Ideas for Raising Stewardship Awareness in Your Congregation


Giving Speaks is pleased to share this guest blog post by  Rev. Dr. Daniel O’Connell*

The participants of the UU Stewardship Lab (Facebook group) were asked for their topic suggestions for a stewardship essentials workshop that may be offered at a future denominational event, Rev. Daniel O’Connell quickly responded with his suggested workshop theme

“Don’t Miss Stewardship Workshop:  You will learn about at least 3 new ideas to increase stewardship consciousness at your church.”

Then Daniel generated a few ideas to get our creative stewardship juices flowing….

Ideas for Raising Stewardship Awareness in Your Congregation

Holiday Wish List

Have 3 outside-the-budget items you want to finance. Not 2, not 4, but 3. Total cost: $10,000 (your dollar amount will vary with your congregation’s size). One item should be less than $2,000. One item should be no more than $6,000. One item should be a no-brainer (We need a defibrillator AED). One item should be immediately noticeable by anyone (new tables & chairs for the fellowship hall). Publicize the list (with pictures or drawings), put up a poster. The 3rd item could be priced between the first two, and be something you really need (faster church internet connection) that otherwise might be difficult to raise money for. Let people know the goal is $10,000, and when we get there, we’ll acquire all three things. Give periodic updates. Start mid-November and finish by the end of December.

Leadership Funding for Special Projects

Imagine your congregation would like an additional $20,000 to supplement your half million dollar budget this year.  The Senior Minister goes to the board with a pledge for $1,000, with a request for the Board members to collectively to triple that amount. On the following Sunday, it will be announced that $4,000 has been raised toward the $20,000. Leadership gifts are important. It shows the leadership is serious.

Clear Steps to Stewardship

The congregation leaders must cast a vision for a clear, step-by step path to a sense of stewardship with deep values and intention. It goes like this: become a first time giver. Then, become a regular giver. Then become an automatic payment giver.  Then, a percentage giver.  Each year increase that percentage until you get to 5%. Anything over that, we’ll call an “extravagant giver.”  The congregation leaders and senior minister should exemplify this level of personal stewardship and let the congregation know the level of their financial commitment.

Going all the Way with Percentage Giving

Did you get a year-end bonus? A teacher merit bonus? Make some money off your garage sale? Give 5% to church.  Every time. Make it a spiritual practice. Honor those who make this commitment.

Include the minister’s and other lay leader’s journey to becoming a percentage giver as part of canvass testimonials or as a regular newsletter feature. How they went from zero to 5%, and why they did it.

Generational Giving

Maybe once a year (maybe less) remind people that parents can give their children tax-free gifts of up to $13,000 (each parent) without triggering IRS Gift tax form 709.  So, if you have 30-50 year olds in your congregation, have them tell their parents about this. Chances are your members would rather have the money now than after their parents have passed on.  If they do get such a gift, encourage them to give 5% of that gift to the church.

Reverse Offering

This is designed to move away from scarcity consciousness toward abundance.  Take $1,000 in $50 dollar bills and put them in 20 different envelopes with an index card.  The index card says that they have to spend this on a social justice project, and write a one-page history of what they did with the money and how they feel now. Give a few examples:  the money was spent on postage for solicitation letters for a special charity or $50 of postage brought in $2,000 of gifts. It doesn’t benefit the church directly, but imagine 10 really good stories out of the 20.  Stories about how the power of creativity and ingenuity led to unexpected benefits for strangers in need.


Get an iPad 3 or big screen TV cheap.  Sell tickets over two weeks, do the big reveal at coffee hour.  Do this a couple of times per year. This builds excitement.

Flattening the Pledging Curve

Encourage people to sign up for auto-paying their pledge and let them know how this helps to smooth out the annual income curve while sustaining the congregation’s financial picture.

Why Girl Scout Cookies Are Good For You

Some people frown on the sale of Girl Scout cookies in the fellowship hall. Put as many Girl Scouts as want to do this at the same table. It is very meaningful for the girls, the adults like the cookies, and it builds abundance consciousness and stewardship into everyone.

Multiplying your Justice Impact

Sharing the offering with other charitable organizations or community partners can often double plate income and dramatically increases the amount of money your congregation will give away to other charities.  Another benefit many congregations with offering give-away programs experience is an increase in overall giving to the congregation.  People feel good about making a difference with their giving!

