Thawing Frozen Hearts: Foundations of Faith-Based Fundraising

By Frank Marangos, D.Min., Ed.D.

“Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours. . . Some people are worth melting for . . . but maybe not right this second!”  – Olaf the Snowman (Frozen)

Is there a difference between secular and faith-based fundraising? Are there guiding principles that differentiate their respective approaches or are their frameworks, tactics, and aspirations fundamentally similar?

According to Canon 1262 of the Code of Canon Law (2007) developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), specific norms should govern faith-based fundraising appeals distinguishing them from more secular methodologies. Accordingly, the ecclesial directive recommends that religious philanthropic solicitation be guided by five important structures: (a) motivation, (b) competent ecclesiastical authority, (c) accountability, (d) procedures, and (e) oversight. Finally, apart from being truthful and forthright, the bishop’s directive underscores the requirement for fundraising appeals to be guided by “sound theology” that “strives to motivate donors to a greater love of God and neighbor.”

Like Canon 1262, the transformative power of sacrificial love is the primary message of Frozen (2013), the 53rd animated feature film released by Walt Disney Pictures. Recipient of numerous honors including two Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song (“Let It Go”), the 3-D musical fantasy provides unexpected theological foundations for the cultivation of the spiritual as well as temporal abilities and resources of potential donors, leaders and their respective institutions.

Frozen is much more than an acclaimed animated children’s story about a beautiful princess who is unable to control her magical powers. The film’s appeal stretches far beyond a picture-perfect prince or the magnetism of a naïve bucktoothed snowman that longs to sunbathe because he has not yet realized the danger that heat would have on his icy existence. On the contrary, loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Snow Queen, the film beautifully chronicles the epic journey of a leader’s self-discovery, cultivation, and appropriate use of personal capacity for the unique endowment of others.

Frozen centers on princess Elsa, the eldest daughter of a nameless King. From the start, viewers learn that Elsa’s hands possess an innate magical power to create snow and ice. The King, however, forces her to suppress her abilities because “nobody” in their fictional Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle “would understand.” Fearful of Anna’s exposure to Elsa’s influence, her apprehensive father sequesters her from her sister and future citizenry by closing the royal gates and windows. As a result, the future queen spends her formative years imprisoned in her bedroom while her younger sister laments on the other side of a locked door.

Tragically, Elsa grows up afraid of people, herself, and her unique ability. Due to the sudden death of her parents, however, the kingdom is left in her untried hands. To make matters worse, during Elsa’s coronation, her raw abilities are inadvertently revealed to a frightened populace. With one uncontrolled wave of her hand, eternal winter descends upon Arendelle. Although she had “come of age,” Elsa’s lack of young-adult nurture and mentoring left her with the inability to appropriately control her exceptional ability. As a result, while attempting to actually protect her kingdom, Elsa unintentionally generates suspicion and fear. Confused, bewildered, and forlorn by her imprudent act, Elsa retreats into the mountains where she gleefully “imprisons” herself in an elegant ice palace of her own conception.

Like so many leaders suddenly endowed with colossal aggregates of time, talent, and treasure, Elsa is confronted with two possibilities. The young queen may choose to utilize her inimitable ice-generating “gift” to privately enjoy her ice-constructed surroundings, or she may accept the challenge posed by her younger sister Anna to learn to control her special endowments for the benefit of her kingdom, a demesne that she has only recently come of age to rule.

Unfortunately, Elsa selfishly chooses the former option. While viewers are here treated to the singing (voiced by Broadway legend Idina Menzel) of the Academy Award winning song “Let it Go!”, Elsa’s physical as well as inner innocence simultaneously distort into grotesque self-centeredness as she smugly croons: “the perfect girl is gone!”

At first Elsa is convinced that she can “let go” and finally live “without rules.” Thankfully, Anna’s concern helps her older sister discern the startling realization that the ungoverned employ of her magical capacity has actually imprisoned and endangered the lives of her fellow citizens and the mercantile capacity of their kingdom. Unwilling to capitulate to her younger sister’s beseeching, however, the newly crowned queen awakes to find herself imprisoned in her own kingdom’s dungeon . . . her hands individually shackled in metal gloves!

Like so many leaders whose resources and creative abilities lead to dysfunction and reclusive self indulgence, Frozen chronicles the developing insights of a young queen as she learns how to appropriately unshackle her power, authority, and temporal resources for the service and betterment of society. Additionally, like the Kingdom of Arendelle, numerous faith-based institutions often suffer the deep freeze of leaders who are unable to liberate the creative capacity of their followers. Within such ice-like environments, administrative ceilings and frozen financial obstacles appear daunting and beyond the possibility of thaw. Nevertheless, the implements for their defrosting have more to do with the condition of a leader’s heart than with financial, administrative, and/or political contexts.

The USCCB is correct to suggest that noble theological foundations should differentiate faith-based fundraising from more commoditized and cavalier approaches to solicitations, for the latter are too often circumscribed by emotional messaging that seek to elicit the “exchange” of financial gifts for “naming opportunities” or for the satisfaction of previous professional reciprocity. Faith-based fundraising should be characterized by more donor-focused sensitivities that seek prayerful cultivation and not merely the acquisition of large financial booties.  In the end, however, only through a principled husbandry of self-less love can the “thawing” of a benefactor’s true capacity of heart occur.

