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.

Properly Engaging Volunteers

We’ve all heard about the 80/20 rule in fundraising as well as volunteering—80% of the work or funding is given by 20% of the people.  Unfortunately, that rule has become outdated, and should now be called the 90/10 rule.

This is especially problematic in congregations.  We all know the statistics: mainline protestant congregations are decreasing in size and giving.  Congregational lay leadership and clergy have a hard time finding volunteers for any task, much less the important ones of church council and stewardship committees.  Attendance is down as a result of the diminishing influence of the church in family life.

We know that engagement breeds involvement, which in turn causes devotion and investment.  The most involved volunteers, whether in a congregation or in a nonprofit, are the very best donors and donor prospects.

When I work with congregations, I hear similar stories: “I invite visitors and new members to join us, but no one ever does.”  As a two-month visitor to a congregation in northern Colorado, I recently experienced the best way to invite and engage visitors and members in a congregation.

Dave is a member of a Lutheran church in Ft. Collins.  Dave plays guitar in the praise band at church every week.  When I began attending with my family, Dave and I struck up a number of conversations.  At one point, he found out I played guitar (only church-camp quality guitar, by the way).  He did not say “you should join us some time.”

Dave asked me if I would be willing to play with the band.  I said I would maybe feel comfortable doing that after much rehearsal.  When I got home, Dave had already emailed me the music and the dates the band would be playing.  He then got in touch with me to schedule one-on-one practice with him between services the next week.

What Dave did differently was he a) invited me, b) followed up immediately with specifics via email and c) called to confirm my involvement.

When we want visitors or members to get more involved, we have to invite them to join us in a specific task, provide the necessary tools and confirm their involvement.  We are then responsible to make the event a great experience for the volunteer.  Then do it all again.  Soon, our volunteers will be inviting others in the same way and we will grow engaged and dedicated members.  Their financial investment will follow.

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Paul N. Marsh, CFRE
Associate
Click here to view my GSB website

To Know Or Not To Know

I had lunch with a pastor friend of mine last week. I asked him if he knew what his church members gave to the church. He looked surprised and responded, “Of course! Stewardship is a spiritual exercise which is our way of giving thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon us. If I don’t know what my members are giving, I may miss a sign that something is wrong with my members. I could miss an opportunity for ministry.”

How true. As Henri Nouwen wrote in his book “The Spirituality of Fundraising, “Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry.”

Pastors should not only know what their members give annually, they should make discussion of a member’s giving an annual occurrence in order to unearth any ministry needs as well as to unleash the joy of generosity.

My friend shared a recent example: “Marjorie, a longtime member of my congregation, stopped giving in the middle of the year last year. It was my first clue that something was wrong. Turns out, she had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which I did not know. I called her and was able to begin end of life ministry, which could have been delayed had I not known her giving habits.”

To be sure, donor confidentiality is important, and steps should be taken at a church to make sure that the fewest people possible have access to the giving records of the membership.  Pastors, though, need to be one of those few people. It is not an invasion of privacy for pastors to know the giving habits of their members–rather, it is ministerial acquiescence not to know those giving habits. If this is the case in your congregation, it is time to have a serious meeting with the council to begin the process to change policy.

Listening with Half an Ear

How many times have you made a discovery call on a donor prospect, only to leave having done most of the talking?

As fundraisers, we are often the first contact a prospect or donor has with our ministry or organization, and we are responsible, therefore, to inform them about its important mission and vision. Yet that can leave precious little time to find out about their spiritual and philanthropic needs.

Exacerbating this is society’s decreasing span of attention.  The social media lifestyle has lowered our capacity to really listen to what another is telling us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it “impatient, inattentive listening.” (See Bonhoeffer full statement below.)

Every major gift workshop you have attended has told you the same thing−that successful major gift fundraising begins with relationships.  These cannot be cursory relationships, however.  The most successful fundraisers I have known are those who truly cared about their donors and their donors’ lives−who celebrated life’s joys and mourned life’s sorrows side by side.  It is in relationships like this that we experience and share the true spirituality of fundraising.  Relationships like this start by listening with no preconceptions.

The next time you visit with a donor or donor prospect, be aware of how you are listening.  Use your active listening skills, and spend the time to find out what is truly important to them.  Ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer.  There will be plenty of time later to make the case on behalf of your organization.

