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….

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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

Fundraising Events—Money Makers or Energy Drainers?


people on pile of money


Do you look forward to your annual fundraising events, or are you exhausted by the thought of them?
 

Are your event volunteer sign up sheets full of names or blank spaces?

Is your budget so dependent on your fundraising events that if you don’t make the goal you must make serious cuts in expenditures?

Most congregations and charitable organizations conduct at least one major fundraising event annually. A good many hold six or more events every year, sometimes running two or more concurrently. Often these events have been happening for several decades and are considered an essential part of the organization’s funding, no matter what and no matter how much money is raised.

“It’s just what we always do. We depend on this event to make our budget.”

hands out for moneyFor example, when I am visiting a congregation, it is not unusual for me to hear announcements during the service for the youth group’s fundraising luncheon that afternoon, urgent pleas for donations of goods and services to the auction next week, and requests for support of the local soup kitchen. This may be followed by the offering which will be shared with a worthy cause and a dismal update on the annual pledge campaign. After the service, I go to the fellowship hour, where there is a basket out for contributing to defray the costs of coffee, a table for selling tee shirts or fair trade products, and bulletin boards with posters and appeals for all of the above. These may all be worthy requests for support, but a fundraising culture this diffuse can lead to serious “donor fatigue” on the part of the congregants. The people lose a clear sense of the mission and are overwhelmed with the barrage of requests. No wonder many congregations struggle with stewardship and finding energized people to run their annual stewardship campaigns and pledge drives.

What if fundraising events were focused on mission, the needs of the wider community, and for social justice?

My dream is that the culture of giving and fundraising activities will be transformed in congregations:

  • A master fundraising plan will be developed annually by the Stewardship Team and key staff leaders and approved by the governing board. All funds raised must be handled and accounted for in accordance with the policies established by the board.
  • Each fundraising activity or event will clearly reflects the mission, vision, goals/ends of the organization—or it won’t happen.
  • A timeline is created with the activities and events intentionally spread out over the course of the year, allowing ample time for advanced planning and publicity (and recovery time).
  • Each fundraising event is planned and conducted by a competent team of volunteers who work in collaboration with the appropriate staff, board, and committees. Avoid volunteer burnout by grooming leaders to take the reins after two or three years.
  • A significant portion—if not all—of the funds raised will be used for the ministries and outreach activities of the congregation that will directly benefit the surrounding community and society at large.
  • Careful record-keeping should be expected, with timely reports to the financial leaders and administrative staff. All funds should be accounted for and processed through the congregation’s established systems.
  • Every fundraising activity will be thoroughly evaluated for its qualitative benefits (strengthening relationships, community-building, awareness-raising) and return on the investment of staff/volunteer time, supply and equipment cost, and amount of money raised. If the benefits and dollar amounts do not produce a significant offset to the investments, consider modifying or eliminating it in the future.
  • Spread the affirmations around as much as the work. Thank everyone involved in the event’s success and share the story of making a difference.
  • Have fun along the way! Fundraising activities are enjoyable and meaningful at their best.

Let’s use this forum as a way to share your most successful fundraising event experiences and ideas for transforming the fundraising culture in our congregations. You are invited to share your stories as comments here on Giving Speaks, or via email to laurelamabile@gmail.com .

 sparks flying

Related Resources:

Renee Herrell’s Blog. Caution: Men in Heels. Oct. 2009. This post features a fun and creative fundraising event and the pros and cons of charitable events for fundraisers to consider.  http://reneeherrell.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/hello-world/