the country for the way they steward wealth. I agree with this assessment. But no ministry is without systemic flaws. The Young Life funding model definitely has some of these systemic flaws that Eric proposes in his series.
In my search for potential alternatives, or at least temporary Band-aids, I have concluded the issue is two-pronged. First is the lack of meaningful understanding that the issues existing within many low socioeconomic communities require long-term funding solutions. This long-term need is frequently not reflected in the apparent urgency in the funding models. The second component surfaces in a lack of honoring local communities. Jesus is involved with the local communities long before any national or international staff arrive. When “we” show up, and before WE attempt to fix the funding issue, we must honor and empower the local community to resolve their own challenges.
Thinking Outside the Box
My immigrant identity has fostered in me a drive to find a way around these funding model hurdles. In Argentina I tasted the privilege of financial legacy. We left all financial resources behind and thus began with no financial legacy passed onto us when we immigrated into the United States and had to start from scratch. The immigrant mindset often includes a fervent attempt to find financial security, or at least to “get by”. The US system is not designed for the immigrant, so many adopt an entrepreneurial mentality: since there’s no systemic way to be upwardly mobile financially, one must create their own means of making headway. Even then, inherent systems can prevent success no matter how hard a person tries.
The way that I was taught to fund raise is not enough. I have been forced to think outside the box. I have been forced to generate alternative funding sources. My network’s net worth was very small, so I had to figure something else out. No person forced me, but if I wanted to continue walking out my call, something had to change.
My paradigm shifted when I broadened my focus beyond fund-raising to include raising capital or think about business cash flow. When it comes to indigenous leadership development, there are not enough wealthy people within my reach to support all the indigenous minority leaders I desire to develop and there are not enough wealthy people in Young Life’s reach to empower and financially support all minorities that could come on staff. That means personal funding can be only part of the pie if I am serious about developing communities, and not just looking out for myself.
Often times fund-raising comes down to internal ministry grants, external grants from foundations, personal relationships with friends and family, and different endowment opportunities. I don’t believe that’s enough to have self-sustaining long-term financial health. I don’t believe that our work is limited to the generosity of people. Why would I limit the revenue potential that could fund my ministry?
Here’s how I see it: If I can have access to all people and to their entire monthly revenue, then I will focus on that. People often focus on the Christians that can give above and beyond their tithe which is often a small percentage. Disposable income is a privilege that minority communities often do not have. Why would I not look at 100% of my market cash flow and figure out a way to get a larger piece of the pie? What follows are some components of community development that motivate my creative thinking and help me to implement unique and innovative funding models.
Cornerstones of Ministry Funding
When I contemplate infusing funds into ministry, I consider eight cornerstones: Relocation, Reconciliation, Redistribution, Leadership Development, Listening to the community, Church-based (or partnership-based), Wholistic, and Empowerment. Those eight components were developed by the Christian Community Development Association (www.ccda.org). Those components are for Christian community development, but when thinking about fund-raising, I live by those components so that a community and their culture, their values, their needs, their assets, and their worth are held high, honored and leveraged. I would never want to dishonor the local community to achieve the goals of any organization.
In raising funds, I concentrate quite a bit of my time into thinking about economic engines that generate revenue with a long-term goal of having those engines be self-sustaining; or at least not being sustained by me. In thinking about that, I try to see where there is revenue leakage in the community. It takes time, but one can often see that things can be done more efficiently; that one might be able to provide a service that saves someone money and in the process I can take a share in the profits which would be fully reinvested into the ministry. One such example is food. People will pay money for food all the time. So if I can empower my local teens or community to provide a small food service that leverages local culture, then the local people’s culture is honored and leveraged for income that can go directly into the community.
One such micro-business is what I call a Taco Crawl. You might have heard of a bar crawl. Well, this is similar. I have a large RV come into the city and I fill it with Mexican drinks and about 30 adults. Each adult pays $100 – $500 to get into the RV. These people are most likely not people from the community so I get about 5-8 people from the community to make the room a bit more culturally and racially diverse.
We drive from taco joint to taco joint tasting only one taco per restaurant. At the end of the night we all rank the taco joints and the winning restaurant gets a plaque from our ministry saying that they won “Best taco in Southwest Denver 20XX.” In turn, I build relationships with the local restaurant owners that will hopefully turn into a community funding partner, a job for a local teen or adult that I might know, or just a friendship that enhances my presence in the community.
During the drive from taco joint to taco joint, we share a lot of laughs and the story of what God is doing in the community. Cross-cultural relationships are formed and hopefully maintained. One of my goals is not to always have to go to the suburbs or wealthy city areas to raise money but to bring those people into the communities where I am ministering so that reconciliation and redemption can happen.
