Fundraising When You Are Feeling the Squeeze

cutting moneyIs your organization feeling the squeeze in its funding? Are you having to focus more on cutting expenses than on developing your programs and services?

You are not alone. Here are some tips from professional fundraisers that can help…

Fundraising professionals agree that success unpredictable economic times involves intentional planning and attending to foundational philanthropic practices.  The following is a list of core elements for your organization to have in place to build resiliency and help manage the challenges as they arise:

  • Compelling Mission Statement—a clearly articulated, dynamic and impactful mission appeals to people’s interests, creating value for the organization and its mission in their minds and hearts.  

Most people want to make a positive difference through their actions and their charitable giving. They want to know their contributions will make a difference because your organization is making a difference in people’s lives and communities. Leaders must be prepared–individually and collectively–to articulate the organization’s mission, purposes and vision in appealing and compelling ways to elicit heightened levels of engagement and generosity among your supporters.   

  • Assess and acknowledge your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges (threats), building on your strengths and opportunities while strategically managing your weaknesses and challenges.

Self-awareness is key. Conduct a thorough and candid analysis of your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats/challenges (SWOT). Translate the results into an action plan that will maximize your strengths and opportunities–these are your organizational assets. As leaders you can use this self-awareness and knowledge to plan realistically and work effectively to navigate the challenges and overcome the barriers to success.

  • Avoid dramatic shifts in fundraising methods and staffing.

Most organizations rely on their professional and support staff to maintain week-to-week functions, particularly record-keeping and finance. Some organizations have a smaller infrastructure and leaner staffing. At times of heightened financial anxiety, the needs seem to increase and feel more urgent, sometime prompting desperate actions. Staff and Board leaders must work with intention to employ effective fundraising methods and stewardship practice that will sustain the organization over time. 

  • 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. Experiment with social media venues, crowd-funding, and other innovative and lower-cost technology. Pay close attention to what modes of communication people elicit the best response–do more of what works best with your constituents and donors.

  • Build support 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. Avoid the vortex of negativity or doom and gloom about your financial limitations. You are the public face and voice of the organization and its mission.  Your enthusiasm for your mission and the positive difference your organization is making will catch peoples’ interest and inspire their generous support.

  • Inspire trust in the leadership of your organization. Practice accountability and authentic communication.

Share information about how contributions are used to fulfill the organization’s mission and purpose.  Educate donors and volunteers about the importance supporting your mission and the causes you stand for over time.  Don’t gloss over the rough spots, but don’t over-focus on your limitations. This information should be readily available upon request or in general ways on your website.

  • Meet and communication with donors regularly, informing them of the organization’s needs.  Invite questions, feedback, and ideas for improvement.

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 your organization’s commitment to its mission and to those whose lives are touched by its mission.

inter-connectedness hands around the world

DEFINING YOUR FUNDING PRIORITIES–Identify up to 6 fundraising priorities, with 3 action steps for each priority area:

Priority #1

Priority #2

Priority #3

Priority #4

Priority #5

Priority #6

Once you have identified your funding priorities, put your annual development and stewardship plan in writing using the following format and information:

  • Generate your compelling case for funding support
  • Write up a concise one-page description of each priority area/program for sharing with donors and funders
  • Estimate the costs of funding your programs and operations
  • Identify your funding sources–individual, groups, businesses, grants, foundations/corporate giving programs–estimating the revenue goal for each
  • Create materials or presentations about your funding priorities with the interests of each donor or group in mind
  • Develop a timeline for your plan
  • Know what you will track and measure for successful outcomes
  • Evaluation of the plan at regular intervals
  • Adjustments that could be made if necessary
  • Celebrate any and all successes!

Wishing you great prosperity and success,

Laurel Amabile portrait 2


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Laurel Amabile, Giving Speaks


Other Helpful Planning Resources:

Fundraising When Money is Tight, by Mal Warwick. 2009. Jossey-Bass.

Raising More with Less, by Amy Eisenstein, CFRE. 2012. Charity Channel Press–“In the Trenches” series.

Creating a Compelling Case for Funding

Development Planning Template


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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What’s the Budget For Anyway? Part Three

The third and final installment of the “What’s the Budget For Anyway?” article by K. Peter Henrickson*~

Presenting the Budget

By whatever planning process is appropriate in your congregation, the Finance Committee needs to showcase a set of targets for congregational services three or four years into the future.  The presentation of such plans and their longer term financial implications shifts the congregation’s attention from considering the spending request for next year vis-a-vis last year to considering where the congregation is heading.  The stewardship drive is an opportunity to meld the conversation about congregational direction with the conversation about individual dreams.  So, here are some guidelines for presenting a vision budget stimulating such conversations.