Rabbinical wisdom utilizes two of the most successful capital building campaigns in its nation’s history, namely the creation of the Tabernacle by Moses (Exodus 25, 35, 36), and the construction of the Temple by Solomon (I Chron. 29), to distinguish between donors with “stirred hearts,” and those with “willing spirits.” While gifts from those whose hearts were “willing,” brought what was required, religious sages insist that only those who were “stirred” were generous, contributing more than their obligation.

Analogous to these Old Testament accounts, Frozen chronicles the developing insights of a young leader whose “stirred heart” learns how to effectively utilize her power, authority, and temporal resources for the glory of God and the benefit of society. Following, is a list of seven (7) important fundraising principles that may be culled from a careful exegesis of the film’s message. While not exhaustive, the values may be used by leaders to advance contemporary faith-based fundraising efforts that seek to thaw, and thereby “stir” the frozen hearts of potential donors.

Fundraising Principles

  1. Authentic leaders use the influence of their fundraising efforts to cultivate the unique abilities and resources of constituents and potential donors.
  2. Through a gentile process of sequential visitations and conversations authentic leaders help constituents and donors discern how to utilize their time, talent and resources for the benefit of others and/or causes greater than themselves.
  3. Authentic leaders never emphasize the tactics of “naming,” “monument authoring,” and/or “professional reciprocity” to exploit the ambitions of donors.
  4. Authentic leaders help constituents and potential donors to selflessly link the aspirations of their current operating realities to the case/story of their respective solicitation.
  5. Authentic leaders help donors recognize that – like snowflakes – no two stewards are the same, but rather, unique agents of personalized gifts and resources, endowed by God.
  6. Selfless gift giving is the result of a heart that has been “thawed” and “stirred” into action.
  7. Selfless gift giving generates authentic joy in the hearts of contributors.

Rather than being the source of developmental liberation, the creative capacity of an individual’s unique talent can actually produce personal dysfunction, distortion, and imprisonment. Attentive viewers can observe several forms of such incarceration throughout Frozen’s 102-minute fantasy narration.  Blamed for an accidental childhood injury to her younger sister Anna, Elsa is at first locked in her bedroom and unwisely charged by her father, the king of Arendelle, to wear gloves and to thereby “conceal . . . not feel” her magical power to generate snow and ice with her hands. Unfortunately, the more Elsa tries to suppress her supernatural abilities, the worse her personal predicament becomes. Such is the progressive decent along the continuum of captivity for all that are not taught how to control and cultivate their unique creative capacities.

Authentic religious leaders and faith-based fundraisers would be wise to utilize the aforementioned attitudes to avoid such quandaries by providing a process that helps thaw the freeze of their respective stewardship contexts. Unlike Elsa’s father who thoughtlessly imprisoned his daughter in a window-draped palace, instructing her to “conceal” her extraordinary capacity, prudent leaders develop, advocate, and advance methodologies through which their institutions and constituencies come to discern the life-changing opportunities implicit in most capital and philanthropic appeals.

In the film’s breathtaking concluding scene, Anna is confronted with a life-altering quandary. Threatened with the possibility of death due to an ever-increasing freeze to her heart, she can focus her efforts on the promise of a lover’s healing kiss or, on the other hand, sacrifice herself in an effort to save her sister from the hands of a treasonous imposter. Moviegoers of all ages applaud at the sight of Anna’s electrifying martyrdom whereby the power of her love movingly shatters the descending sword of her sister’s assailant.

The power of sacrificial love is the worthy message of Frozen. It is a missive that must be allowed to resonate throughout a society of isolated individuals preoccupied with self-recognition and commoditized venial pursuits. Along with advancing methodologies that result in the harvesting of adequate temporal resources for the advancement of the noble aspirations for their respective clients, authentic leaders and faith-based fundraisers have the additional responsibility to help prospective donors realize that selfless love and generosity actually provide a greater benefit to a contributor’s heart than any vision of a soliciting entity can ever hope to achieve.

Faith-based fundraising should always help donors bend the knee to any and all prospects of love and respect, never advocating tactics that distort or exploit the dignity of the individual. This, in the final analysis, is the distinguishing feature of faith-based fundraising! As Olaf, the Yoda-like snowman sprung from Elsa’s magical power wisely insists, “Some people are worth melting for!”  In other words, “gifting” is ultimately not the result of well-designed talking points, glossy brochures, and/or slick video appeals. While all valuable, true altruism occurs when the fire of love is allowed the opportunity to thaw the icy chill of a frozen heart. Only in this fashion can potential donors discern the gentle voice of God and thereby selflessly release their unique creative capacity unto more noble vistas of authentic human service.

(Future articles will more fully examine the principles advocated in this week’s commentary.)

Dr. Frank Marangos is CEO and Founder of OINOS Educational Consulting. He received a Doctors Degree in Adult Education (Ed.D.) from NOVA Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and a Doctorate in Ministry and Childhood Education (D.Min.) from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX).

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