A favorite icebreaker used at retreats and business meetings asks you to reveal one fact people don’t know about you. One of my “secrets” is that I was Federation’s campaigner of the year in 1999. Fundraisers confront strong emotional reactions. Separating a person from their wealth is tricky business. Yet, Torah teaches us that the motivation for giving is worth exploring. With the right inspiration and appropriate project, fundraising can and should be a holy process.

Fundraising is anxiety provoking for both the professional and the donor. The key to a satisfying fundraising process is understanding what motivates the donor to become a giver. The insight into motivation teaches us as much about ourselves as we learn about the successful campaign.

Exodus details two fundraising campaigns. The first reported campaign funded the golden calf construction project. The second responded to God’s order that the Hebrews construct the travelling tabernacle or mishkan. In addition to listing the materials needed like dolphin skins, refined metals and acacia wood, the text describes the gift-giving process.

There was a flood of offerings. This is a fundraiser’s fantasy. So much stuff was offered that Moses said: “enough!” In a cursory reading, you might first focus on the spirit of generosity. I am intrigued by the emotions of the donors.

Only the donors prompt to present their jewels and hides to Moses were participants. Those who lagged behind were excluded from giving. What motivated some to rush forward with their gifts while others were unhurried?

Recalling the context, the mishkan fundraising project takes place in the wake of an apostacy. The Hebrews fashioned and worshiped a golden calf. Perhaps those who celebrated the shiny animal figurine felt fear, shame and guilt. Embarrassment, remorse and fear are powerful motivators. Perhaps those who contributed to the casting of the calf were fast to contribute out of contrition. Or perhaps they were slow to contribute, feeling confused and fearful.

Perhaps those who donated first did not worship the golden calf.  In supporting for the second recorded fundraiser, the Hebrews understood that the mishkan filled a holy and communal need. The mishkan was a place to meet and greet God. The early donors delighted in their gift as a celebration of true holiness.

Charity given for a selfless and sacred purpose is the superior choice. Charity given for creating a devotional icon is abhorrent. Somewhere in the middle are those who donate out of fear or to assuage guilt and shame.

In the 20th century, charitable giving was often an expression of fear – for Israel’s security or the Jewish future. Charity was a way to assuage guilt and shame for our consumerism or insensitivity to people in need. Giving Jewishly was a proxy vote; an easier way to show up Jewishly as opposed to active participation in communal Jewish life.

What works to motivate fundraising in this century is baffling to me.

What motivates you to be charitable? Take some time to look inward to find what inspires you to give. If fear or shame or guilt emerges, then you might wish to take time to explore ways to elevate the soulfulness of your giving. Most importantly, avoid funding the golden calves that come crashing down.  Rather be charitable to support a real connection to Godliness.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame