The Witness of Giving

Last week my wife, a recent kidney donor, gathered with over 400 others in Chicago to set the Guinness Book record for the most living donors assembled in one place. As she and other donors visited, they talked about how uncomfortable it is to be recognized for their organ donations. Yet they all understand that only awareness and engagement will motivate others to consider organ donation themselves.

Financial donors are much the same way. One of the basic tenets we at GSB teach is the concept of donor witness. When we invite others to join us in making a commitment to a campaign or appeal, the most effective way to ask is to begin by sharing our own story of generosity. It is not boastful or arrogant; rather, it is the beginning of a deep conversation about what drives us all to give: the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, in gratitude for the many blessings God has given to us.

Henri Nouwen, in his book A Spirituality of Fundraising, discusses the taboo nature of talking about money. “The reason for the taboo is that money has something to do with that intimate place in our heart where we need security…” When we share our joy in giving, though, we share the living, daring confidence that God gives us what we need and that God is our ultimate security. We are then free to be generous and enjoy the community that comes from a deep conversation about what is really important.

How do you begin to share your generosity witness?

Start by answering these questions:

  • What was the most generous act you ever witnessed?
  • Who taught you generosity?
  • Describe your favorite giving experience. Why did it feel so good?

As you share your enthusiasm, others will begin to think about those questions in the context of their own lives. Your witness to giving and generosity will have just changed the conversation from one of asking to one of invitation.

Focus on Why

The other night I was leading a congregation council retreat.  We explored the way they messaged their ministry through announcements and through their weekly bulletin.  As I read the bulletin, I was bored.

The announcements were focused on “what” the congregation did.  I read about Lent worship times, a pancake supper, and a need for people to help with the food pantry.  Those things are not bad.  However, all that was shared was “what” they did or “what” they needed.  I could never find anything about why they would gather for worship on a Wednesday night, why you wanted to come eat pancakes, or why someone would give up their Saturday morning to help at a food pantry.

We control the message that people hear.  We need to spend time discerning what we want them to hear.

I want people to hear that the ministry we do is critical.  I want them to hear that God is incredibly active in what we do.  I don’t actually care about pancakes or giving up time on a Saturday morning.  What I do care about is why people give up their Saturday morning to help at the pantry.  I care about why kids need to experience a national youth gathering to grow in their faith which will be funded by a pancake supper.  I care about why people need to take time in their life to worship to live a more full life with God.

We focus on what we do because it is easy.  The crazy thing of this night is that when I asked why a certain activity was taking place, one of the leaders said “I don’t even know why we are doing this and I am leading the activity”.  How will God work through activities that we don’t even know why we are doing them?

So, we started to reflect on how we promoted activity.  We reflected on this announcement:

Calvary Food Pantry  Needs Volunteers!  Consider joining the St. Mark’s crew on the first and second Saturday mornings of the month.  To volunteer, sign up at the Welcome Desk or click the link in the enews.  Questions?  Contact Heather… or Pastor Sarah.

When we reflected on why we did this, we re-wrote the announcement to read:

God calls us to feed the hungry.  We partner with the Calvary Food Pantry because we take this calling seriously.  Mike, who volunteers at the Food Pantry, says this about the experience, “What I love about the Calvary Food Pantry is that in addition to helping people get the food they need, in a small way, we get to know the people in our community who are hungry.  Therefore, I can put a face with the issue of hunger and it changes the way in which I look at the issue.”  St. Mark’s is responsible for volunteers on the first and second Saturdays of the month.  Sign up at the Welcome Desk or contact Heather… or Pastor Sarah…or just drop  a note in the offering plate and we will contact you.

We need to promote the “why”.  We need to share with people why we do the ministry we do.  This is what people care about.  This is what people give their money for.

I’m tired of people saying that our culture doesn’t care about what we offer now.  We need to line up what we offer with what people need in their life.  Our ministry is not irrelevant in people’s lives unless we let it become irrelevant.  If we share why people need what we offer, they will flock to it.

Focus on the “why”.  Nobody really cares “what” we offer.  However, they need “why” we offer it.

Contact Mike at ward@gsbfr.com.

3 ways to boost your volunteers’ efforts

Do more with less. Nearly every non-profit organization I work with is asked to raise more money this year with little—or no—added fiscal or human resources. More visits, deeper cultivation, broader fundraising reach and more impressive events will take their toll on even the best fundraising professionals.

