Generosity Fitness–a New Year Resolution for 2017!

Happy New Year text with cookies on the wooden background from aboveIt’s time to add Generosity Fitness to the list of our New Year Resolutions, for the spirit and expression of generosity enhances and deepens all the other aspects of life. Generosity matters.  It inspires giving and brings happiness to our lives.

This tradition of New Year Resolutions arose eons ago, inspired by the legend of the Roman god Janus, who is depicted with two faces. One of the faces of Janus looks to the past and the other to the future. The Romans believed Janus could forgive their transgressions, so they made offerings and promises at the beginning of each new calendar year.  Janus was believed to take notice of these gifts and bless the peoples’ lives for the year.  That’s where the month of January gets its name.

According to a recent NBC News poll based upon Google search terms most used in 2016, the Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 are:  Get Healthy, Get Organized, Live Life to the Fullest, Learn a New Hobbies, Spend Less/Save More, Travel, Read More. Not surprisingly, these resolutions are about improving one’s life through good health, learning and see new things, and effectively managing money and material possessions. Essentially, this boils down our drive to experience happiness.

A good deal of research has been conducted about the correlation between altruistic behavior and happiness.  Experiments have been conducted at various universities, including the use of brain scans that track the various pain and pleasure centers affected by altruistic behavior, such as charitable giving, helping others, and volunteer service.

OFireworksur pleasure centers light up not only when we receive money or kindness, but also when we give money away or help another out of compassion. Studies show that those who receive money are more likely to give money away, and in larger amounts than those who have not received money before being asked to give.

One Harvard Business School study looked more closely at the cause and effect relationship between giving and happiness.  Happier people give more and giving makes people happier, such that happiness and giving may operate in a positive feedback loop (with happier people giving more, getting happier, and giving even more).

So, how might we fulfill our resolution for greater Generosity Fitness in 2017?

  • Make a commitment to a regular practice of giving and volunteering
  • Contribute the cost of your daily coffee to a cause that matters to you–or better yet, the cost of your monthly fitness or golf club membership!
  • A Month of daily acts of giving and kindness
  •  $5.20 or $52 per week for 52 weeks of the year given to your faith community or other worthy organizations
  • Sponsor a program or scholarship that will benefit to those in your community
  • Make a planned gift or bequest to a cause or organization that matters most to you
  • Organize a social fundraising event that brings people with common interests and a desire to make a difference in their community
  • Most of all, use your imagination.  Be creative.  Experience the joy of cultivating generosity in the world!

May this new year bring you many blessings and great abundance~ 

Laurel Amabile portrait 2   Laurel signature

 

 

 

References and Resources for this article:

Anik,  Aknin, Norton & Dunn.   Harvard Business School working paper, Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior.   2009.  http://www.hbs.edu/research/pdf/10-012.pdf

Brooks, Arthur C. Who Really Cares.  Basic Books.  2006.

Chan, Amanda L. Huffington Post. 2013.  7 Science-back Reasons Why Generosity is Good for Your Health.

Firestone, Lisa. Huffington Post. 2014. The Benefits of Generosity.

Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior. Authors: Lalin Anik, Harvard Business School Lara B. Aknin, University of British Columbia Michael I. Norton, Harvard Business School Elizabeth W. Dunn, University of British Columbia

Smith, Jordan Michael. New Republic. Sept. 2014. Want to Be Happy? Stop Being So Cheap!

 

Stories that Create a Giving Culture

Please tell us a story.jpg

Who among us is not drawn in by a good story?

Stories are the best way we share our experiences and the lessons we learn in life.  Families and communities pass along their traditions, beliefs, and moral values through storytelling.  For centuries, stories and wisdom tales have been shared around campfires and dining room tables, out under the stars, and in temples, mosques, and cathedrals all over the world.  We tell stories to explain the origins of the universe and to explain the mysteries of life and death.

Storytelling, at its best, conveys the rich diversity and texture of humanity, creating a safe and sometimes therapeutic space for challenging assumptions and fostering  tolerance of differences among people.   Well told stories touch our spirits, warm our hearts, and leave lasting images in our minds.   Sharing our soul-filled stories is another way of expressing gratitude and demonstrating generosity.

It should be no surprise to us that storytelling is a very effective tool in nurturing generosity and teaching stewardship in our faith communities.  Sacred texts around the world are a testimony to the power of the story in teaching and learning religious values.  One way to promote generous behavior is to tell the stories of how giving made a difference in your life or others’ lives.  For example, as part of a year-round stewardship program, you can invite people to share their stories in the context of worship, small group ministry, religious education, in digital or print form.

Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you plan your stewardship activities for the coming year:

  • Share stories in worship–this may be a testimony about how the congregation or faith has touched their life in positive ways, a wisdom tale for all ages to enjoy, or a guest whose organization has been the recipient of your congregation’s generosity.
  • Host a storytelling event–hold a potluck dinner or picnic at your facility, open to the community, and invite participants to come ready to share a story that conveys at least one value of the faith tradition.
  • Design a story display board–invite people to write their generosity stories down, along with their photo and perhaps some art work.
  • Create a video or visual story–convey your faith community’s stewardship values and generosity through the use of technology, posting video stories on YouTube, on your congregation’s website, blog or Facebook page.
  • Offer a story prompt–Give your constituents a theme or first line of a story, and let them create a community story.  This could be a part of a small group activity, religious education class, or just a big graffiti board people can write on as they enter the building or enjoy fellowship hour.

The summertime is a great time of year for stewardship leaders to polish their storytelling skills–around the campfire while toasting marshmallows, on the riverbank while fishing, or at an informal gathering of friends.  Share your story and invite others to share theirs; this is how the bonds of family and society are strengthened.  This is a wonderful way to include children, youth, and elders in multi-generational community!

Here are some tips for enhancing your storytelling:

  • Reflect on a memorable experience from which you learned and grew as a person–
    if it holds meaning for you, it can be meaningful to others.
  • Stick to the heart of the message you want to convey and avoid too much detail.
  • Lift up a unique angle or unusual perspective that will pique the listeners’ interest.
  • Engage as many of your listeners’ five senses as possible1507 Hands Sm 123rf to bring the story alive
  • Be sensitive to your audience’s diversity using inclusive language so that all feel a part of it.
  • Use the opportunity of telling your story to connect your experience with your faith teachings and values in ways that others can relate to personally.
  • Tell the story without reading it whenever possible–practice, practice, practice to feel more confident, but realize storytelling does not demand perfection.
  • Engage your audience with movement, song, sounds, or repeated phrases that makes them part of the story.
  • Have fun!  Your enthusiasm and enjoyment are contagious.

 If you have a story or link to share, please leave a comment for the blog host with your contact info.

Resources for Storytelling:

Cogdogroo–StoryIdeas:  http://cogdogroo.wikispaces.com/StoryIdeas

Learn to Give:  http://learningtogive.org/materials/folktales/

National Storytelling Network:    http://www.storynet.org/resources/howtobecomeastoryteller.html

Recommended Stories for All Ages:

Resources for Multigenerational Stewardship & Generosity

Unitarian Universalist Stories of Generosity & Multigenerational Worship Resources:

http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/stories/index.shtml

http://www.uua.org/giving/apf/51886.shtml

http://www.uua.org/worship/multigenerational/index.shtml

http://www.uua.org/worship/by_topic.php?topic=Stories

http://www.uusc.org/worship_resources

Pearmain, Elisa Davy, editor.  Doorways to the Soul  1998.  The Pilgrim Press.

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Before Asking for Money–Listen!

Happy businessman in glasses holding money over gray background

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~

Laurel Amabile portrait 2

Laurel signature

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