5 Ways to Strengthen Your Organization’s Philanthropic Culture



In a philanthropic culture all gifts given for the common good are valued, and all givers respected and affirmed. The emphasis should be on engaging the whole person in the common good that comes from their involvement in your organization.*

#1   Embrace Philanthropy—What it is, and What it does

Philanthropy is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes. The practice of giving money and time to help others is the heart of philanthropy. The word philanthropy comes from the Late Latin word philanthropia, from the Greek philein (to love) and Anthropos (humanity), and was first known to be used as a term in the early 1600’s.

Voluntary Action for the Public Good is one pithy way to understand that philanthropy is not simply fundraising for worthy causes, and it’s not the same as effective stewardship. It’s these essential practices and more. The central motivation for philanthropic giving is for the common good: to help make people’s lives and circumstances better. And, it is voluntary behavior, not to be taken for granted by any charitable organization.

#2   Form a Philanthropy Team—everyone is essential.

From the receptionist to the Executive Director, everyone on staff is a part of the team that creates the culture of philanthropy reflected in your organization.

If the first person your donor or volunteer encounters in your organization does not understand the importance of philanthropy, you could lose the support you count on to flourish. All those who are in contact with people should be trained in the basics of donor relations and how your organization is funded. If you depend heavily on individual donations, your staff and key volunteers should be well versed and equipped with information about your giving programs.

#3   Philanthropy Begins with the Leadership—100% participation and no less.

origami money heartWhen you assume a leadership role in an organization—particularly board leadership—you must demonstrate your commitment to the financial health of the organization. Every member of the board and financial leadership must make an annual contribution within their means. Every year.

If the organization is not worthy of its leadership’s generosity and support, how can you expect others to give?

#4   Conveying your organization’s mission, vision and values to inspire generosity and loyalty in the hearts of your supporters.

The development of your organization’s philanthropic culture increases your level of sustainability for the long haul. Your strongest supporters will be those who are passionate and committed to what your organization does to make a positive difference in the world.

Ideally, the return on investment in your organization will be the real impact that occurs in people’s lives and communities. If your mission and efforts don’t make a difference or have a positive impact you cannot expect the level of support you want.

#5   Express appreciation with sincerity and enthusiasm

When the organization is accountable to its donors and honors the intentions of their gifts, authentic, caring community is nurtured. Generosity should be celebrated and appreciation should be expressed by leaders in ways appropriate to each donor. Philanthropic culture grows when love of humanity and voluntary action for the common good are exemplified and affirmed as a value and practice of those involved in your organization.

As your organization becomes known for its philanthropic participation and culture, this builds trust and confidence in your organization, as well as its mission and programs.

If you would like to build a stronger philanthropic culture in your organization through focused planning and training, contact me today~

Laurel Amabile portrait 2

Committed to helping your organization flourish,

Laurel signatureLaurel Amabile, CFRE


Related Resources

*Collins, Mary Ellen. Essential Assets. Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2015.  Association of Fundraising Professionals

Howlett, Susan. Boards on Fire! Word & Raby Publishing. 2010.  Boards on Fire

Payton, Robert L. Philanthropy: Voluntary Action for the Public Good. 

What’s the Budget For Anyway? Part Three


The third and final installment of the “What’s the Budget For Anyway?” article by K. Peter Henrickson*~

Presenting the Budget

By whatever planning process is appropriate in your congregation, the Finance Committee needs to showcase a set of targets for congregational services three or four years into the future.  The presentation of such plans and their longer term financial implications shifts the congregation’s attention from considering the spending request for next year vis-a-vis last year to considering where the congregation is heading.  The stewardship drive is an opportunity to meld the conversation about congregational direction with the conversation about individual dreams.  So, here are some guidelines for presenting a vision budget stimulating such conversations.

Summarize and focus expenses into the major areas of energy for your congregation.  We want the membership to “own” the vision — to believe it is good and to love it passionately.  Suppose we organize a vision budget around the major growth needs driving the church.[1]  Consider these examples:

  • Worship, Spiritual Growth and Exploration
  • Organizational Services and Leadership Development
  • Community Outreach and Denominational Support
  • Pastoral Support and Shared Ministry

These categories represent what is sometimes referred to as a “mission budget”.  They virtually scream out the necessity to describe why we are in community. The minister and board need to provide inspiring leadership in each of these areas — to show in greater detail the aspirations for your congregation.  “Worship, Spiritual Growth, and Exploration”, for example, might mean a year around ministry for children or additional emphasis on laity ministry.  It might mean developing two or three regular services each week (or more), each targeted to the needs of particular groups of people.