Summarize and focus expenses into the major areas of energy for your congregation.  We want the membership to “own” the vision — to believe it is good and to love it passionately.  Suppose we organize a vision budget around the major growth needs driving the church.[1]  Consider these examples:

  • Worship, Spiritual Growth and Exploration
  • Organizational Services and Leadership Development
  • Community Outreach and Denominational Support
  • Pastoral Support and Shared Ministry

These categories represent what is sometimes referred to as a “mission budget”.  They virtually scream out the necessity to describe why we are in community. The minister and board need to provide inspiring leadership in each of these areas — to show in greater detail the aspirations for your congregation.  “Worship, Spiritual Growth, and Exploration”, for example, might mean a year around ministry for children or additional emphasis on laity ministry.  It might mean developing two or three regular services each week (or more), each targeted to the needs of particular groups of people.

  •  Include a multi-year forecast, three or four years beyond the budget year.  The purpose of a forecast is to show that the leadership has heard what the members want and that such a church is available in the future — although not next year.  Members understand that programs take time to launch; they need to see movement toward objectives.  They will support growth with a vision that fits their own, that enhances lives in the community today as it moves toward tomorrow.
  • In the vision budget keep the focus on the future and away from the past.  Consider using only the following column headings congregational meeting budget:  current year budget, current year projected, budget year, first vision year, second vision year, third vision year, etc.  That is, strip last year’s spending out of the budget presentation. The data are 12 months old or more and contributes virtually nothing to the discussion about future years.  If someone wants to reference a particular number from last year, the treasurer can look it up quickly enough.  But do not presume that the entire congregation needs or wants to review the historical perspective.  That entire extra column  of numbers increases potential confusion without bringing much benefit.
  • Give committees a way to talk about why they do what they do, and how they want to do it better.  Most of what your membership envisions will be championed by the various committees.  Listen to what the committees want in the future and recognize its priority in the budget presentation.  The role of the board is to defer committee requests, not cut them.
  • Present a vision budget which is adequate to the community.  Too often churches limp along without the ministerial or other staff support they need, without an annual installment on the building repair fund, or without sufficient religious education supplies.  Good leadership presents a budget to focus attention away from the discouraging present and toward the place we want to be within the foreseeable future.  The vision budget should highlight the opportunities facing the congregation.  Develop the vision budget to get both the board and the committees to share their observations and their dreams.  They are the core of the congregation and their common purpose for the future is building community.
  • Show what can be done with modest pledge increases over the next few years.  I do not believe that any congregation can say with integrity that it enjoys a fullness of spiritual meaning in all of the four areas of energy suggested above if the average giving level is below $120/family/month. This is a commitment of about 2% where congregational monthly incomes average $5,-$6,000/month.  The vision budget needs to show what the church could be with a growth of gifts to a 3% – 5% level over the course of a few years.
  • Show the number of members or giving units currently and into the future.  Growth is important in most congregations, and the vision budget should elevate this discussion.  This is also a way to focus attention on growing average stewardship levels.  One might show average commitments separately for “members” and for all other contributors as a way of communicating the higher giving levels expected of membership.
  • Do not show the congregation numbers with more than four digits.  The membership will not absorb numbers with length, or at least not an entire page of them.   A budget totaling $150,000 – $250,000 can express $435 as “.4” — at least in the years out beyond the budget year while a budget of $500,000 should round to even thousands.
  • Put the entire budget on a single page.   Leave lots of white space on the paper and do not reduce the type size.  When you have done this, you have a budget that is comprehensible to those not familiar with it.  Again, the sole purpose of the vision budget is to increase the level of giving.  We who are church treasurers often lose sight of this objective.  We default to thinking the purpose of the budget is to present numbers, and more is better.  In the vision budget, fewer is better.

In summary, “This is not your father’s budget!”  Look forward.

Use the annual budget process to continually revisit the congregation’s dreams for where it wants to go and how fast it wants to get there.  The budget process is repeated every year.    It brings focus and detail to the discussion.  When done as described above it shows clearly what the leadership sees as priorities and focuses discussion on them.  It shows that those programs and needs which are not this year’s priorities are still important and are viable in the future.  It is public enough to generate discussion among many who are interested but not directly involved.  It can be a terrific vehicle for inspiring a congregation.


*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

            [1] See Loren B Meade’s “More Than Numbers, The Way Churches Grow” referenced in the bibliography.  I recommend it for further development of these notions.