Put it in Writing

People are more apt to fulfill a pledge to annual giving than not.  That is why asking all members and friends of the congregation to fill out a pledge form, even those who say they cannot give anything that year to write ‘zero’ down on their pledge and turn it in.  Being intentional about one’s annual giving is a good habit to get into, even in the challenging years.

Rewarding Good Stewardship

A year ago, we sent out a form letter at the end of the canvass thanking people for pledging. This does not recognize good behavior! This last year, as Senior Minister, I sent a personal letter to everyone who made a pledge increase.  I sent another to everyone who made a pledge for the first time.  I did so as soon as we got their pledge in.  I got a note from someone saying they’d been pledging for 20 years and this was the first time they got a letter from the minister thanking them for it. Needless to say, I’m doing that again this year.

Assume Insufficient Motivation Rather Than Insufficient Funds

Are your congregation’s lay leaders are up for the annual financial challenge?   Whether that’s a canvass increase,  special project, or whatever.  When people hint around they don’t have the money, it may be due to insufficient motivation rather than insufficient funds. Of course, sometimes it is about money, but many times it was because the funding idea was not sufficiently attractive. So, it may be time to postpone or shelve an idea or try other ones, instead of giving up altogether.

Alternatives to the Traditional Canvass

Some congregations are doing away with the traditional canvass. They assume you’ll pledge this year what you pledged last year, and they send you a letter to that effect.  Others canvass only a percentage of the congregation: maybe 1/3 of the top half, with a different group every year, restarting the cycle again in the 4th year.


*The Rev. Dr. Daniel O’Connell serves as the Senior Minister for the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, Texas (, which is one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 10+ year Honor Congregations for their generous financial support of their wider faith community. ( )

Daniel O’Connell grew up Unitarian Universalist in suburban Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C. He was active in the youth movement (LRY in the late 1970s) and in the emergent Young Adult movement (UUYAN), both at the regional and national levels before attending seminary in 1992.  He has served congregations in Connecticut, regional and national level both in the UU Ministers Association and with the UUA on district boards during most of the last 15 years.  Daniel can be contacted directly at:

Unitarian Universalist Stewardship and Finance Leaders can find an online support network through the following links:

Facebook UU Stewardship Lab:

UU Money Leaders email list:

The Forward Through the Ages (FORTH) Program:

Gathering in Those Remaining Pledges


Many congregations run their annual campaigns in the early spring.  By now, the hope is that all the pledges are collected by now, forecasting an ample supply of dollars for the next year’s funding goals.  In our ideal scene, the budget presented for congregational vote shimmers with abundance and glows with the promise of all that can be accomplished in the coming months.

However, many stewardship leaders report that after the first flurry of pledge returns, things slow down.  Some households in the congregation are difficult to reach and it can be a challenge to gather in all the remaining pledges to wrap up the campaign and fulfill the budgeted income goals.  Congregation leaders wonder….how can we gather in those remaining pledges?

In his book Ask, Thank, Tell, Charles R. Lane offers the following advice about wrapping up the annual campaign:

  • Have the follow-up plans in place before the campaign begins;
  • Consider having one person of the stewardship team to focus on the follow-up
  • Follow-up should occur quickly, within three weeks after the majority of the pledges are in;
  • Send out letters, campaign info, and pledge cards out with an envelope addressed to the church (stamped can help!) for faster return.
  • Stop the contacts after the follow-up letter to avoid perceptions of badgering, which can do more harm than good.

Other ideas for gathering in the remaining pledges include:

  • Send out two email messages, spaced two weeks apart, followed up with a phone call.
  • Provide campaign and pledge updates on your congregation’s website and social media sites, encouraging people to join in with their pledge.
  • Send out a reminder postcard with information about where to find pledge forms or how to pledge online.
  • Announcements in the orders of service or on Sunday mornings.
  • Put pledge cards in the orders of service or in the pews and invite people to fill them out and put them in the offering plate as it comes by.
  • The Minister, Senior Staff, or Elected Leaders make personal contact with all lapsed major donors to check in and encourage another generous pledge.
  • Scheduling small group social events where conversations about the congregation and how the mission, ministry and programs are funded, with pledging information available.
  • Newsletter updates on the annual campaign and ways people can pledge and contribute their financial support—it’s never too late!
  • Small groups and committees that are active in the congregation may provide a means for communicating about the annual campaign—these leaders can help spread the word.
  • If not already available, consider setting up an online pledge form or giving link on your congregation’s website.
  • Don’t forget to have a ready supply of current information about stewardship and annual pledging on your pamphlet racks, on bulletin boards, and at your visitors table for newcomers.
  • Consider a celebration or community social event to catch people’s attention!  An ice cream social after the service or Sunday Brunch may be an enjoyable way to engage people’s support.

