Where's My Passion Project?

Posted more than a year ago.

I’ve been home sick the last 36 hours. I bring this up only to say that I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate some of Thrive’s earliest criticisms floating about the social media-sphere. (Probably not a good topic to contemplate when your stomach is already sour, but I care as much about OC as you do…it’s hard for me to shut off even for the flu.)

There have been valid and tough questions raised over the last few days, many of them centered on one big, messy idea: funding priorities.

“This is all cool, but when you’re raising $10m+ a year, where’s [my passion project]?”

Wow. That’s a hard question. It’s not hard because it’s unexpected. This is a question that plagues all leaders, organizations, and fundraisers the world over. It’s hard because we get it.

We all share a common passion for Oklahoma Christian overall, but our individual interests differ. I was an English major and I have a great love for all of our humanities programs on campus. You might be a film buff, a counselor, a physician, an athlete, a minister, a teacher, an artist, or you name it (the list could go on and on). The programs and projects you’re passionate about are going to be different than the ones I’m passionate about.

And that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. We need different perspectives and different passions to keep Oklahoma Christian dynamic and moving forward. (Thriving, you might say…) 

But I haven’t answered your question, have I? Where is your passion project? Let me answer that with an overly simplistic metaphor that I think will resonate.

Let’s say you have a $500 tax refund that’s not yet earmarked (woohoo!). You’ve called a meeting of the family to see where that money should go. One of you, citing the family’s longtime love for camping and the bonding experiences that happen around the campfire every summer, thinks that money should go to new camping gear. Your current gear is worn out, the tent leaks, and it would just be easier on everyone to enjoy the annual trip with new gear.

Another thinks the money should go into new tires for the truck. No, it’s not exciting, but the tires are wearing out. It would relieve a lot of stress on long trips to know the tires are reliable. Plus, the money will be needed sooner or later. Why not do it now (when it doesn’t hurt as much)?

Another wants to redo the countertops. Another wants to put the money toward a trip. Still another thinks you should put the money in savings. (You get the idea now, I’m sure. And, yes, you have a very large family in this scenario.)

All have compelling arguments. You see merit in everyone’s opinion and genuinely wish you could make every idea happen. But you can only do one. Where should the money go?

It’s not a black and white decision. Choosing one family project doesn’t mean you undervalue the others. It also doesn’t mean you undervalue the people behind the other ideas. It comes down to a simple, challenging reality: you can do one thing or nothing.

I doubt I need to explain the metaphor. At OC we face a similar, albeit far more complicated, challenge. We can’t fund everything—even truly wonderful, kingdom-building, heart-swelling projects that Eagles are passionate about have to sit out sometimes. Because there’s someone out there who is passionate about everything that we do. This broad spectrum of interest is an incredible blessing, but if we attempted to fund every passion project, we would exhaust all of our resources many times over.

“But you’re raising the money, right?” you ask. “Couldn’t you just add a project to your list and make it happen?”

Well, yes and no. While it’s very flattering if you consider our fundraising ability boundless, the truth is that in fundraising—just like in your family budget—our resources are finite. There are many families and businesses interested in investing in Oklahoma Christian (including you, I hope!), and many of these folks are amazingly generous (again you, I hope!), but their numbers and resources are limited.

We conducted a thorough feasibility study with our top donors and opinion leaders this winter. The results of this study informed the $30 million, three-year target you see in Thrive. This amount not only helps us accomplish core strategic projects over the next three years, it’s also an achievable stretch for our Advancement Team and donors.

Okay. Okay. I still haven’t answered your question. Where is your passion project?

I have three answers for you, if you’ll indulge me:

  1. If you don’t see your project, it’s because it wasn’t identified as a Year One effort (for many of the reasons I’ve described above). That doesn’t mean it won’t appear in Year Two or Year Three. We were limited on our first project selections, so we’re opening with projects that have more campus-wide impact. Yes, specific programs are addressed, but these programs drive admissions efforts, revenue, and community engagement that will empower all of our programs to grow. The goal of all Thrive projects is to create a rising tide that raises all ships. (Check out one of my previous blog posts for more details.)
  2. The Year One menu does not include everything we will raise money for in 2014-2015. Each year we work with donors to impact more than a hundred different projects across campus. Many of these projects are smaller in scope than the efforts you see on Thrive: Year One, but they’re still quite valuable. We didn’t list them all because Thrive would get confused and unfocused very quickly—and that’s counter to one of our core campaign strategies: simplicity. I can’t promise your passion project is in this larger list, either, but it might be. Shoot me an email or give me a ring if you want to know for sure!
  3. Your passion project could be in Thrive. There’s a saying in fundraising: “The number one reason that most people give is because they were asked.” I’ll make a leap here, but a major reason any project rises to the top of the Thrive menu is because someone, somewhere, sometime mentioned the need. I’ve already alluded to the fact that there are many voices across the OC family with many passions; that can make for a noisy decision-making environment sometimes. To cut through the noise, be bold with your passion. Call or email me. Tell me that your project is missing. Explain why it shouldn’t be. And don’t be content with “because I love it.” Think hard about why your project is vital to the OC family, to the future of our University, to the growth of the Kingdom, and more. If you do that, my promise to you is that our administration will hear about it. We will discuss your idea, pray about it, and consider it in the mix.

That’s a very long answer to a rather short question, one which I’m confident we’ll revisit in future posts (!). I hope it provided some clarity. Until next time, I’d love your help on two fronts. First, please stay engaged with Thrive. We love your passion—keep it coming. Second, even as you ask the hard questions of me, please extend the maroon and gray as much grace as you can. It’s difficult to make decisions that impact thousands of passionate people. We’re doing it as openly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully as we can. We need heroes who trust that decision-making process and spread that confidence to others.

In fact, that might be one of the greatest gifts you can give in Thrive.

-Will