Filling the Tank: Fueling the Congregation’s Budget

Congregations must be as creative and diligent as ever in their stewardship efforts as we navigate the long and winding road to economic recovery.

Our annual funding is the fuel that fills the tank of the vehicle we call the annual operating budget. And despite our efforts at fuel efficiency, it seems like the costs keep on increasing!

Annual operating budgets are one way congregations estimate and track their income and expenditures from one year to the next. At best, budgets are road maps that guide the congregation on its financial journey, aligning its priorities, core values, and mission. Budgets provide a framework for organizing and viewing the congregation’s financial picture. Budgets tell our story and teach us about our shared mission, values, and identity as a faith community. Good budget planning and financial management procedures are essential aspects of effective stewardship and healthy congregations.

However, as many experienced stewardship and congregation consultants tell us, budgets do not create generous people. Often “budget language” includes terms that undermine good stewardship and health: budget crunch, shortages, cuts, shortfalls, decreases, scarce resources, or we can’t afford. People give to those organizations and programs they perceive to be successful and telling a story using generative language: mission, ministry, vision, aspiration, possibilities, we can reach our goal and change lives for the better!\

Who wants to put fuel in a vehicle that is broken down on the side of the road?

We need to be strategic about our budgeting and this means that the congregation must have a crystal-clear vision about what it stands for, where its going, and how it’s going to get there. Leaders should carefully analyze their congregation’s giving history (three-year span) and per capita giving to accurately and realistically project income and expenditures. Consultants recommend that congregations conduct their annual pledge drive before the budget is formulated. This helps to differentiate the practice of giving as a faithful response and spiritual discipline from the numbers in the minds of the congregants. People are more generous in their support of their congregation if they are:

  • Inspired by the mission and ministry,
  • Grateful for their relationships with others in a caring community, and
  • Trust in their leaders to be good stewards of the congregation’s resources.

If our congregations are to flourish, deepen in faith, and grow in maturity and membership, we must fuel our budgets adequately. High octane ministries and programs are not inexpensive. They are well worth the investment of careful planning and resources.

The following are some recommended percentages of income and expenditures for healthy budgeting:

Program Areas

  • 50% Personnel–the people and the professionals (see links for staffing and compensation guidelines below)
  • 20% Programs–Worship, Religious Education, program expenses
  • 20% Facilities–mortgage, dept service, insurance, utilities
  • 10% Mission–outreach, social justice, wider faith community

Income Sources

  • 75% (+/-) Income from pledges
  • 20% or less Rental Income
  • 20% or less Endowment funding


  • 40% – 60% Staff Compensation, including clergy (higher percentage in smaller congregations; compensation guidelines below)
  • 25% or less– Building Mortgage Payments (debt service)
  • 25% or less–Facilities/Building Maintenance
  • 10% or less for Denominational Support and Outreach/Mission/Service


  • Six to Twelve weeks of operating costs

A while back Giving Speaks conducted a poll about Congregation Budgets. You are invited to view the results and participate in the poll at the following link. A summary and interpretation of these results will be shared in a future blog post.

For more information about congregation budgeting by Alban Institute consultant Dan Hotchkiss, go to: and

Congregation budget self-test:

UUA Website and Congregational Stewardship Services:

Congregation Staff & Compensation Information:

“The Budget Really Isn’t That Important” an article by Michael Durall for Alban Institute:

Recommended Books:

Christopher, J. Clif. Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate. 2008. Abingdon Press.

Clark, Wayne.  Beyond Fundraising. 2006.  Unitarian Universalist Association.

Durall, Michael. The Almost Church Revitalized. 2009. CommonWealth Consulting Group. (Durall’s other books include: The Almost Church, Creating Congregations of Generous People, and Beyond the Collection Plate.)

Malphurs, Aubrey and Stroope, Steve. Money Matters in the Church. 2007. Baker Books.

Social Networking, Mobile Giving, and Online Fundraising

Discussions of online fundraising tend to focus on technology and the latest new bell, whistle or widget.  Raising funds online is not about technology, any more than raising funds through the mail is about paper. It’s about the relationship between the nonprofit and the donor who wants to support a cause. People who give online are no different from other donors in that they expect a relationship—not simply a transaction—with the organization they support. *

A recent study by Network for Good revealed that $381 million was given to over 66, 000 nonprofit organizations through 3.6 million online transactions. 

Giving through charity websites reached higher levels than giving via giving portals such as Network for Good and via social giving opportunities available through Facebook and other social media.   The findings clearly indicate that the higher the level of personal connection to the organization, the larger and more frequent the online gifts.  Relationships still matter to online donors.

What is striking is that with such substantial online giving, only five percent (5%) of the gifts were to Religion compared to thirty percent (30%) to Human Service, thirteen percent (13%) to Health, and eleven percent (11%) to Education.   Of the small segment of gifts to religion, more were made through social giving opportunities than the other venues.

In looking at the survey findings, it appears religious organizations and congregations may need to consider making more online giving opportunities available through their websites and giving portals. 

Do we as religious leaders fear online giving is too impersonal and may undermine the relationships of the faith community?

Are we unable or unwilling to incur the cost of upgrading our modern technology for fundraising and giving purposes?

Are our religious communities stuck in old approaches to fundraising due to a lack of awareness? Or are we simply resisting the use of new, untested “secular” approaches?

Does online giving raise concerns among your congregants as a theological issue or as a practical matter?  

You are invited to participate in the following Giving Speaks poll.  It may help religious leaders to gain greater understanding about our opinions and reactions to this fundraising trend.  Together we can explore ways for making effective use of online giving venues that reflect our religious values with integrity while nurturing relationships in new ways.

*For more information about the Network for Good’s Online Giving Study:


Is Your Congregation Budgeted for Growth, Maintenance or Decline?

Our congregation’s essential identity and vision for its future are made real through its ministries, programs, facilities, and outreach.   Its mission, values, and priorities are reflected in the congregation’s budget.

Does your congregation’s budget proclaim to the world know what you stand for and what its people care most about?

Does your congregation’s budget allow for the expansion of programs, facilities, and staffing as involvement increases and membership grows?

The recent Faith Communities Today report Holy Toll:  The Impact of the 2008 Recession on American Congregations found that congregations experiencing financial difficulty in the ten years prior to the 2008 economic recession suffered more and have bounced back more slowly than those that were in better financial health for the preceding ten years.   Though, at first glance, this seems an obvious conclusion, we must look at the underlying factors of financial health and general wellbeing that foster resilience in congregations to weather economic and other crises.

Congregation budgets provide the clues that help us to understand what levels of income, sources of funding, priorities, and proportions and categories of expenditures must be in place for greater financial health and resiliency.

I am currently researching the components of healthy, robust budgeting for growth, health, and resiliency of congregations.   You are invited to participate in the latest Giving Speaks poll and to track the results.   A follow-up  summary of findings and recommendations from our other research will be shared in a future post.

Thank you for your interest and your engagement with this important aspect of congregational stewardship and religious life.

Holy Toll:  The Impact of the 2008 Recession on American Congregations, by David A. Roozen, American Congregations 2010.