  •  Include a multi-year forecast, three or four years beyond the budget year.  The purpose of a forecast is to show that the leadership has heard what the members want and that such a church is available in the future — although not next year.  Members understand that programs take time to launch; they need to see movement toward objectives.  They will support growth with a vision that fits their own, that enhances lives in the community today as it moves toward tomorrow.
  • In the vision budget keep the focus on the future and away from the past.  Consider using only the following column headings congregational meeting budget:  current year budget, current year projected, budget year, first vision year, second vision year, third vision year, etc.  That is, strip last year’s spending out of the budget presentation. The data are 12 months old or more and contributes virtually nothing to the discussion about future years.  If someone wants to reference a particular number from last year, the treasurer can look it up quickly enough.  But do not presume that the entire congregation needs or wants to review the historical perspective.  That entire extra column  of numbers increases potential confusion without bringing much benefit.
  • Give committees a way to talk about why they do what they do, and how they want to do it better.  Most of what your membership envisions will be championed by the various committees.  Listen to what the committees want in the future and recognize its priority in the budget presentation.  The role of the board is to defer committee requests, not cut them.
  • Present a vision budget which is adequate to the community.  Too often churches limp along without the ministerial or other staff support they need, without an annual installment on the building repair fund, or without sufficient religious education supplies.  Good leadership presents a budget to focus attention away from the discouraging present and toward the place we want to be within the foreseeable future.  The vision budget should highlight the opportunities facing the congregation.  Develop the vision budget to get both the board and the committees to share their observations and their dreams.  They are the core of the congregation and their common purpose for the future is building community.
  • Show what can be done with modest pledge increases over the next few years.  I do not believe that any congregation can say with integrity that it enjoys a fullness of spiritual meaning in all of the four areas of energy suggested above if the average giving level is below $120/family/month. This is a commitment of about 2% where congregational monthly incomes average $5,-$6,000/month.  The vision budget needs to show what the church could be with a growth of gifts to a 3% – 5% level over the course of a few years.
  • Show the number of members or giving units currently and into the future.  Growth is important in most congregations, and the vision budget should elevate this discussion.  This is also a way to focus attention on growing average stewardship levels.  One might show average commitments separately for “members” and for all other contributors as a way of communicating the higher giving levels expected of membership.
  • Do not show the congregation numbers with more than four digits.  The membership will not absorb numbers with length, or at least not an entire page of them.   A budget totaling $150,000 – $250,000 can express $435 as “.4” — at least in the years out beyond the budget year while a budget of $500,000 should round to even thousands.
  • Put the entire budget on a single page.   Leave lots of white space on the paper and do not reduce the type size.  When you have done this, you have a budget that is comprehensible to those not familiar with it.  Again, the sole purpose of the vision budget is to increase the level of giving.  We who are church treasurers often lose sight of this objective.  We default to thinking the purpose of the budget is to present numbers, and more is better.  In the vision budget, fewer is better.

In summary, “This is not your father’s budget!”  Look forward.

Use the annual budget process to continually revisit the congregation’s dreams for where it wants to go and how fast it wants to get there.  The budget process is repeated every year.    It brings focus and detail to the discussion.  When done as described above it shows clearly what the leadership sees as priorities and focuses discussion on them.  It shows that those programs and needs which are not this year’s priorities are still important and are viable in the future.  It is public enough to generate discussion among many who are interested but not directly involved.  It can be a terrific vehicle for inspiring a congregation.


*K. Peter Henrickson lives in Vancouver, WA has served the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and its Pacific Northwest District for over 30 years.  Peter served two separate terms as district treasurer for a total of 15 years.  During that period, he began consulting with congregations on general financial management issues.  With the learnings from those consulting jobs, Peter put together several presentations for both district meetings and the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly.  And the material from those workshops grew into a book, Church Financial Management, which is now available through Amazon.   Peter has served on the Board of Eliot Institute and was Treasurer for a total of about ten years and has served as the UUA’s District Compensation Consultant since 2005.  Peter can be contact directly at:   kphenrickson@gmail.com    (360) 608-8571

            [1] See Loren B Meade’s “More Than Numbers, The Way Churches Grow” referenced in the bibliography.  I recommend it for further development of these notions.

What’s the Budget For Anyway? Part Two


Giving Speaks is pleased to present part two of the featured What’s the Budget For Anyway article for congregation leaders by K. Peter Henrickson*

How do we get the Vision Thing?

