Inspiring Generous Giving in Congregations: Antidotes to Donor Fatigue
Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching people the joy of giving. ~Hank Rosso
The members of our congregations make our faith what it is. As one looks out amongst the pews, the faces you see possess an energy, commitment, intelligence and engagement matched by few other groups of individuals. Along with their shared values and faith, each person that gathers together each week gives of themselves to make the celebration of this liberal faith tradition possible. Some contribute their talents and expertise in leading the congregation to greater fulfillment of its mission; others contribute their wisdom and compassion in bringing forth the very best of their fellow worshipers. Most also give generously of their wealth, whether great or small, to provide the resources necessary to support and grow the congregation that inspires them.
At times, however, these same individuals may experience what is commonly referred to as “Donor Fatigue,” a situation in which these supporting members reduce or entirely cease their financial support of the congregation. Though certainly many household budgets have been challenged by the contracting economy, this drop in giving may be caused by any number of reasons: perhaps there is a lack of trust in the congregation’s ability to steward the resources effectively; concerns over inadequate staff, space, or budgets; or anxiety and conflict arising from differing theological perspectives or strategic priorities.
Frequently in our culture, the topic of money and generous giving is effectively taboo, compounding the difficulty of addressing the concerns that the members of your congregation may be experiencing. Your congregation can help to de-sensitizing the topic by talking about it to the members of your congregation in reflective, non-anxious ways:
- Having a year-round stewardship program to connect the topics of money, giving, and faith in people’s minds can help to establish and cultivate openness to giving and generosity within their lives.
- Establishing and communicating clear expectations for congregational membership and giving: a culture of generosity springs from an inspiring vision and high expectations for participation.
- Facilitating conversations and small group discussions about money and its relationship to individuals, families, and the larger community can help in reducing anxiety in talking about giving and generosity.
- Offer programs to help develop personal financial skills and decision-making about how one’s money can be used, such as personal finance sessions, debt reduction workshops, or introductions to planned giving.
Vision, Leadership and Accountability
People give to congregations for many reasons, both rational and emotive, that are unique to each person. However, there are complementary themes that emerge from conversations with generous supporters of the work of heart and mind found in Unitarian Universalism. You can (re)inspire your members’ generosity by addressing the three concepts of vision, leadership and accountability.
Finally, clarifying and communicating the vision of your congregation and the role that financial generosity plays in its ongoing well-being, active engagement of the ministry and lay leadership in stewardship processes, and recognition and accountability all play tremendously important roles in strengthening the stewardship activities of any organization.
- Clarify and be able to communicate the vision of your congregation and the role that financial generosity plays in its ongoing well-being.
- People want to make a positive difference in the world and to be part of something that changes lives for the better.
- Examine what the message for giving to the congregation is. Is it inspiring? Does it say “Live the Vision!” or “Pay the Bills”?
- Help people to distinguish between expectations for charitable giving and demands of our mass consumer culture when it comes to the perception or sources of fatigue.
- How does generosity and giving contribute to the formation of your congregation’s faith identity? Does it express itself as a spiritual practice of generosity or a mandate of obligatory giving?
Ministry and Leadership
- Examine the public perception of your ministry and leadership in their ability to bring the congregation’s vision and mission to life.
- Donors choose to give to organizations that demonstrate their capacity with competent, effective, trustworthy, and accountable leadership.
- How involved is the ministry in leading and promoting effective stewardship and generous giving within your congregation?
- The lay leadership and staff can also play an active role in advocacy and stewardship, particularly if stewardship is integrated into leadership development training and workshops.
Recognition and Accountability
- Support is given to organizations that are perceived to be strong, successful, and worthy of their gifts. Fiscal responsibility is critical to a congregation’s stewardship success!
- Report back to your membership on how contributions are used and the difference that has been made as a result of their generosity.
- Thank people as often as possible and celebrate the achievements that they have made possible.
Though exceptionally generous individuals may give unsolicited gifts to the organizations that they believe to be capable and worthy of their support, it is much more common that people must be invited to demonstrate their generosity. Your members must be asked to make a gift to your congregation!
Making a compelling case to encourage their gifts further enhances the generosity that is demonstrated; helping your fundraising “ask” to resonate with people’s hearts and minds, inspiring their giving. Elements of a compelling fundraising message include the following:
- It is Simple: Keep mission and values central to your message.
- It is Unexpected: A pressing need or barrier to overcome can pique donor interest.
- It is Concrete: Many people are motivated to support causes that lead to definite and tangible results.
- It is Credible: Not only is your congregation capable of carrying out the programs described, but they are likely to have the desired outcome.
- It taps Emotion: Your message should move the donor emotionally, with an inspiring message that offers opportunities for transformation.
- It makes use of Stories: Narratives and testimonies can readily convey and relate to people’s passion.
- It is SURPRISING: How generosity touches lives and makes a positive difference in the world–celebrate!
For more information about donor cultivation, relationships, and motivation:
Giving – The Sacred Art, Lauren Tyler Wright (available at http://www.uuabookstore.org/)
Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate, J. Clif Christopher
Passing the Plate, Christian Smith & Michael O. Emerson with Patricia Snell
The Spirituality of Fund-raising, Henri J. M. Nouwen
“Fundraising Fundamentals” Blog: http://fundraisingfundamentals.wordpress.com/
STEWARDSHIP CONSULTING SERVICES for Unitarian Universalist congregations: