Post Recession Fundraising

Many religious and nonprofit organizations continue to experience the lingering effects of the recent U.S. economic recession.   Professional fundraisers agree that the best strategies for successful fundraising during unpredictable economic times involve foundational elements of philanthropic fundraising.  The following strategies can help organizations manage the challenges successfully.

  • Appealing Mission Statement—a dynamic and unique mission appeals to people’s interest in the value of the organization and the causes it supports.  

Individuals need to know their contributions to the organizations and programs they support, make a difference because these entities are making a difference in the wider world.  Leaders must be prepared–individually and collectively–to articulate the organization’s mission, purposes and vision in appealing and compelling ways that elicit high levels of interest, giving, and support.   

  • Acknowledge the impact of the economy on the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. 

Nurturing relational bonds between your networks, with congregations, the wider faith organization, and potential funding partner organizations is essential.  It is important for contributors to know the organization is in alignment with the values and activities that matter to them.  Careful tracking of giving activity is necessary.  Leaders can watch for warning signs or trends that suggest unpredicted shortfalls or financial distress.   

  • Avoid dramatic shifts in fundraising methods and changes in staffing.

Most small organizations rely on their professional and support staff to maintain week-to-week functions, particularly record-keeping and finance.  At times of heightened anxiety and needs can increase and feel more urgent..  Staff and lay leaders must work together to develop and model effective fundraising methods and stewardship practices to sustain them for the long term. 

  • Keep public relations and marketing strong.

Work to increase your visibility through a well designed website, public witness, media coverage, and partnering with other organizations with common values.  Website development resources for congregations can be found online at

  • Keep the organization “recession-proof” by spreading the enthusiasm about what the organization is doing.

As leaders, it is essential to talk in positive ways about your organization:  what you are excited about, how the organization is supported financially, and what you are doing to make good things happen.  Those in staff and leadership roles interact with many people—in local communities, congregations, districts, and nationally—as representatives of both your congregation and your faith.  Your enthusiasm will catch peoples’ interest and attract those seeking affiliation with organizations making a positive difference in the world.

  • Practice openness and accountability.

Share information about how contributions are used to fulfill the organization’s mission and purpose.  Educate donors and volunteers about the importance supporting the causes you stand for over time.  This information should be readily available upon request or in general ways on your website.

  • Meet regularly with donors, if possible, informing them of the organization’s needs.  Invite questions.

A relational approach to fundraising is essential to sustain the highest levels of generosity and giving to the organization.  Regular personal contacts throughout the year via phone, email, and postal mail are critical to promoting strong relational ties to the organization, the wider faith, and partner organizations.  Individual volunteers and donors need to know they are valued and important to the organization beyond any financial contributions they make.  Saying “Thank You” in as many ways possible is a priority. 

Remember that fundraising requires a highly relational approach that demonstrates the organization’s commitment to its mission and to those who care about and are impacted by its mission.

giving money


Identify six fundraising priorities, with three action steps for each priority area—

Priority #1

Priority #2

Priority #3

Priority #4

Priority #5

Put your fundraising plan in writing, using the following format and information:

  • Estimate the costs of your fundraising program—
  • Develop a timeline for your plan—
  • Identify your funding sources—
  • Evaluate your plan at regular intervals—
  • Adjust plan as needed—
  • Celebrate successes–

Compiled by Laurel Amabile and inspired by an Advancing Philanthropy article by Mary Ellen Collins, Enjoy the Ride:  How to effectively raise funds in a roller-coaster economy  (2009)

Resources to help with your congregation’s stewardship and fundraising efforts:

UUA Congregational Stewardship Services and Forward Through The Ages Year-round Stewardship Programs:

Resources for Nurturing Generosity:                                                                   

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.


  • 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

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:

flaming chalilce

STEWARDSHIP CONSULTING SERVICES for Unitarian Universalist congregations:

Building an Abundant Spirit

The Giving Speaks blog is pleased to share another guest post by K. Peter Henrickson of the Pacific Northwest*

We all want to be generous people, and most of us want that quality to be present in those we hang out with — particularly in our churches.  But what does that mean?  What observable differences will we see around us when a spirit of abundance abounds?  To bring focus to how an abundant attitude might shape congregational behavior let’s consider three specific examples in church life:  the worship service, the coffee hour, and our special programs.

What happens in your church when the collection plate gets passed each Sunday morning?  In many Unitarian Universalist congregations it sails along without so much as a stutter stop until it reaches the end of the row, and then after some twisting and reaching starts again and gathers speed as it scoots back, seemingly with a life of its own.  Each week a large portion of those present contribute neither cash nor check, particularly as more and more make their pledge payments online.

Why is that?  Put differently, what are we telling ourselves about this weekly request for money?  I think for many the internal monologue is that this plate routine is irrelevant since we already pledge to support our church; it is a somewhat bothersome distraction from our worship therefore.  But we tolerate The Plate Thing because, after all, there are visitors among us, or perhaps “those who should be pledging more.”  We tell ourselves that passing the plate is just another way the church has of reaching into our pockets.  But, we continue, our pledge is already quite fair, even Quite Good — and anyway we’ve decided already what we will give annually and want to be respected in our judgment about what is right for us.

