Before Asking for Money–Listen!

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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.

If your stewardship volunteers would benefit from training and practice in the art of donor conversations, contact Giving Speaks consulting today to schedule a web-based or onsite training:  givingspeaks@gmail.com

Wishing you success and prosperity~

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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

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.

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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!

In many cases, organizations make faster progress in the self-assessment, goal-setting, and planning processes if they have the assistance from a knowledgeable facilitator or consultant. Giving Speaks Consulting is available to help you move through these processes and achieve your funding goals. Contact me today~

Wishing you great prosperity and success,

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Laurel Amabile, Giving Speaks Consulting

 

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

 

Should ministers know about their congregants’ giving to the congregation?

 Should ministers know about their congregants’ giving to the congregation?

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When posing the question to an audience of predominantly Unitarian Universalist professional and lay leaders, the majority of the comments assert that ministers should have knowledge of their congregants’ giving.

To date, one two hundred and eleven people responded to the Giving Speaks poll on the topic, with nearly sixty-seven percent (66.8%) of respondents said yes, affirming the value and importance of ministers having knowledge about congregant giving.  Seventeen percent (17.1%) responding to the poll took an opposing view, believing that ministers having knowledge of their congregants’ giving would have a negative or inhibiting effect on the congregation. The remaining sixteen percent (16.1%) fall in the categories of maybe, not sure, or other.

It’s not too late to participate in this poll!  If you would like to add your opinions and experience, respond to the poll questions. You can add comments by clicking the “view results” link, then the “comments” link, scroll to the bottom and add your comment in the box. OR, you can email comments to givingspeaks@gmail.com.

The following comments and responses reflect the themes, concerns, and approaches commonly expressed by ministers, lay leaders, and congregants:

  • Everyone should know.The cult of secrecy must end.
  • Absolutely. Stewardship is a very important part of ministry, and really a part of spiritual health.
  • Ministers  should know pretty much everything about their congregation, including pledging…
  • How can you entrust your soul to your minister if you won’t be candid about your commitment to the faith? I never set out to know people’s giving, but a savvy minister knows nonetheless. Openness about giving is a faith issue, not a
    management issue. 
  • The knowledge of giving levels will somehow contaminate the fairness and quality of  our ministry implies that we see money and generosity as unrelated to the  spiritual life, or worse, actively destructive to spiritual community.
  • When I  started my ministry 10 years ago, I didn’t think it was necessary.  Now I do.  Maybe it’s because my role has changed… Maybe I have changed,  believing now that my understanding of how people give to their church (in time, spirit, and money) is an important barometer of its health (and their health)…  
  • I refuse to know unless I have to go to meet with someone about their pledge or if they are giving a special amount.  My reasoning is that I would treat people ever so subtly differently if I knew they were giving a lot…I insist to my interim congregations that they are all equal partners when it comes to pastoral care and companionship
  • I always wait at least one year to develop a pastoral relationship first before getting info on personal giving.  Seldom am I  surprised to find that the most invested “doers” are also some of the most invested financially.  However, I am also pleased to find that many not able to pledge find ways to support by volunteering.  Best practice:  show gratitude for all giving and set the pace by example!
  • In the session of the New UU [curriculum] that deals with membership and giving, I tell potential members that I and the staff are committed to handling their giving information respectfully, but not confidentially.  The only members who complain about transparency are the ones who are upper-middle class and relatively minor pledgers, but want to be able to exert undue influence by threatening to withdraw their pledge… 
  • Who benefits by keeping this information from ministers, and what does this say about a congregation’s view on pastoral impartiality?  Why shouldn’t ministers know about giving levels, particularly when they’ll have something to say about how resources are allocated?  When they make decisions about how the money is spent, they should be held accountable for the resulting impact on programs.  Lastly, everyone in a congregation gets to weigh in, at the annual meeting at least, on the minister’s salary and benefits package.  Everyone—from the “skeptically parsimonious” to the cheerful and generous giver—gets this information.  The clergy, UU circles at least, should have a similar balance of
    information. 
  • In a previous congregation, I witnessed the evolution of our Minister’s approach to pledge information.  When he first arrived and for some time, he did not want to know what members pledged, fearing that in some way it would contaminate his relationship with congregants.  Over time his thinking changed, and he actually became involved in fundraising.  Ultimately, he was instrumental in raising some of the largest contributions ever made to the church, without in any way changing his capacity to attend to all in need of his care . . . something that had always been one of his strengths.  As a result, he made a significant contribution to that church’s financial as well as spiritual well-being.

The writings and research of a growing number of congregational stewardship consultants, religious leaders, and experts serving a wide range of faith traditions and religious organizations clearly affirms the value and importance of senior ministers, staff and lay leaders having knowledge of and access to the pledging and giving data of those they serve.

One experienced consultant and author of the popular books Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate (2008) and Whose Offering Plate Is it? (2010), J. Clif Christopher, is a strong advocate for ministers taking an active leadership role in congregational stewardship and fundraising.   Christopher offers the following assertion to his colleagues in ministry,

Our job as pastors is not to know about money for money’s sake.  Our job is to know about money so we can help our people  have life and have it abundantly.

What we cannot fully determine through this poll is how these attitudes play out with regard to the congregations’ financial health and overall well-being. We can imagine the practices around sharing information among key stewardship leaders is an influential factor in the congregation’s culture of generosity (or lack thereof).

Thank you for your interest and participation!

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Recommended Resources:

Why Ministers Should Know What People Give, a stewardship leader training document by Larry Wheeler, a long-time UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant:

https://givingspeaks.wordpress.com/why-ministers-should-know-what-people-give/

Central East Regional Group (CERG) UUA Stewardship
Resources, featuring a study guide for the book Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate and workshop video series Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is: New Ideas in Stewardship:    http://www.cerguua.org/stewardshipres.html

Books:

Christopher, J. Clif.
Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate (2008)
and Whose Offering Plate Is It? (2010).  Abingdon Press.