Yet, even with limited resources, achieving elevated goals is possible. Consider one of the most under-utilized resources: volunteers.

Don’t cringe! Admittedly, coordinating and motivating volunteers requires time and dedication. And maybe that’s energy you’re not feeling these days. But, volunteers are impact generators. They expand the impact of your organization by as much as 60% by offering connections that staff may not have; they can open doors for gifts that may have gone unnoticed without the volunteer’s connections. And engaged volunteers increase their financial giving!

Volunteers humanize your organization beyond those who are paid to tell the mission story. Often, because of limited resources, organizations focus on efficiency to complete tasks. But fundraising is heavily influenced by relationships, and building relationships is a task not done “efficiently”. When cultivated properly, volunteers become an integral part of the organizational mission and are among our greatest organizational resources. Equipped and engaged volunteers generously grow their giving and draw others to the cause.

Unfortunately, volunteers are often relegated to roles which do not maximize their knowledge, skill and network, left ill-equipped to help extend the organization’s impact reach.

As you re-evaluate programs and chart goals, how will you intentionally use volunteers in your efforts? Here are 3 tips to get you started:

Consider the unique value each volunteer brings

It’s more than simply what volunteers can do for the organization. And, it’s more than the money they may contribute.

Find ways to thoughtfully incorporate volunteers’ skills and knowledge from careers and other volunteer experiences to help make your programs, administrative operations, and public relations stronger. Volunteers see your organization from a different point of view and find fulfilment in helping solve problems for causes they care about. Ask for help; in most cases, they’ll be delighted to give it.

Equipped volunteers are the best advocates

Educate your volunteers—continually, and packaged in ways so they can be an ambassador for the good work you’re doing. Keep in mind, you and the volunteers are working together toward the same goals.

Volunteers and donors alike want to know they’re making a difference. Share stories and outcomes in national, regional or the organization’s historical context to help them understand both the broader need and the impact value they’re partnering to address. At every gathering of volunteers, share a story or two of the benefit of your work together. It’s okay to repeat the same story several times; the more a volunteer hears it, the more confident they’ll feel about retelling the story themselves.

Don’t burden volunteers with mountains of statistics and internal jargon. Be intentional to identify specific examples of success stories.

With thoughtful consideration to confidentiality and discernment for appropriate information, let volunteers understand the challenges and obstacles the organization faces. If the environment demands new services, but you don’t know how to offer or fund them, bring volunteers into the conversation about it. Presenting an impression that your organization faces no opposition suggests that there’s no room for growth and expansion, therefore minimizing the added value of new donors and volunteers. Clearly define the prioritized needs and communicate how meeting those needs will improve the services you provide. Volunteers may have connections or insights to achieve those needs in ways you may have not anticipated.

And when you close a gift which a volunteer helped to introduce, encourage or nudge, tell them of your progress and thank them for their support in this way.

Use volunteers to share your story, recruit donors and other volunteers

Market volunteers as valuable assets to your organization. Use organization publications and social media outlets to highlight volunteer efforts, interviews about why they volunteer and the value they experience in making a difference through your organization—and have them encourage others to volunteer.

Sometimes people want to volunteer, but don’t know who to contact or how to get started. Whether it’s completing an online form or filling out a checklist from your publications, make volunteering easy with clear contacts and ways to sign-up. Then follow-up—maybe with an assigned volunteer!—and use that energy to benefit your organization.

Jennie Wolf SmithFor information on how GSB can help to kick-start your planned and deferred giving efforts with a time- and cost-effective plan, contact me at Jennie@gsbfr.com.

Opportunities to Respond to the New Tax Law to Benefit Your Organization

There is much unknown about the effects the new tax law will have on philanthropic giving in 2018. Since most of my work is with congregations and church-related organizations, I will limit my perspective to how the church and related organizations should respond in 2018 to the new tax plan.  Many philanthropic leaders are nervous and some are even afraid. This is natural in a time of change. I don’t think we need to worry, but organizations which rely on donations should make certain they are telling their story well and positioning themselves to remain in the front of the mind of donors.

One reason churches and other charities see such large revenues in December is that people are wanting to give before the end of the year so that they can claim this charitable deduction. The tax code has for decades held provision to allow for charitable deductions by those who “itemize deductions”. While the charitable deduction will still be allowed, the new standard deduction has basically doubled which will result in fewer people claiming this deduction. This means that people are getting as much or more deduction without having to itemize.

