About Giving Speaks

I am a stewardship and fundraising professional, with a faith development background. I am also a speaker and workshop leader focusing on topics of generosity, giving and stewardship.

There’s No Better Time for Good Stewardship

Dry Falls

There are times in the life a congregation when giving and cash flow takes a dip. When this happens, leaders get alarmed, panic sets in, and the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth begins. The temptation is to take quick action to alert the congregants about “the budget crisis” and urge everyone to give more money immediately to mitigate the distressing circumstances. If that doesn’t work, the budget slashing begins. The leaders’ impulse, of course, springs from their dedication to the congregation and a strong sense of duty to maintain its financial health and well-being.

I have observed this pattern many times….

Stop sign 2

Resist those reactive impulses. Slow down. Gather more information about the circumstances affecting the congregation’s bottom line. Take a more strategic and thoughtful approach.

In his latest book, The Church Money Manual, church consultant and author of several excellent books on stewardship, J. Clif Christopher provides guidance to clergy and lay leaders, based on years of experience and insight.

Here are the highlights of Christopher’s wise advice:

  • Gather membership, attendance and giving data from several years back to the present so that you have a better view of the facts.
  • Notice any fluctuations in the giving patterns, exploring any circumstances that may explain the rises or dips. Were there fewer Sundays this year in September than last year?  Did storms force a closing or lower attendance last winter? Were there special events two years ago that drew more families?
  • Attend to relationships, noticing if you have not been seeing some of your loyal attendees or highest contributing members. Rather than speculate on the reasons why, make contact with these folks and find out what is going on for them.  Are there hurt feelings, misunderstandings, or pastoral needs? Ask for their honest feedback, and listen with care.
  • Clarify the congregation’s mission, purposes, and priorities. People give to an inspiring mission and vision for the future, so convey it in visible and engaging ways.
  • Once your leadership team has compiled and assessed your findings, formulate a stewardship strategy for communicating with the congregation and individual donors using time-proven approaches outlined in all of Christopher’s and most fundraising books.

Seek always to align your congregation’s mission, message, and relationships–and the resources will flow!

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Climate Change–Fundraising in Faith Communities

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Increasingly, the effects of environmental climate change are felt in North America and around the world.  The intensity of storms, drought, and temperature are having a greater impact on our daily lives and crisis planning is no longer an afterthought in regions hardest hit.

Similarly, there has been steady climate change in many denominations and faith-based organizations in North America, particularly with regard to giving and fundraising. According to the Giving USA 2013 report released in June, overall giving to religion was down last year by nearly two percent (-1.9%) after a modest post-recession increase in 2012. This does not bode well, since overall charitable giving has rebounded by another three percent (3% adjusted for inflation) to pre-recession levels, with healthy increases in several categories.

Faith Community leaders–this notable drop in giving to religion should be a matter of great interest and concern to you.

For decades, religion received the largest share of charitable giving in the United States, and still does, but to a shrinking degree. This correlates with the decline in membership and attendance in Mainline Christian Churches. However, many faith communities report that donors are increasing the amount of their monetary gifts. There are simply fewer donors in their flocks.

Here is what we know about the other climatic changes affecting fundraising and things faith communities can do about them:

  • Baby Boomers have hit middle age. They are not as active in faith communities as their parents had been, tend to view institutions and authority with suspicion. However, they generously invest their volunteer energy and charitable dollars in social justice causes and community organizations that improve people’s lives and circumstances.

Studies indicate the more people are actively engaged in meaningful ways, the more they give to those organizations. Find ways to connect with this generation’s interests by encouraging voluntarism, community-building, high quality worship and programs. This means clarifying a compelling vision that has appeal for seekers as well as the faithful. It is essential to ensure top notch membership practices and faith development programs are in place.

  • Young adults have eclectic religious and spiritual interests, many referring to themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” and choosing to remain unaffiliated with religious institutions. They like the freedom to explore a variety of belief
    smart phone and moneysystems and spiritual practices and they steer away from intolerant attitudes and oppressive dogma. As a group, young adults think globally, supporting international causes that make a tangible difference in people’s lives. They are actively engaged in social networking and prefer using internet technology when making their gifts.

This represents our biggest opportunity for growth and giving in faith communities.  Faith  communities could grow and prosper if they offered what generational surveys and research tell us people are seeking and will invest their time and resources to actively support. It is important to remember that relationships are central to effective fundraising and stewardship, so always take time to get to know people and what is important to them as individuals and families.

  • Wealth is moving from generation to generation—BIG TIME. This represents over $40 Trillion passing to Baby Boomers from their parents. This makes planned giving opportunities much more timely and relevant to aging Baby Boomers.

