Giving Speaks is pleased to share this guest blog post by Rev. Dr. Daniel O’Connell*
The participants of the UU Stewardship Lab (Facebook group) were asked for their topic suggestions for a stewardship essentials workshop that may be offered at a future denominational event, Rev. Daniel O’Connell quickly responded with his suggested workshop theme
“Don’t Miss Stewardship Workshop: You will learn about at least 3 new ideas to increase stewardship consciousness at your church.”
Then Daniel generated a few ideas to get our creative stewardship juices flowing….
Ideas for Raising Stewardship Awareness in Your Congregation
Holiday Wish List
Have 3 outside-the-budget items you want to finance. Not 2, not 4, but 3. Total cost: $10,000 (your dollar amount will vary with your congregation’s size). One item should be less than $2,000. One item should be no more than $6,000. One item should be a no-brainer (We need a defibrillator AED). One item should be immediately noticeable by anyone (new tables & chairs for the fellowship hall). Publicize the list (with pictures or drawings), put up a poster. The 3rd item could be priced between the first two, and be something you really need (faster church internet connection) that otherwise might be difficult to raise money for. Let people know the goal is $10,000, and when we get there, we’ll acquire all three things. Give periodic updates. Start mid-November and finish by the end of December.
Leadership Funding for Special Projects
Imagine your congregation would like an additional $20,000 to supplement your half million dollar budget this year. The Senior Minister goes to the board with a pledge for $1,000, with a request for the Board members to collectively to triple that amount. On the following Sunday, it will be announced that $4,000 has been raised toward the $20,000. Leadership gifts are important. It shows the leadership is serious.
Clear Steps to Stewardship
The congregation leaders must cast a vision for a clear, step-by step path to a sense of stewardship with deep values and intention. It goes like this: become a first time giver. Then, become a regular giver. Then become an automatic payment giver. Then, a percentage giver. Each year increase that percentage until you get to 5%. Anything over that, we’ll call an “extravagant giver.” The congregation leaders and senior minister should exemplify this level of personal stewardship and let the congregation know the level of their financial commitment.
Did you get a year-end bonus? A teacher merit bonus? Make some money off your garage sale? Give 5% to church. Every time. Make it a spiritual practice. Honor those who make this commitment.
Include the minister’s and other lay leader’s journey to becoming a percentage giver as part of canvass testimonials or as a regular newsletter feature. How they went from zero to 5%, and why they did it.
Maybe once a year (maybe less) remind people that parents can give their children tax-free gifts of up to $13,000 (each parent) without triggering IRS Gift tax form 709. So, if you have 30-50 year olds in your congregation, have them tell their parents about this. Chances are your members would rather have the money now than after their parents have passed on. If they do get such a gift, encourage them to give 5% of that gift to the church.
This is designed to move away from scarcity consciousness toward abundance. Take $1,000 in $50 dollar bills and put them in 20 different envelopes with an index card. The index card says that they have to spend this on a social justice project, and write a one-page history of what they did with the money and how they feel now. Give a few examples: the money was spent on postage for solicitation letters for a special charity or $50 of postage brought in $2,000 of gifts. It doesn’t benefit the church directly, but imagine 10 really good stories out of the 20. Stories about how the power of creativity and ingenuity led to unexpected benefits for strangers in need.
Get an iPad 3 or big screen TV cheap. Sell tickets over two weeks, do the big reveal at coffee hour. Do this a couple of times per year. This builds excitement.
Flattening the Pledging Curve
Encourage people to sign up for auto-paying their pledge and let them know how this helps to smooth out the annual income curve while sustaining the congregation’s financial picture.
Some people frown on the sale of Girl Scout cookies in the fellowship hall. Put as many Girl Scouts as want to do this at the same table. It is very meaningful for the girls, the adults like the cookies, and it builds abundance consciousness and stewardship into everyone.
Multiplying your Justice Impact
Sharing the offering with other charitable organizations or community partners can often double plate income and dramatically increases the amount of money your congregation will give away to other charities. Another benefit many congregations with offering give-away programs experience is an increase in overall giving to the congregation. People feel good about making a difference with their giving!
Put it in Writing
People are more apt to fulfill a pledge to annual giving than not. That is why asking all members and friends of the congregation to fill out a pledge form, even those who say they cannot give anything that year to write ‘zero’ down on their pledge and turn it in. Being intentional about one’s annual giving is a good habit to get into, even in the challenging years.
Rewarding Good Stewardship
A year ago, we sent out a form letter at the end of the canvass thanking people for pledging. This does not recognize good behavior! This last year, as Senior Minister, I sent a personal letter to everyone who made a pledge increase. I sent another to everyone who made a pledge for the first time. I did so as soon as we got their pledge in. I got a note from someone saying they’d been pledging for 20 years and this was the first time they got a letter from the minister thanking them for it. Needless to say, I’m doing that again this year.
Assume Insufficient Motivation Rather Than Insufficient Funds
Are your congregation’s lay leaders are up for the annual financial challenge? Whether that’s a canvass increase, special project, or whatever. When people hint around they don’t have the money, it may be due to insufficient motivation rather than insufficient funds. Of course, sometimes it is about money, but many times it was because the funding idea was not sufficiently attractive. So, it may be time to postpone or shelve an idea or try other ones, instead of giving up altogether.
Alternatives to the Traditional Canvass
Some congregations are doing away with the traditional canvass. They assume you’ll pledge this year what you pledged last year, and they send you a letter to that effect. Others canvass only a percentage of the congregation: maybe 1/3 of the top half, with a different group every year, restarting the cycle again in the 4th year.
*The Rev. Dr. Daniel O’Connell serves as the Senior Minister for the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston, Texas (http://www.firstuu.org/), which is one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 10+ year Honor Congregations for their generous financial support of their wider faith community. (www.uua.org/giving/apf )
Daniel O’Connell grew up Unitarian Universalist in suburban Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C. He was active in the youth movement (LRY in the late 1970s) and in the emergent Young Adult movement (UUYAN), both at the regional and national levels before attending seminary in 1992. He has served congregations in Connecticut, regional and national level both in the UU Ministers Association and with the UUA on district boards during most of the last 15 years. Daniel can be contacted directly at: email@example.com
Unitarian Universalist Stewardship and Finance Leaders can find an online support network through the following links:
Facebook UU Stewardship Lab: http://www.facebook.com/groups/UUStewardshipLab/
UU Money Leaders email list: http://lists.uua.org/mailman/listinfo/uu-money
The Forward Through the Ages (FORTH) Program: http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/forth/development/index.shtml