Approximately 70% of Americans in 2016 took the standard deduction and did not itemize. People with larger incomes tend to be more likely to itemize. Reasonably, the effect of losing the charitable deduction could be felt more by those with larger incomes who are currently your donors (https://taxfoundation.org/who-itemizes-deductions/). At the same time, most Americans with larger incomes will be receiving significant tax breaks.  And a few of these large donors will still choose to itemize deductions.

I encourage you to not focus on deductibility of gifts. In my eighteen years of development experience with the church and church related organizations, I have found very few donors who are “deduction motivated”. Many appreciate that they can claim the deduction for tax purposes, but that isn’t why they give. Churches and other non-profit organizations should focus on what motivates donors to give and how to do a better job of raising up that motivation.

The giving landscape is changing. Donors are giving to fewer and fewer charities. For years, the church has been receiving a smaller percentage of overall giving in America. This has had nothing to do with tax deductibility, but with the failure to tell our missional story—a story of what God is doing in our world and through our churches and ministries today. I must acknowledge that even as the church receives a smaller percentage of gifts overall that giving over the last two years has been at record levels.

Yes, mid-level and larger donors may lose out on their ability to deduct their gift to your organization. Many of these givers will actually realize a greater deduction with the new standard deduction and most will have more money because their taxes will go down.

Historically, churches and charities have benefited when people have had more money at their disposal, but the benefit is not as much as might be expected. Instead, both churches and charities improve giving to the greatest extent when telling their stories well—stories of lives changed, impacts made as a result of the generosity of donors.

What I have seen from many churches is simply telling a financial snapshot.  They share how much expenses exceed revenue and tell people the need is for more money.  This is simply sharing information and it makes it about money and not mission. A college once shared with me the cost of the electric bill. This is not motivating to most donors, especially me. Sometimes, we share good information, such as we had 100 children participate in Vacation Bible School and this is good, but it can be better.  The church should stop sharing statistics and numbers and start telling stories of impact. Tell the story of the youth who helped lead Vacation Bible School and came to understand their God given gifts.  Tell stories of how pastoral care helped someone see God active in their life.  Tell the story of how Sabbath rest in worship renews people who feel beaten up by the world.

There will be some churches and church related organizations that struggle next year and they will blame the new tax law. If so, I hope they will have talked to their mid-range and upper-range donors to find out for certain that is what happened.  At the same time, I hope they will evaluate how they tell their story and take inventory of what God is doing through their ministry and how they communicate that.  I think storytelling is far more important than tax law.

To best position your organization and your most faithful and generous supporters to navigate this new tax code, consider implementing these steps as the new year begins:

  • In January and February have intentional conversations with 12-20 mid to upper range donors ($3,600 and up in most churches/$1,000 and up in most organizations). Ask them what the new tax law means to them. Together, determine strategies to help them. For instance, some donors may start giving every other year to lump their giving to take a deduction every other year. Being aware of their giving intentions will enable better financial planning for your organization’s leadership.
  • After the first quarter, evaluate each donor (or donors of a certain level or above), and check on how their giving compares to previous years (or their pledge). Contact any who are behind to encourage their continued support.
  • Evaluate the stories of impact that you share and determine that they are reaching your target audience.
  • Invite a few donors to share their intention to maintain or even increase their giving in the coming year because they love the ministry of the organization and feel it makes a difference. They can even state that the tax law is not a factor in their giving decision.
  • Provide prospective supporters a vision for more ministry that your organization can provide. People give to vision. Shrinking organizations normally get less money as donors become underwhelmed by the limited impact.
  • Encourage donors to give appreciated stock. They still avoid capital gains taxes

Ministry needs will continue to grow in the future. Most of the churches (over 60) and organizations (over 10) that I worked with in 2017 are expecting more ministry to happen in 2018 than in 2017 and I believe that they will experience that. Several churches are expecting 20% or more growth for ministry in the next year and givers have indicated their commitment to support this growth. While the new tax code has left non-profit organizations concerned about its impact on givers, I remind you that the tax bill was working through Congress as organizations made these plans and as donors made their commitments to support them. The needs addressed by these ministries and the donor desire to partner with them supersedes tax reform.

The world is changing around us but as we vision a world that God is active in, we can dream boldly and live into those dreams.

