Stewardship as Ministry

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Balancing money & heart

Regardless of religious affiliation, there are things that are being learned about congregational stewardship that can be of great help to us—particularly in managing the realities of today’s economy.  There is much wisdom to be gleaned from current research about congregational giving, fundraising, and stewardship.

  • Stewardship is a ministry.  It is much broader in scope than fundraising, and requires a highly relational and pastoral approach.
  • All of the resources of the congregation or faith community are involved in the broadest scope of stewardship:  money, property, people, time, and energy.
  • Hospitality, careful tending and management of resources, and a clear vision and mission are key aspects of stewardship in the congregation.
  • Giving and generosity are matters of the spirit and are at the heart of stewardship.
  • Giving is a spiritual discipline at its core, a practice that reflects one’s faith as well as spiritual depth and maturity.
  • Becoming a generous person involves a lifelong, developmental process which begins in infancy with receiving love.  Generosity evolves with mutually-reinforcing experiences of giving and receiving.
  • There is a direct relationship between one’s deepest held values and the motivation to give.  We contribute our time and resources to those things that matter most in our lives, as reflected in our bank statements and budgets.
  • Our religious leaders—particularly ministers and religious educators—must take an active role in modeling and teaching good stewardship in order for the concepts and principles to take root in their congregations.
  • Regardless of the economic context, congregations with the highest household giving levels focus on an inspiring mission and vision, engage in a visible, year-round stewardship program, and ask for levels of financial support that are proportionately appropriate for each individual or family.
  • Generous congregations provide a safe environment in which to talk about money and its role in peoples’ lives.  They offer training and support in personal financial planning and giving choices so that generosity can be practiced.
  • Generous behavior in faith communities is often expected but cannot be taken for granted.  It is important to express appreciation and gratitude for all that people  contribute and for all gifts received.

making an offering

For more resources to promote generosity among individuals and households in your Unitarian Universalist congregation:

http://www.uua.org/leaders/stewardship/67537.shtml                                                 http://www.uua.org/leaders/stewardship/index.shtml

Ecumenical Stewardship Center, with links to a number of denominational stewardship websites:   http://www.stewardshipresources.org/

Lake Institute for Faith and Giving:  http://www.philanthropy.iupui.edu/Lakefamilyinstitute/

Alban Institute:  http://www.alban.org

Before Asking for Money–Listen!

Donner whispers

Everyday conversation in the United States begins with a customary greeting that goes something like this…

“Hi! How are you doing?”

“Fine.  How are you doing?”

“Fine.  Life is very busy.  Have a great day!”

“Yeah, you too!”

This is often where the communication ends, if it goes this far at all.   The greeting is automatic; listening–really listening–is rarely involved.  Research, however, indicates adults spend about 80% of their daily time communicating, with 93% being non-verbal communication.  It is estimated that adults engage in listening about 45% of the time.  This is the same proportion of listening time estimated in the 1929 research by Dr. Paul Rankin.

Interestingly enough, with the rise of mass media communication between 1950 and 1980, the amount of listening time increased to over 50%.  Since then, the advent of email and social networking has caused a slight increase in reading and writing over listening.

Seasoned fundraising consultant and author, Mal Warwick underscores the importance of listening in fundraising:

 Is she a good listener? I’ve never met a fundraiser who was truly successful without being a dedicated and effective listener.  In face-to-face solicitations, listening is essential to understand the way that a donor’s personal values and interests might be linked to a particular project. But listening is just as effective in direct mail, telefundraising, or other forms of direct response: how else could she really come to understand what a project or issue is about, or what motivates donors?

In congregational fundraising, face-to-face conversations are an effective way to build relationships and financial support.  Strong relationships are central to a healthy and flourishing community.  Money and energy flow in community.

Those who are gift stonesinitiating the conversations on the part of the organization must practice active listening, which is an essential practice in fundraising and annual stewardship.  One place to start is to find out more about what matters most to the prospective giver, listening for ways they connect with the mission and priorities of your congregation.  When we ask questions that elicit the positive emotions an individual has about the congregation and its faith values, the more likely he or she will commit to financial support.  Only after you listen and learn can you connect the person’s values, commitment, and monetary resources into a compelling reason to give.  This practice of intentional and positive communication is called Appreciative Inquiry.   Appreciative Inquiry should be a central aspect and practice in congregational stewardship and fundraising.

Listening Tips for Congregational Stewards and Fundraisers:

  • Focus on the people and relationships–learn what is important to them about their involvement, their interests, priorities, and values.
  • Listen attentively–let them know they are worthy of your attention and a valued part of the community.
  • Ask questions that elicit positive feelings about the congregation and the faith values–listen carefully for ways to explicitly connect their positive energy, time, and resources to advancing the mission and potential of the organization.
  • Be mindful that there are generational differences, theological perspectives, and tenure of membership factors that may affect your ability to listen and identify with those you talk with–be open to new perspectives and ask for clarification.
  • Take notes on key points for follow up–let them know their input is valued and will be taken into consideration.
  • Ask for their contributions and commitment, then allow time for them to respond.
  • Express appreciation–Thank!
  • Follow up on any key points and report back–this builds trust and accountability.
  • Thank again.

Resources to Develop Listening Skills for Fundraising:

Holden Leadership Center.   Active Listening.  http://leadership.uoregon.edu/resources/exercises_tips/skills/active_listening http://leadership.uoregon.edu/upload/files/tip_sheets/active_listening.pdf

Warwick, Mal.  Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth from Your Fundraising Staff? 2005.  Mal Warwick Associates.   http://www.malwarwick.com/

Wilson, Thomas D.  Winning Gifts: Make Your Donors Feel Like Winners. 2008.  John Wiley & Son.  An excerpt from the book devoted to the importance of listening in fundraising is found on the Association of Fundraising Professionals:  http://www.afpnet.org/ResourceCenter/

Appreciative Inquiry Resources:

Central East Regional Group (CERG).  Stewardship for the 21st Century.                                                                                                    http://www.sld.uua.org/pdfs/2011/SLDStewardshipFor21stCentury.pdf

Florida District UUA.  Rev. Kenn Hurto.  Appreciative Inquiry: The Power of Positive Questions                                                     http://www.floridadistrict.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/3d-Tue-Webinar-March-2010-Appreciative-Inquiry.pdf

UUA Congregational Stewardship Services.  http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/index.shtml

Inspiring Generous Giving in Congregations: Antidotes to Donor Fatigue

Inspiring Generous Giving in Congregations:  Antidotes to Donor Fatigue

hands generosity

      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.

The Challenge of the Conversation:      

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.

Vision                                              

  • 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.

 S.U.C.C.E.S.S.!    Sun Heart pink sky

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/

flaming chalilce

STEWARDSHIP CONSULTING SERVICES for Unitarian Universalist congregations:

http://www.uua.org/directory/staff/congregationallife/congregationalstewardship/index.php