The annual stewardship drive and the interlaced process of determining what services will be provided starts with asking members to focus on their gratitude for the community relationship they have.  Then they should be asked what they want additionally in that experience.  It leads to a consideration that they can enhance their lives through an expansive selflessness into the collective enterprise of their religious community.  When everyone can do that there is a shared vision.

The process of creating a vision that is more than a year or two away is one of the most difficult tasks facing church leadership — ministers, boards, and committees.  While we might appreciate the notion of having a widely shared vision, none of us know very well how to temporarily set aside the problems facing us now in order to focus on the future.  If one of our committees has a long term plan, we do not know how to support it.  We worry about being dictatorial over the specific proposals that someone doesn’t like; or, we get caught in a never-ending process of seeking complete consensus before committing the congregation to one course or another.  Finally, once committed, we are too easily persuaded to revisit the issue three years later because the congregation is “different now.”  I do not know any easy way to change the entrenched attitudes which tell us to focus on the present.

Nonetheless, I know that whatever vision is adopted by a congregation becomes so only because of the leadership.  Such work is not done unless led by those who are the Board, the committee chairs, the ministers and the stalwarts of the annual stewardship drive.  Vision simply does not happen if the leadership waits for it to arise from the pews.

Here is a process that may help the leadership in your church get started:

  • Ten months before the beginning of the next fiscal year, the board should discuss the context within which they want the budget prepared.  The Board should set forth its own notion of expected growth patterns over the next few years, expected trends in giving, and other matters that could impact on the resources available or the demand for additional services.  The board then communicates these planning parameters to the committees and staff.
  • At least six months prior to the new fiscal year the staff and the heads of the major committees get together for general brainstorming.  Each gets an opportunity (and has a responsibility) to say what changes they hope for over the next five years.  This discussion is an opportunity for synergies to be explored and complementary program operations to be articulated.
  • Ideally, four months prior to the new fiscal year the committee heads and staff get together a second time to share their specific budget ideas, including a three-year program projection.
  • About three months prior to the new year the finance team prepares a “base budget” designed to carry on operations only as we currently know them.  This base budget is usually slightly larger than the current budget by the amount of uncontrollable inflationary adjustments.
  • At the same time, the finance people prepare a listing of all the programmatic ideas they have received and their assessment of related costs.  The board places these incremental additive items into three groupings:  necessary, meaning those items which sustain the ministry and the staff without fundamental changes; important, meaning those items which will advance the ministry and improve the way we are doing things now; and needed improvements, meaning those items which will advance our current ministry in important ways but can be deferred without jeopardy or can be financed through special sources.  A dollar cost is assigned for each item and a dollar cost for each grouping is determined.
  •  These general priority groupings give the leadership and the members a focus for what the current budget drive needs to garner to achieve the program goals.    During the budget drive members can know that, for example:

“Uncontrollable increases will push our budget 1% higher while bringing no change to what we do now.  What we see as necessary additions are going to increase the base budget by about 2%.  Other important improvements to what we do now will cost 5% additional.  And the needed improvements which are the first two big steps on our three-year plan can cost as much as another 3%.  The dollar total on all these is in the range of $25,-$30,000.”

  • After the completion of the budget drive the Finance Committee can make a reasonably accurate assessment of where the current year spending will end and how much will come in during the next year.  Based on these two key pieces of information, it is fairly easy for the Board to determine whether they are focusing their decisions about the next year on the necessary, the important, or the needed improvements list — and to quickly agree to a final budget to put before the congregation.

In a few days we will post Peter’s thoughts on how to present the budget priorities and spending plan so that they are both comprehensive and comprehensible….

*K. Peter Henrickson lives in Vancouver, WA has served the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and its Pacific Northwest District for over 30 years.  Peter served two separate terms as district treasurer for a total of 15 years.  During that period, he began consulting with congregations on general financial management issues.  With the learnings from those consulting jobs, Peter put together several presentations for both district meetings and the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly.  And the material from those workshops grew into a book, Church Financial Management, which is now available through Amazon.   Peter has served on the Board of Eliot Institute and was Treasurer for a total of about ten years and has served as the UUA’s District Compensation Consultant since 2005.  Peter can be contact directly at:   kphenrickson@gmail.com    (360) 608-8571


Giving Speaks is pleased to bring back this popular 3-part guest blog article on congregational budgeting by K. Peter Henrickson*  Here is Part One….


      WHAT IS THE BUDGET FOR ANYWAY?  or, “How do we respond to “I hate budget meetings!”?