Leveraging Community Assets
I attempt leverage every community asset that I can get my hands on. Churches are huge assets in several ways. Many churches do not have financial resources but they have building resources. One of those building resources can be that I do not have to pay space. Many churches were donated or bought very cheaply from areas that have gentrified so local minority church buildings are usually a hidden gem. In other words, the church budgets usually cannot support a missionary due to their lack of funds, but they can let me use their building for free.
We also have several church partnerships that allow me access to people. Access to people is a huge resource! These local community people might not have the funds to be monthly financial supporters, but they can definitely help cook food for another micro-business or they can be non-staff help etc. When we share resources, we can definitely lower the cost that it might take to have a person of color on staff.
Another way that these churches help fund-raise is by raising awareness. They have been in the community long before any of our large ministries were even thinking about going into those neighborhoods and therefore have a lot of social capital. People know they are not leaving and therefore they are trusted entities. This social capital will definitely generate financial revenue if they advocate for you and your minority staff in the community.
One of the things that we are doing is to have our Latino Student Staff, who are members of these local churches, update the community from the pulpit on how ministry is going once a month for 10 minutes. When locals see their own talking about ministry in their own neighborhood, they are incredibly more likely to get involved financially. And if they cannot get involved financially by giving out of their disposable income, they will likely buy taquitos or enchiladas right after church from us instead of a local restaurant. They enjoy that. Who doesn’t?! They enjoy the community time with their church as well as knowing that their $10 went to God and a local ministry that is mentoring their own youth.
There are of course many more cultural advantages to this type of fund-raising, but it takes a while to understand the local community and culture and then know how to leverage the assets.
Yet another way that our minority staff is aided in fund-raising is with our Latino Student Staff Omega program. We take Latino staff from around the country and we teach them how to fund-raise by teaching them how to be cross-culturally intelligent. We also dive into how their race and culture gives them a unique cultural advantage. We teach them how to interact with wealthy donors and much more in this two-year process. Lastly, one of the most important things that we do in this program is that we give the staff access to personal relationships with people of wealth. For every indigenous Latino leader, we pair them up with 5 to 10 local wealthy donors. Without this access to wealth, there is no access to power.
We are early on in this leadership development program but the two Latino Student Staff that are graduating from this program went from raising under $100 combined in personal monthly support from their personal network to fund-raising a combined $22,000 per year. Each of them is raising this through a combination of their local communities and the people of wealth that they were introduced to.
Something that Young Life regions around the country are also doing is creating legacy funds for urban staff. In general, they are endowments of 3 to 5 million dollars that are used to subsidize the fund-raising efforts and empower the minority staff by giving them time to learn how to fund-raise in their local context and still continue to give a certain percentage of their fund raising responsibility. Chicago and Denver have these models and are each finding that these funds are needed for long term sustainability.
In order to have long-term sustainability, the original investment is not touched, but instead, only the yearly profit yielded is used as cash flow for ministries. There are definitely pros and cons with these funds and it is still in the beginning stages (under 15 years). I think that one of the major issues with this model, however, is that if a city does not have this available, then the minority staff is usually not able to work in this city unless some other combination of the above is somehow implemented. Something to thing to keep in mind is that there is a fine line between empowerment and enabling people. I would never want to stop the potential professional growth of a minority staff that needs these funds by giving them a staff position where they do not have to learn how to raise funds in these methods as well as traditional ones.
Mission Trips as Social Enterprise
When we continue to think about how to leverage and partner with local culture to provide a service that people of means (middle class and up) can pay for, we have come up with an urban plunge summer trip (www.YoungLifeHorizons.com). Young Life Horizons is a social enterprise of Urban Young Life Chicago and Denver. It is a discipleship trip and immersion into the inner city and Young Life’s response to the need for cultural intelligence and a better theological understanding of Jesus through the theologies of celebration and suffering.
We use this tool to teach about cross-cultural humility and cross-cultural intelligence and all the profits are put right back into the local ministry. We ONLY hire people from the community in order to give them jobs and we ONLY have community volunteers to help create cross-cultural relationships that will last beyond the trip. We honor the locals by having them lead these mostly White suburban groups into their own communities and to teach them about their communities and culture. We have found that there are plenty of these types of ministry models.
However, what I think is unique to ours is that we saw a financial opportunity within our Young Life cash market and thus why we treat this as a social enterprise. We saw that our suburban groups were oftentimes spending over $1,000 per person to go on these crazy fun trips into the mountains, rapids, etc. So, we took the opportunity to invite these groups to come into a cross-cultural experience that most do not get to experience: God in the city. These teens and young college students will be the leaders of our ministries by serving as staff, volunteers and in board positions. We want them to have a seed planted about cross-cultural ministry. We want them to see the face of God in a completely different way. So once again like the Taco Crawl, we leverage local culture in order to receive funds that our communities could otherwise not provide in the conventional way of fund-raising.
We have come up with other contextual ways of raising-funds and we will continue to think and live outside this fund-raising model and box so that our indigenous minority leaders are not excluded from the opportunity to be on staff.
photo credit: Joe Valtierra