The following is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community”:

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

How Congregational Stewardship Benefits Within the Context of the Pastoral and Lay Servant Leadership Model

As most pastors know, inculcating a servant leadership model is an effective way to lead a congregation.  After all, Jesus was the ultimate servant leader, was he not?  (John 13: 1-17)

How does this leadership model work, however, when incorporated into a congregational stewardship effort?  I would suggest to you that it works extremely well, and benefits everyone involved–the donor, the stewardship committee member, the stewardship chair, and yes, the pastor.

Servant leadership is defined by a relationship wherein those with power (real or imagined) lead by providing the necessary resources and encouragement to those who follow.  An example, in its most basic form, is a CEO who is constantly asking the Vice President “what do you need to be successful?”  That question is parroted throughout the company, and the role of the leader is to provide the tools with which the worker on the assembly line has the tools necessary to produce a widget in the most efficient manner, but also provides opportunity and satisfaction.  Endemic in this model is a shared respect between management and labor.

To be sure, the pastor is not management and the parishioner is not labor.  There are parallels, however, which when introduced can improve mission, ministry and finances in a congregation.

Stewardship–the act of sharing God’s blessings with others–is one of the most important ministries that occurs in a congregation.  It is most certainly NOT just an effort to raise money to keep the doors open.  It is a spiritual exercise which, when done properly, motivates parishioners to focus on mission within and beyond the local community.

How does a successful stewardship effort look within the servant leadership model?

Education of leaders is key to stewardship.  The pastor and the stewardship chair should budget time and money to learn stewardship techniques annually.  They then must come back to the stewardship committee and share what they have learned.  This is a basic tool for success.

Clarity.  The pastor and stewardship chair must recruit committee members with clear job descriptions.  Those job descriptions must state precisely what the volunteers are being asked to do.  The job descriptions must be clear that committee members will be asked for their written financial commitment before they will be allowed to ask others for theirs.  There should be clearly defined mission goals for the congregation provided to the committee members so that they are able to elucidate the precise case for support.  Nothing that happens during a committee member’s tenure should be a surprise.

Vision must be shared and in the process must motivate.  A servant leader must exude excitement about what could be if the mission plan were fully funded.  Additionally, the pastor as servant leader should not save the “stewardship sermon” for the second Sunday in September.  Stewardship is a topic that should be addressed all year long.

The donors–members of the congregation–must be given time to learn about the mission goals, and must be given enough information to make comfortable decisions.  Information must be clear and in various formats–temple talks, social media and website, newsletters, etc.  In this case, information is the tool that will make the widget better.  Similarly, none of the information shared should be a surprise to a parishioner, since the planning was exhaustive and inclusive.

Another tool to provide the donor is a clear and specific request.  No donor should have to wonder what is being asked of them.  Are you asking for a written pledge this year?  Are you asking for a 5% increase over last year’s giving?  What is our  financial goal as a congregation?  Are you asking me for $25,000?  Again, clarity equals respect.

What tools to make my gift are available?  It is important to provide your donors with a number of ways in which they may make their gifts–electronic fund transfer, gifts of appreciated stock, IRA disbursements just to name a few.  These are the tools that servant leaders provide.

Last but certainly not least, a servant leader gives–or at least shares–credit.  Donors must be thanked meaningfully, frequently, and by the pastor as well as the stewardship team.  Just because we are sharing the gifts that God has given us does not mean we do not deserve thanks.  One line in a business office giving receipt is not proper thanks.  There should be thank you letters, phone calls, handshakes (hugs?) in the narthex, and appropriate recognition.

How does your congregation compare?  Is stewardship a way to pay the light bill, or is it a vital part of your ministry?  Does your leadership provide the tools necessary for meaningful giving that excites and encourages?  How could you become a better servant leader when it comes to stewardship?

Don’t Hang Up Too Soon

A donor called to make a $5,000 gift in memory of her recently deceased mother.  The donor was interested in what people today are concerned about—effectiveness of our programs, our efficiency rating, the people we serve.

We discussed a number of possibilities regarding how the gift could be used. After asking a number of questions about our organization and its programs, she decided where she wanted her gift to go.