If you would like some assistance with planning your next annual funding campaign or with strengthening your year-round stewardship program, let’s connect!  I am here to help you and your organization flourish~

Laurel Amabile portrait 2  Laurel signature

For more ideas on annual stewardship campaigns:

Clark, Wayne B., PhD.  Beyond Fundraising.  2007.  Unitarian Universalist Association.

Christopher, J. Clif. Not your Parents’ Offering Plate. 2008. Abingdon Press.

Lane, Charles R. Ask, Thank, Tell.  2006.  Augsburg Fortress.

50 Ways to Improve Your Annual Stewardship:

Connecting Our Faith and Giving



Our churches, congregations, and fellowships support, guide, and inspire us in humankind’s greatest quest: that of searching for the fundamental and profound meaning of our lives. We are truly fortunate to live in a time and place where this pursuit can be undertaken freely. Free from political prohibition, free from ostracism, free from material restriction, we can engage with spiritual leaders and investigate philosophies which can guide us in our most important inquiry.

Though we benefit from the legal, social and material freedoms, the religious organizations established to help guide us in our journeys toward understanding could do so much more if we supported them financially to the extent that they support us. According to Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell, authors of Passing the Plate*, encourage us to ask:

Why is giving not higher among religious people when they have the financial resources and capacity to give at higher levels?

• Why is giving not higher when religious people receive explicit faith teachings and implicit messages to do so?

• Why is giving not higher when religious organizations could achieve the goals that their members profess they desire, particularly when those goals are consistent with the core religious values?

In response, the authors suggest five conditions that could inspire people to give money more generously to their congregation.  Reflect on these and see if they might be applied during your congregation’s stewardship campaign!

• Unambiguously expecting and collectively honoring the generosity of individuals;

• Confidently teaching the instructions of their faith tradition regarding generous financial giving;

• Strongly encouraging members of the religious community to make theologically-informed and principled decisions about and commitments to generous giving;

• Providing multiple, structured and routine means by which people could follow through with their gift; and

• The establishment of better procedures, systems, and practices of transparency, communication and accountability in order to increase trust about how contributions are used.

If you would like to discuss your congregation’s stewardship and fundraising needs, contact me for a free consultation session~

Laurel Amabile portrait 2  Laurel signature



*Smith, Christian, Emerson, Michael O.  and Snell, Patricia.  Passing the Plate.  Oxford University Press, © 2008

Nurturing Generosity:

Tapestry of Faith–UU Lifespan Curriculum Resources:

Forward Through The Ages (FORTH):

The Ecumenical Stewardship Center:

Celebrating Generosity in Worship Services

(Thank you to the Rev. Sunshine Wolfe, M.Div., Interim Minister, First Unitarian Church of Alton, IL, for bringing the topic of the New Consecration Sunday concept to the UU-Money Leaders for an energetic discussion.)


How does my giving shape what is of greatest worth?”  

What level of giving would be most meaningful and powerful to me?”  

These are two of the questions that Rev. Thomas Perchlik, minister of the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis, uses in crafting worship services that celebrate generosity and abundance.

“I have enjoyed using the New Consecration Sunday model as the inspiration for planning services,” Rev. Perchlik reports. “The people love it.  After almost a decade of struggling to get a complicated Canvass process together each year, this seems easy, fun and deeply meaningful.”

The New Consecration Sunday celebration model that Thomas refers to is an integral part of the Christian stewardship program described by Herb Miller, a prolific author and recognized authority in realms of congregational health and effectiveness.

In a nutshell, Miller’s New Consecration Sunday stewardship program design addresses several key issues that some congregations find challenging:

  • Lay volunteer involvement in asking fellow congregants for pledges.
  • Lax organization and planning of stewardship campaigns.
  • Anxiety and stress about raising enough money to fund the congregation’s budget.
  • Negative feelings and reactions to annual stewardship campaigns.
  • Lack of clarity about the teachings and expectations about stewardship within a particular faith community.
  • The minister’s role as stewardship leader in the congregation.

The New Consecration Sunday stewardship program focus is on the religious beliefs, mission, and values of the faith community as a source of inspiration for giving rather than the obligation of funding the budget to pay the bills. Miller’s question to the giver is, What is God calling me to do?