Most Unitarian Universalist (UU) churches manage the annual stewardship campaign in close alignment with the budget and the program year. For many churches the fiscal year starts July 1, for example, and runs through the following June 30. The annual pledge drive, then, occurs in the spring prior to the start of the year. Some choose a different fiscal year with a different time for the pledge drive. But for nearly all churches, the annual budget process is an initial part of the stewardship campaign.

There are a few scattered examples of churches attempting a rolling twelve month stewardship drive, lifting The Ask out of the immediate context of talking about the cost of running the church. The rationale for such efforts is verbalized as one of spreading this important workload throughout the year, surmising it could be done more effectively with a smaller dedicated group of volunteers who would engage members in more intimate conversations about the church, its mission, and its impact in their lives. Uncoupling the annual stewardship drive from the budget cycle has enthusiastic promoters.

But church leaders still rely on promoting a strong connection between their primary income source, pledges, and a description of spending needs, the budget. The problem is that most members have minimal enthusiasm for reviewing the budget. While acknowledging there could be some connection to their pledge, they find little inspiration in the three pages of numbers they are asked to review.

What’s wrong with our budget process?

Most churches engage in a depressingly familiar assessment of next year’s financial needs. First, the committees are given reports on how they have spent money in the past year and are asked to provide an idea about where they felt a little pinched this past year. Someone meets with the minister and staff, perhaps, to get an idea about what they want. The Treasurer guesses how much will come in next year based on current membership and giving trends.

With all this input from different sources, the Finance Committee (or, the board in smaller congregations) adds it up, finds there is a shortage, cuts some requests, increases some revenue items, and comes up with a “balanced” budget.

cutting moneyThis budget is presented to the congregation which debates the proposal in an open meeting, often full of rancor over the various “cuts” or “waste” or the “lack of realism” in the revenue estimates. The budget debate focuses on small expense categories — such as a cost/benefit comparison of the church phone line vs. cell service or whether there is too much photocopying being done. At the end of the evening the budget is adopted and everyone goes home feeling dismal and unenthusiastic.

What’s wrong with this picture? I can think of four things; perhaps you see more. First, the process encourages the membership to consider their gift level as a function of how the church will spend money next year. There is usually a sense of angst over whether we can get enough to do what needs to be done. We are asked to become more motivated in our giving because we see that the church needs to have supplies, purchase insurance, increase salaries, or support health insurance enrollments.

We do not engage this paradigm with other charitable organizations: Sierra Club, CARE, Planned Parenthood, Ducks Unlimited, and National Public Radio all receive our generous donations without our questioning their fiscal plans. We “know” what these organizations will do with our money, and we feel good about our support because they can do more with our help. The more generous our gifts, the more uplifted we feel because the organization will do good for us, with us. While we are always concerned that our gifts be used wisely, we presume that the leaders (whom we often do not have much voice in selecting) will continue to further our interests as they have in the past.

Alas, the usual church stewardship campaign does not foster a similar presumption.

Second, the process fractures the community as it squabbles over a “fair” allocation of resources rather than bringing us together in support of varied interests. (The divisiveness seems an intentionally perverse way of kicking off the drive to encourage sustaining gifts.)

Third, the “balanced budget” as presented to the congregation mistakenly leads members toward “zero sum” thinking – completely at odds with the reality of our communal enterprise. In the case of governmental agencies, for example, there is an estimated level of revenue within which the agency must live. The revenue usually derives from some tax base; and estimating it for the upcoming year is usually beyond the power of the agency to control. This reality contrasts quite strongly with that of church communities.

In our churches the flow of revenue is, quite literally, by the design of the members. The members of a church determine for themselves how much they will both provide and receive communally — how quickly they will fix the roof, hire the Youth Advisor, or set up the homeless shelter. Our relatively small and homogenous group is the only thing standing in the way of moving toward our dream.

Fourth, the focus is on tinkering with the spending pattern of the past, adjusting prior program patterns, rather than dreaming of our better future. We engage in patching up what we guiltily have left undone in the current year with little more than passing thought about where our path will take us three or five years from now. In truth, some members want the leadership to “not change things much around here; just do what we are doing already, but better”.

We Need a Longer Focus

In reflecting on our stewardship efforts in this way, we can begin to see that there are two approaches to raising money in churches. Let’s, for a moment, define people as falling into either of two groups: those with a wage earner mentality, and those with an entrepreneurial mentality. Wage earners understand their income as regular, predictable, and limited. Wage earners get a paycheck and pay their bills. Life, for the wage earner, has inflexible income boundaries. Wage earners are grounded in what is real today, and that’s where planning starts. Goals are fashioned within that context.