She was ready to hang up when I asked her to tell me about her mother.

She was caught off guard, but proceeded to tell me what a loving mother and wife she had been, how dedicated she had been to her church, and how uncomfortable her mother would have been to see the big fuss everyone had made over her at her funeral.

We visited about her mother for 20 minutes, she on the east coast of the United States and I in the west.  I asked questions about her mother’s life because I was interested. She found some catharsis in sharing stories about her mother.

As development people, we are about people and ministry.  We are not just about dollars.  We seek funding because of the difference that funding will make in the lives of those less fortunate, or those who are hurting, or those needing guidance and comfort… and because of the difference those gifts will make in the lives of the donors who respond to God’s grace by giving gifts.

I could have hung up the phone after we determined how the $5,000 was to be used.  That would have been a somewhat cold transaction,  By asking about her mother, and listening to the story of her life, this woman was given another opportunity to share the story of her mother… and celebrate the life they shared together.

Introducing Your Ministry to Potential Donors

Small, intimate events are a wonderful way to introduce prospective donors to your ministry and its mission.  There are critical elements that will make—or break—these events:

Encourage your best donors to invite friends, colleagues, or other members of their congregation.  Not only is this a great way to build attendance, it involves your current donors and helps cultivate their dedication and continued support.

Keep the event SHORT.  From the moment attendees arrive to the time they are free to leave, no more than an hour should have elapsed.  If done well, many will choose to stay and visit anyway.

The speakers should include the CEO and the host donor.  The host donor speaks to why the ministry is so important to them; the CEO should share a bit about the mission and how it is changing lives for the better; and the host donor thanks attendees for coming and encourages them to welcome a visit from staff in the coming week.  The event adjourns.  Most importantly, each one speaks PASSIONATELY and BRIEFLY.

Attendees should fill out some type of contact card, with the understanding that staff will be calling within one week to follow up and invite engagement in the ministry.

FOLLOW UP!  This event is simply a waste of time and money if you expect the prospective donors to call you.  Do not wait…carpe diem!

Staff Giving

This week I witnessed a staff giving campaign kickoff at a large organization with which I am working.  This was a different experience for me, however.  Among the almost 80 staff in attendance, there was an excitement surrounding the kickoff that I have never before encountered.

The staff campaign leadership actually kept secret the date and time that the pledge sheets would be distributed, because there is great competition to be the first team to turn in their forms.

What does that say about the organization?  What does that say about the staff? What does that say to external donors?

First, it tells me that the organization leadership involved many stakeholders in developing the mission of the organization.  The staff was involved not only in the development of the mission statement, but is responsible for sharing that mission with the public (regardless of their position or role within the agency). The staff at every level is also held accountable for achieving the mission.

It tells me that staff trusts management.  Staff will not give for the same reasons that external donors will not give, and one of the main reasons frequently given is lack of trust in leadership.

External donors are going to look at this ministry and feel comfortable that their gifts will be used well, because there is 100% staff giving participation.  They will note the same dedication.

Does your organization have 100% giving by your staff and board?  Do you even give them the opportunity?  If you have asked and some or even many have declined, what does that say about the state of your mission?  Is it time to take a long hard look at your ministry’s mission and vision?

The Joy of Fundraising

I was asked recently why I enjoy major gift fundraising so much.  I did not have to think very long to come up with my answer.

Simply put, it is the effect a major gift has—on the donor.

There is no question that a substantial financial donation can have a positive impact upon an organization and its mission.  What I love, however, is seeing the joy in a donor’s eyes when they make that decision.

Years ago I worked with an elderly gentleman who had been a dairy farmer his entire life.  He then made a fortune as a result of a natural gas find on his land.  At one point he said, “I have no idea what to do with all this money.”  As we listened to him on several visits, it became clear that he was personally devastated by the recent death of his wife and wanted to do something in her memory.  The result was a significant naming gift at the college’s student center.

I was moved the day I showed him his wife’s name on the wall of the student center.  He broke down in tears and told me he never thought he could do something so wonderful in memory of his wife.

He was experiencing grace upon grace.  His stewardship had uncovered God’s grace in his life—even in the midst of the tragedy of his wife’s death.

And what an honor to be there with him in that journey.