The Rev. Keith Goheen, a member of the UU Church of Mill Creek and JPD Board of Trustees, offers an alternative theological perspective for effective stewardship in other religious communities:

Unitarian theologian Henry Nelson Wieman was keenly interested in ‘The Good.’ His theological/ philosophical imperative involved bringing more (an abundance) of the Good into the self, the congregation, and the world.


What then is the congregation’s relationship to The Good?

Said another way,

What is its vision and mission, or raison d’tre?

If the principle relationship is best expressed as a haven defined in opposition to the prevailing culture (such as being defined by what we are not: a church, theistic, etc.), then The Good lies in the maintenance of strong boundaries. These boundaries protect the sanctity of the philosophical center while deepening its sense of differentiation.

If the principle relationship is to bring more Good into the world (in which we are a resource for ethical, non-theistic living to our community), The Good is expressed in relationships with community and the perceived need for Good in its culture.

This identity provides an interface through the idea of mission. The campaign is then designed to build enthusiasm for fully funding and potentially expanding the ethical mission of the congregation. This is accomplished by creating a pool of financial resources supporting the activities that bring more of the envisioned Good into being. Individuals giving from personal abundance generate congregational abundance enabling an abundant expression of mission.

The choice about fundraising approaches must be in sync with the members’ relationship to the congregation and their shared sense of purpose.

origami money heart


Money becomes a tool to empower mission. The focus of the campaign is on impact, not costs.



May it be so~


Laurel signature





Related Resources:

Miller, Herb. New Consecration Sunday Stewardship Program (with Guest Leader Guide & CD-ROM). 2007. Abingdon Press. Nashville.

Crossman, Bob. Effective Stewardship is Not Budget Driven. 2012. Ministry Matters website:

Multigenerational Stewardship & Worship Resources on Giving


Should ministers know about their congregants’ giving to the congregation?

 Should ministers know about their congregants’ giving to the congregation?


When posing the question to an audience of predominantly Unitarian Universalist professional and lay leaders, the majority of the comments assert that ministers should have knowledge of their congregants’ giving.

To date, one two hundred and eleven people responded to the Giving Speaks poll on the topic, with nearly sixty-seven percent (66.8%) of respondents said yes, affirming the value and importance of ministers having knowledge about congregant giving.  Seventeen percent (17.1%) responding to the poll took an opposing view, believing that ministers having knowledge of their congregants’ giving would have a negative or inhibiting effect on the congregation. The remaining sixteen percent (16.1%) fall in the categories of maybe, not sure, or other.

It’s not too late to participate in this poll!  If you would like to add your opinions and experience, respond to the poll questions. You can add comments by clicking the “view results” link, then the “comments” link, scroll to the bottom and add your comment in the box. OR, you can email comments to

The following comments and responses reflect the themes, concerns, and approaches commonly expressed by ministers, lay leaders, and congregants:

  • Everyone should know.The cult of secrecy must end.
  • Absolutely. Stewardship is a very important part of ministry, and really a part of spiritual health.
  • Ministers  should know pretty much everything about their congregation, including pledging…
  • How can you entrust your soul to your minister if you won’t be candid about your commitment to the faith? I never set out to know people’s giving, but a savvy minister knows nonetheless. Openness about giving is a faith issue, not a
    management issue. 
  • The knowledge of giving levels will somehow contaminate the fairness and quality of  our ministry implies that we see money and generosity as unrelated to the  spiritual life, or worse, actively destructive to spiritual community.
  • When I  started my ministry 10 years ago, I didn’t think it was necessary.  Now I do.  Maybe it’s because my role has changed… Maybe I have changed,  believing now that my understanding of how people give to their church (in time, spirit, and money) is an important barometer of its health (and their health)…  
  • I refuse to know unless I have to go to meet with someone about their pledge or if they are giving a special amount.  My reasoning is that I would treat people ever so subtly differently if I knew they were giving a lot…I insist to my interim congregations that they are all equal partners when it comes to pastoral care and companionship
  • I always wait at least one year to develop a pastoral relationship first before getting info on personal giving.  Seldom am I  surprised to find that the most invested “doers” are also some of the most invested financially.  However, I am also pleased to find that many not able to pledge find ways to support by volunteering.  Best practice:  show gratitude for all giving and set the pace by example!
  • In the session of the New UU [curriculum] that deals with membership and giving, I tell potential members that I and the staff are committed to handling their giving information respectfully, but not confidentially.  The only members who complain about transparency are the ones who are upper-middle class and relatively minor pledgers, but want to be able to exert undue influence by threatening to withdraw their pledge… 
  • Who benefits by keeping this information from ministers, and what does this say about a congregation’s view on pastoral impartiality?  Why shouldn’t ministers know about giving levels, particularly when they’ll have something to say about how resources are allocated?  When they make decisions about how the money is spent, they should be held accountable for the resulting impact on programs.  Lastly, everyone in a congregation gets to weigh in, at the annual meeting at least, on the minister’s salary and benefits package.  Everyone—from the “skeptically parsimonious” to the cheerful and generous giver—gets this information.  The clergy, UU circles at least, should have a similar balance of
  • In a previous congregation, I witnessed the evolution of our Minister’s approach to pledge information.  When he first arrived and for some time, he did not want to know what members pledged, fearing that in some way it would contaminate his relationship with congregants.  Over time his thinking changed, and he actually became involved in fundraising.  Ultimately, he was instrumental in raising some of the largest contributions ever made to the church, without in any way changing his capacity to attend to all in need of his care . . . something that had always been one of his strengths.  As a result, he made a significant contribution to that church’s financial as well as spiritual well-being.