The entrepreneur has a different reality. The entrepreneur decides first what is to be attained, and then begins to work on what is necessary in getting from the present to the future. Income, for the entrorigami money heartepreneur, is not fixed; it is one of many variables to be managed in bringing a vision into being. Income may come slowly or it may come quickly, but the entrepreneur is focused on and expectant about the goal while managing income as it becomes available.

Unfortunately most of us think like wage earners. It is difficult to acknowledge and move beyond that frame of reference. Our churches, however, are small entrepreneurial enterprises that can be shaped and grown to be whatever we jointly decide to make them. For example, we might create a widely held notion of how we want to be in community together, of how our church community can support our fulfillment as Unitarian Universalists, of how we can respond to the newcomers who may choose to stay if we show them our dreams for three to five years from now. Such envisioning encourages each of us to define our place in the community independently of the particulars of spending in the next year. This is spiritual work.

The annual stewardship drive, in this framework, does not seek justification from a budget, per se. Rather, our stewardship arises out of our common vision — and the budget becomes a clear expression of first steps on our path together. It is a statement about community values and priorities. This is the budget we want to show the congregation. Its purpose is to help congregants realize their importance as part of the community and become more generous and supportive because of it.

The purpose of the visiosparks flyingn budget is to inspire the community by lighting the path ahead to our communal gathering place; controlling spending levels is a by-product. We want to know, for example, that the congregation agrees that it wants a minister in the future, or an associate minister, and that we will be able to afford one in the foreseeable future.

We want to know that there is a plan for our staff to get compensation packages that are competitive and fair, that the carpets will be cleaned, that our building will be painted, and that our furnace will be repaired when needed — all without creating a financial crisis.

We want to know how we can do this, with a specific plan; we want our leaders to show us how by joining our hearts and minds over what may take a few years we will achieve our dreams rather than simply lament our current state.

Types of Budgets

Let’s first agree that there are different ways to present a budget. The two most common are referred to as the “line item budget” and the “program budget” (and they generally parallel the two personality types above). Each of these formats works well depending upon the organization’s dominant need.

Large organizations, particularly government agencies and large non-profits, need control and accountability over current spending. Voters, elected officials, unions, trustees, managers and stakeholders all ask: “How did the money get used? Was any of it spent inappropriately? How can we limit the amount paid for salaries?” The parties need to be answerable to each other on such questions. In such organizations “program budgets” have never gained traction in large organizations because they do not address the organization’s financial questions.

Churches and most non-profits are smaller and more homogenous. The interests of the constituents are not nearly as diverse. While controls in small organizations are more informal, they can also be more effective politically; current spending is questioned less, despite the occasional budget arguments. Issues of control take a second seat to issues of meaning and mission. The important financial questions facing small not-for-profit agencies are “What are we about?” “What do we do?” And, “Where is the money coming from?”

It may be that in your church, accountability and control is the most important issue facing the congregation. While I readily admit that I have sat in on many discussions about newsletter costs being too high, such questions are not the greatest concern of the board. More often, the dominant issues center on raising more money so that we can better support our religious education program, our outreach ministry, or our pastoral services.

A “line item budget” shows how much will be spent on postage, supplies, coffee, copy paper, and so on. This is boring stuff for which no one will increase their monthly commitment. What is needed is a budget which will inspire donors to give. This is most easily accomplished when the congregation has a sense that it is moving toward a better future, and each member feels committed to the group effort.

But where does the exciting vision of the future come from?   Stay tuned for a follow-on post from Peter in a few days.


*K. Peter Henrickson lives in Vancouver, WA has served the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and its Pacific Northwest District for over 30 years.  Peter served two separate terms as district treasurer for a total of 15 years.  During that period, he began consulting with congregations on general financial management issues.  With the learnings from those consulting jobs, Peter put together several presentations for both district meetings and the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly.  And the material from those workshops grew into a book, Church Financial Management, which is now available through Amazon.   Peter has served on the Board of Eliot Institute and was Treasurer for a total of about ten years and has served as the UUA’s District Compensation Consultant since 2005.  Peter can be contact directly at:   kphenrickson@gmail.com    (360) 608-8571

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: http://bit.ly/180GUlt

Multigenerational Stewardship & Worship Resources on Giving Speaks.com


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 givingspeaks@gmail.com.

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!

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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:    http://www.cerguua.org/stewardshipres.html


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