Contact Mike at ward@gsbfr.com

For information about the tax law itself, click here.

Click here to read an interesting article about the impact to giving.

Why accept less than the goal?

We raised more than $2 million but we were still 15% short of the goal. Should we accept long-term financing and just “suck it up” as missing the total need?

As we reached the final months of the appeal, rather than accepting less than what we needed, campaign leadership re-engaged our efforts.  We asked two members who chose not to give to the appeal for a challenge gift. One of them stepped forward with a $100,000 challenge gift for more contributions over and above what was already committed. A zero dollar donor to the original appeal became a six figure challenge donor!

Those who were generous to the original appeal were invited to extend their gift.  Those who didn’t engage the first appeal were invited to new or increased gifts. The entire congregation was engaged to reach what I consider “excellence” rather than accept a shortfall.

Rather than accepting anything but complete success has led this congregation to needing to inform donors what will happen with gifts in excess of the total need.  What a great way to enforce an abundance mentality.

3 Goals for Annual Stewardship

Congregations who contract with me to help them improve annual stewardship or to conduct a campaign typically have a laser focus on their goal: raise more money! Many are somewhat taken aback when I tell them we actually have THREE goals. Can you guess what those goals are?

  1. Of course we want to raise more money. We don’t seek increased donations to keep the lights on or to keep the coffee pot full. We want to raise more money so that we can continue doing ministry. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and housing the homeless cost money. If we are not about serving the marginalized and the disenfranchised, then why do we as the church exist? When we raise more money, we must tie that effort directly to the outwardly-focused ministry that is defined by the tagline “God’s work, our hands.”
  2. Our second goal is to grow generosity. Generosity must be taught, and it is taught not by criticizing those who we determine do not give enough. It is taught by making generosity a joyous activity, one that becomes as much a part of our spiritual life as prayer or service to others. Whether donors grow their generosity from giving $5/week to $10/week, or from $750/week to $1,000/week, celebrating that growth and sharing gratitude freely is key to making the act of giving something that donors want to repeat.
  3. The third goal is growing a willing volunteer base in our churches. Who are the regular volunteers in your congregation? You can probably name them. Most people do not volunteer at church because of nebulous task descriptions and never-ending assignments. When we ask people to serve as volunteers in our fundraising efforts, we provide a written job description as well as an idea of the time commitment. We also share the same gratitude and work to make their volunteer experience is satisfying enough that the next time they are asked to serve, they willingly step forward.

Amazing things happen when we don’t just focus on raising more money. When we marry the needs of donors with the ministry of the church, generational change occurs, and the church becomes something we do, not just somewhere we go.

Inspiring with more than an exclamation point!

I think the most important thing is securing gifts for ministry is to inspire people to want to give.  Answering the question “how will my gift advance the Kingdom of God” is critical in helping people feel that their gifts make a difference.

I think we often fail to inspire our donors and therefor they think we just want their money.  Sometimes we add an exclamation point to the end of a sentence that isn’t actually inspiring and we think people should be excited.

People want the money that they earn to make a difference.  If your cause doesn’t make a difference, they will either keep it for themselves or they will give it so someone else who will make a difference.  So, cast a vision for how gifts to your organization are critical in advancing your mission and your donors will be inspired to give more than you think you even need.

River Crossings

Imagine driving by a restaurant with this sign outside: We lose money being open on Mondays. Come eat and help us break even. Doesn’t that just make you want to go out to eat on a Monday night??

In order to increase business during their slow times restaurants appeal, not their bottom line, but to the self-interest of their potential patrons. They think, “What would appeal my customers? What would encourage them to come out to eat on the first work day of the week after a busy weekend?” This thinking leads to marquees that read things like $5 Burger Night and Free Pie Mondays. Cheap burgers? Free pie? I could be convinced!

Considering the customer’s standpoint changes the messaging from one of scarcity to one of possibility.

The same is true for congregations. In the middle of summer, most experience a dip in giving. As people head out of town for weekend activities, worship attendance goes down. Fewer people in worship translates to fewer dollars in the offering plate. Church budgets feel the pinch.

To address this challenge, many congregations offer their members some form of automated giving (many Lutheran churches use Simply Giving through Vanco). Congregations with larger percentages of automated givers have better cash flow during the summer months, easing the strain on treasurers as bills come due.