The writings and research of a growing number of congregational stewardship consultants, religious leaders, and experts serving a wide range of faith traditions and religious organizations clearly affirms the value and importance of senior ministers, staff and lay leaders having knowledge of and access to the pledging and giving data of those they serve.

One experienced consultant and author of the popular books Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate (2008) and Whose Offering Plate Is it? (2010), J. Clif Christopher, is a strong advocate for ministers taking an active leadership role in congregational stewardship and fundraising.   Christopher offers the following assertion to his colleagues in ministry,

Our job as pastors is not to know about money for money’s sake.  Our job is to know about money so we can help our people  have life and have it abundantly.

What we cannot fully determine through this poll is how these attitudes play out with regard to the congregations’ financial health and overall well-being. We can imagine the practices around sharing information among key stewardship leaders is an influential factor in the congregation’s culture of generosity (or lack thereof).

Thank you for your interest and participation!

IMG_0584Laurel signature

Recommended Resources:

Why Ministers Should Know What People Give, a stewardship leader training document by Larry Wheeler, a long-time UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant:

Central East Regional Group (CERG) UUA Stewardship
Resources, featuring a study guide for the book Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate and workshop video series Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is: New Ideas in Stewardship:


Christopher, J. Clif.
Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate (2008)
and Whose Offering Plate Is It? (2010).  Abingdon Press.

Fundraising is NOT a Spectator Sport


The 2015 Superbowl game was one of the most exciting EVER!

Even for someone like me, who knows very little about the rules of football and rarely watches, I got swept up in the spectacle of the amazing plays that culminated in the Patriots’ magnificent win.

Football is one of those bigger-than-life spectator sports that has the power to capture the attention of a nation and much of the world. Like football and apple pie, philanthropy is a part of the fabric of the United States. Charitable giving in the United States totaled $335.17 billion in 2013, with seventy-two percent (72%) given by individuals. Over 95% of American households give to charity. The average household contribution is $2,974. Just over thirty percent (31%) of charitable contributions are to religious organizations.

It’s common for congregations and smaller charitable organizations to focus their fundraising efforts on big fundraising events and seeking grant funding. While fundraising events bring in chunks of funding, they are time- and energy-consuming and subject to the variables in today’s world—weather, timing, competing events, volunteer involvement, and the economy. Applying for grants can be large investment of time for the return and the field is filled with aggressive competitors.a-group-of-people-having-a-good-time-on-music_My4L080d

As members of your congregation, you might imagine yourselves as a part of the Team of 72%–the individuals engaged in funding their organization, together. Rather than being spectators or attendees, you actively engage in the sport.

You and your peers are valued players, making the difference in the outcome for the betterment of the whole. You train and practice and challenge yourselves to new levels of success.

Go, team!

Laurel 2012Laurel signature





Resources for further exploration of this topic:

  • Atlas of Giving (USA) 2014 and 2015 forecast:
  • Giving USA 2013:     Giving-USA-2014-Highlights-final-secured
  • Ahern, Tom. Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes. Emerson & Church. 2009.
  • Burnett, Ken. Relationship Fundraising. Jossey-Bass. 2002.
  • Christopher, J. Clif. Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship. Abingdon Press. 2008.
  • Durall, Michael. Beyond the Collection Plate. Abingdon Press. 2003.
  • Warwick, Mal. Fundraising When Money Is Tight. Jossey-Bass. 2009.