Further, there are ccongregation leaders who announce before the plate is passed “If you’re a visitor, this is not for you.  You’re our guest; just send it on.”  This reinforces the subliminal sense that the Sunday offering is a tax imposed to punish the members who didn’t cough up enough during the budget drive, apparently all of us who attend regularly.

Finally, all Unitarian Universalist congregations budget some level of support from fund-raisers and other gifts above and beyond pledge income, most frequently including an increment from Sunday plate collections.  This can confirm our self-talk narrative that “Folks around here are not very generous.  They don’t pledge nearly enough to support our programs — but I’m not about to do it all myself.”

All our self-talk on the subject slips past the most important aspect of the Sunday collection:  It’s Not About the Money.  Well, it is.  But more so, it isn’t.

So, what’s it all about?

When we worship together we are learning, remembering again what about our life is important. Much of our worship learning comes out of our sacraments and rituals.  We are practicing being “in the present” and taking personal oaths.  We are aspiring to be even more the kind of person we think we can be, and learning that that person is right there before us, within our reach.  We worship to practice reaching.  (And no one, I daresay, visits a new congregation hoping to be told they are excused this morning from reaching for their better selves.)

We include a request for gifts in worship because all of us, back into the Mists of Time, have felt the impulse to be helpful to others.  But we balance that against the need/desire to take care of ourselves.  And, for most of us, the Self comes first.  Part of the worship practice is simply to remember that others need to be cared for just as we sometimes need to be cared for, and the taking of a collection is the community’s vehicle for delivering that reminder.

Passing the plate is *just* a ritual.  The ritual reminds us that we always have the ability, even with pocket change, to help others.  It’s not about the church needing more money.  It is not particularly about an amount of money.  But the ritual is emphatically about putting money in the plate.  Passing the plate is about what we need — affirming that we live an abundant life.  And for those who have been unresponsive in the past we want to promote new self-talk as the plate comes nearer.  How can we do this?

Many churches have taken up a Share the Plate program, deciding that some portion of the collection will be designated specifically for causes and people outside the immediate church community.  The church decides that part of every worship collection will be given away: say, one-quarter, one half, or even all.  In some churches the gift is limited to one Sunday each month, but is the entire collection.  In any case the self-talk previously described loses traction.  We are asked to respond to a cause beyond our own congregation, its woes and our story about our place in them.


My own preference is to give away a smaller portion if necessary, but out of every collection; this seems to me a surer way of limiting the opportunities to dwell in scarcity while we worship.  In any case most churches that have tried sharing their plate collection have not stopped.  They report no diminishment in their own income, and frequently an increase.  This is the experience reported by Rev. Neal Jones in this space last month ( ) in support of his contention that congregations which practice abundance experience abundance.

Another possible way your congregation can manifest a generous countenance is, for example, during social hour after the service.  Is there a basket near the coffee urn where people are expected to place a donation for their coffee?  Get rid of it.  If your church is like mine you pick up a tenth of one percent of the total church revenue for the year from that basket.  One additional pledge would equal three or four years of take from the coffee basket.  Instead, try putting up a little sign saying something like:



We happily cover the costs of our Social Hour out of your generous contributions during worship.  Thank you.

This is a way for the congregation to openly celebrate its generous, attractive spirit.  It undercuts the story, above, that this church “always wants more of my money.”  At the same time it suggests yet another reason for all worshipers to think about dropping something into the plate every week while also taking away a reason for holding back (“for the coffee basket”).

Third, consider the attitude your congregation manifests when charging members for programs and services.  While I am sympathetic to the reality that churches need to raise enough money to cover their costs, I am less inclined to the notion that every cost which can be separately identified and assigned to a sub-group should be.  I was once a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation which decided that people could pick up their own newsletter copies in the church lobby on Sunday morning; if they wanted them mailed there would be a fee to cover postage.  The same office administrator proposed that members pay for the church directory — “enough to cover copying costs”.

These are extreme examples I hope, but they highlight the point.  When we join a church we expect to enjoy core services in return for our fair pledge.  The problem is in agreeing what the core consists of.  A church thriving with an attitude of abundance will look for ways to expand its definition of core programs and services; the congregation dwelling in scarcity finds it necessary to charge extra fees.  It’s simply not worth giving up an abundant spirit to chase even a few hundred dollars.[i]   A church with a countenance of abundance holds itself freely open to all — while openly displaying its desire to have all fully embrace its abundant life, including, of course, embracing abundant financial support.

[i] Alternatively, some churches find that by charging a modest fee for programs they induce a higher commitment to attendance; I suspect there is truth in this observation and recognize that some programs by their nature are more successful when attendance and participation are highly predictable.


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*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:    (360) 608-8571