This leads to announcements like this (that I have heard many times in many places), “During the summer months we experience a shortfall of giving. Automated giving is a way for you to help your church! Even when you are out of town your donations will continue to come and help us meet our expenses. Please, won’t you sign up now?” It’s 100% true, but it doesn’t prove very inspiring. It focuses on scarcity and shortfall and not on God’s abundance. At the heart, this message sounds much like the first restaurant marquee. We lose money in the summer. Sign up for automated giving and help us break even. Not very inspiring!

A couple weeks ago I attended a congregation that came at this from a different direction. A video showed a couple who said, “We love this church and are excited to be a part of financially supporting a place where we can see God at work in powerful ways. We had a hard time keeping track of the checks that we put in the offering plate. Every time we’d come to worship we’d have to pull out the checkbook and look back to see when the last check had been written. Automated giving took those worries away. Now we can support our church on a regular basis without the worry and hassle of trying to keep track of it all. We love it.”

Considering the donor’s standpoint changed the messaging from one of scarcity to one of possibility. The focus remained on the ease of supporting God’s activity through the church and not on the lack of funds in the plate.

What message does your congregation convey as you seek to expand the rolls of automated givers? Do you appeal to scarcity and need or to possibility and abundance? Do you focus on what is good for the congregation or what is good for the donor?

Papa Geno

“They’ll never know his name.”

Many of us gathered in Blair, Nebraska to celebrate the life of Gene Meyer who passed away after years of valiant and faith-filled struggle with ALS. Gene was a fifteen-year associate with GSB and served many clients over those years. Prior to that Gene served as a development professional and executive in higher education, health care and social service agencies.

Gene Meyer

Gene’s son, Pastor Kevin Meyer, preached the sermon this day and he, along with his brother and sister, gave testimony to Gene’s joyous and energetic role as father and grandfather. A great day of remembering this fine man – though all of us are saddened and will sorely miss Gene’s bright smile, laughter and conversation.

During his sermon, Kevin provided us another dimension to Gene’s life. We were reminded that in Gene’s lifelong career as a fundraiser and nonprofit leader, he left his mark and his work put in place strong ministries and funding that have touched tens of thousands and still continue to do so even now, as Gene has left us.

The money that Gene raised, the counsel he provided to assist others in raising money, the organizational coaching that he did with so many and the kind and effective encouragement he provided to volunteers has been multiplied many times over. Gene will continue to touch people for years to come in this way but “they will never know his name.”

That is the work that we, who serve with nonprofits in many different roles, are engaged. We really are change agents in society and bring about answers and solutions to problems across our country and the world. And, for the most part, those we touch will never know our names. That’s okay, isn’t it?

The following statement is attributed to many – I will attribute it to President Harry Truman: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you do not care who gets the credit.”

A good mantra for our work and for our lives, don’t you think?

Abundance

Was I really, in a gathering of congregational leaders? On Tuesday, February 7, 2017 I had to ask myself that question.

We had gathered to evaluate the results of the fall, 2016 stewardship campaigns of the twelve congregations that had covenanted to walk together through the program we call Stewardship for All Seasons. I knew the program would lead to growth. I was overwhelmed at what I was hearing.

My previous experience as congregation leaders gathered to talk about financial giving was a focus on scarcity. There was lamenting about layoffs, cutbacks, and mission going unfunded.  Without exception on February 7, 2017 that was not the story!

Two congregations had members pledge more to the ministry for the next year than the total giving for the previous year without consideration of the non-pledging households.  Several congregations experienced numerous givers who had provided gifts of less than $5 per week in 2016 who pledged $30, $40, or more per week in 2017. Three congregations saw pledged revenue increase more than 22%.  Four congregations experienced the number of families pledging increase by more than 20%.

Mission support, that is gifts from these congregations to their judicatory increased by at least $30,000 for the coming year.  Mission support from these same congregations had been on a downward trajectory in the years prior to our work together.

These congregations exceeded their goals.  They far exceeded my expectations.  What had been a scarcity mentality for the church was now being described in terms of abundance and significant ministry into the future.

I was in awe.  This was a vision I had hoped for.  This year, I was blessed to see it become a reality, at least for these 12 congregations.

We do have a God of abundance.  With vision and quality work, we can live into that abundance.  What a blessing this was to hear about what God would be able to do through these congregations in the year ahead.

Mike Ward

 

Mike Ward
CFRE, M. Div., Partner
Click here to view my GSB website