There is no time to lose for congregations and faith-based organizations to establish and market planned giving programs! To begin with, you should have clear and comprehensive gift acceptance policies in place, as well as trusted financial advisors and legal counsel to assist you in the proper handling of gifts. Most denominations and community foundations have cost-saving planned giving services and information to help organizations and donors understand their options.

  • Today’s donors expect financial accountability, clear and accurate reporting for how their donations are used, and appropriate recognition of their gifts. There are myriad books, online resources, consultation and training available for current best practices. (Some great resources are listed below.) Get your eyes and hands on them and use them!

There is no lack of information about best practices in fundraising and no excuse for ignorance in this realm of faith community finance. Ask for help or consultation from a qualified professional if you don’t know where to begin.

We can learn new ways to adapt to the forces of change. We can equip ourselves to be better prepared for fundraising challenges by adopting current best practices before they arise. 

Laurel 2012

Laurel signature

Laurel Amabile, CFRE | Giving Speaks Consulting

Recommended resources:

Developing Fundraising Policies and Procedures. Barbara L. Ciconte, CFRE. Association of Fundraising Professionals. http://www.afpnet.org

Giving USA Reports.  http://www.givingusareports.org/

Religion Among the Millennials. Pew Research Center. 2010. http://www.pewforum.org

Leave a Legacy.  A toolkit compiled by Marion V. Grimes & Susan T. Siwiec, APR. Sponsored by The Western New York Planned Giving Consortium, Inc.            http://tinyurl.com/lrsj9ku

Planned Giving for Small Nonprofits. Ronald R. Jordan & Katelyn L. Quynn. 2002. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Planned Giving Resources for Unitarian Universalist congregations can be found at the Unitarian Universalist Association: http://uua.org/giving/planned/index.shtml and UU Umbrella Giving opportunities: http://uua.org/giving/47673.shtml

Living and Giving for a More Meaningful Life

dollars in coffee cup

On my way to work, I drive by a number of panhandlers that station themselves on the median strips around the intersection.  Most carry signs that state they are homeless,out of work and in need of money.  The city has tried to address the “problem” of panhandling through ordinances that ban the practice, but that hasn’t worked. Clearly, the issue is more complex than keeping people from loitering on the city medians. We’ve all heard the arguments for and against giving money to panhandlers. I understand the concerns involved.

However, what I do know is that I have enough resources to meet my basic needs, and more.  I have enough to share with another person whose circumstances have resulted in standing out in the elements, holding a cardboard sign asking for help, and enduring humiliation and public scrutiny. My current practice is to give one of these folks a dollar bill and a package of hand warmers, a power bar, or a frequent buyer card for a free cup of coffee at Whole Foods. My hope is that this action affirms another person’s humanity and perhaps eases their difficulties for a time. I experience deeper appreciation for the abundance and find greater meaning in my life through this simple act of generosity. This doesn’t preclude me from giving to my faith community, social service agencies, and other good causes.  I do that also.

A recent Barna Group article on research findings that indicate that 75% of adults in the United States are seeking ways to live more meaningful lives.  This involves an integration of all aspects of daily living–family, home life, vocation, religious or spiritual involvement, education, and community engagement–with one’s values, goals, and sense of calling. This is not an easy balance to achieve with the cultural pressure to make money, stay ahead of the bills, maintain relationships with family and friends, and generally stay out of trouble.  But, we all know there is more to life than just keeping our heads above water…we thrive when we gain a sense of well-being and happiness that comes from a strong social support network, freedom to make choices in our lives, and experiencing generosity.  As Tom Ahern puts it in his presentations, “Living up to our personal values is a pleasure. There is dopamine involved.”

Those of us working in the realms of fundraising and stewardship must remember the importance of connecting personal values, lifestyle choices, happiness, and opportunities for expressing generosity when framing our fundraising appeals and events. A growing body of philanthropic data indicate that today’s donors seek deeper connections with the causes to which they contribute. They aspire to live up to their personal values through their giving. Younger donors want to make a positive difference in the lives of people and in the world through their contributions of time and money. In these ways giving becomes an integral and meaningful part of daily living, enhancing the well being of all involved and society at large.

Barna Group. Three Trends on Faith, Work and Calling. February 11, 2014.https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/649-three-major-faith-and-culture-trends-for-2014#.UwLBrfldWSo

Public Broadcasting System (PBS). This Emotional Life. Alturism & Happiness.           http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/altruism/altruism-happiness http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/topic/altruism/types-giving

World Happiness Report 2012                         http://unsdsn.org/resources/publications/world-happiness-report-2013/