Avoiding Shame in Stewardship

As the stewardship workshop came to a close, she raised her hand as God had laid something on her heart.  She shared that she was one of those people who did not take her giving seriously.  She suffered through the annual stewardship appeal waiting for it to end.  She didn’t want to serve on council because of the guilt she felt over not tithing.  She shared that she felt shame for not being generous.

As she spoke, I could tell that she felt a tremendous sense of relief.  She shared that her parents never taught her how to give because money just wasn’t talked about.  In an email to me the next day she shared the following: “I need to refocus my treasure to where my heart already is.  Living in two different worlds isn’t working.  I know I am not the only person in the church in this situation so maybe my stepping out and being transparent will encourage others.  Its very scary but I feel God’s hand in this.”

Often, without noticing or trying, our stewardship efforts cause shame.  Not because we ask people for too much, but because we don’t treat them as a person.  We need to focus on growth.  We need to ask people to move from where they are to where they can be more generous.  We need to challenge people but not offend them based on where they are.

Stewardship should be life-giving as we attach the treasures that God provides us to the ministry that touches people’s lives.  By doing sloppy stewardship, we cause shame.  By taking the time to treat people like individuals, we can help them grow and help them move into that abundant life that Jesus talks about.  I often tell congregational leaders it is okay to treat people different as long as they don’t treat anyone better.

Mike Ward

 

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

 

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  Unfortunately, that rule has become outdated, and should now be called the 90/10 rule.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

5 Steps to Improving Board Engagement

Whatever the non-profit industry—education, social service, religious entities, health care, culture or beyond—the strength of an organization’s governing board is foundational to the strength of the organization. Board decisions have lasting impact on the organization’s ability—or inability—to adapt to future trends and remain flexible in delivering on its mission.

Yet, too often, board relationships are frustrating for executives and disappointing for members. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five steps to improving your board engagement:

  1. Understand why members agreed to serve.

We typically recruit board members for the skills and networks they may bring to our organizations. Focused on ourselves, we miss establishing a good foundation with prospective board members.

Board members agree to serve on boards for a variety of reasons. Not all reasons are directly related to your organization. Rather, they may agree to serve because they believe in the broader cause which your organization aims to influence. They may serve to build their own professional network—enticed by the opportunity to serve alongside other notable board members, or to gain experience as a board member. They may be serving on the board as a representative from an affiliated organization.

Regardless of their reason for serving, it’s vital to understand what they hope to gain from their service and position board time and effort accordingly. For instance: allow for collaborative time within meetings, couch the organization’s mission within the broader cause, or in partnership with affiliated organizations. Help board members recognize their goals as part of their board service.

  1. Set expectations early.

A board member’s failure to attend meetings, make a financial contribution or understand the mission and core values of the organization he or she serves is a direct reflection on the organization’s poor board recruiting.

Potential board members should know well the expectations of board service—from time required both in and outside of official meetings to financial participation and the opportunities and challenges facing the organization. If there are specific networks or skills the prospective member has which would be particularly helpful, tell him or her that you believe these areas will be important to helping the organization reach new goals.

  1. Equip!

Board members are often asked to do things for which they are ill-equipped: from sharing the story of the organization to making decisions which have significant impact on the future of the organization. Help these volunteers help your organization!

A few ideas include:

  • Provide them with success stories from your organization which they can share with others.
  • Present all relevant information regarding internal and external trends to best position their ability to govern and guide organizational decisions—even if (and especially if) they are unflattering or lend to new challenges.
  • Offer—and require—educational opportunities which would help them to better serve your organization. Courses on media relations, fundraising and industry-related trends help to inform your board members, and equip them to be better—and more satisfied—partners in their service.
  1. Provide meaningful tasks.

Board members often say the most frustrating board service is “rubber stamp” meetings which fail to utilize knowledge and skills from the collective board. Members leave these meetings deflated, devalued and discouraged.

Comparatively, working together to solve problems, to cast vision, to respond to the changing environment, are valuable and fulfilling responsibilities. When equipped and empowered, board members increase their engagement with the organization, inspired to reach new heights.

  1. Evaluation

Board self-evaluations are a helpful tool to maintaining a healthy board culture by providing feedback to the organization and affording opportunity for board members unable to honor the pre-determined expectations to improve their commitment or respectfully exit from board service. Yearly evaluations remind board members of their agreed expectations and hold members to the same standards.

Jennie Wolf SmithIf you’d like a sample board self-evaluation form, contact me at: Jennie Wolf Smith, GSB Consultant.

Click here to view my GSB website.

Further reading on Board Development
A great book to understand the mindset of your board members, check out: The Truth About What Nonprofit Boards Want:

The Nine Little Things That Matter Most by June Bradham, CFRE

When to Hire a Consultant

“I don’t know where to start.”

 “Too many expenses, not enough revenue.”

“We know what to do, but can’t figure out how to get there.”

“If our organization raised more money, we could….”

Hiring a consultant is like hiring a mountain climbing guide. You have goals you want—or need—to achieve, but something inhibits you from reaching them. Maybe this something is internal disorganization or limited resources; perhaps it’s external challenges or competition.

If you were planning to scale Mount Everest for the first time, you could swing by a store to pick up a few supplies and set out hoping for the best. More likely, you’d seek out experts—via books, blogs, individuals who have successfully navigated the elements. You’d pour over trail maps and test supplies before you leave. You’d probably find a seasoned guide to make the journey with you, to lead you through unfamiliar terrain.

Similarly, a consultant can help your organization identify your goals, develop a realistic and timely plan for reaching them, and provides the tools and accountability for you to be successful. You’ll have a knowledgeable partner and guide in the fundraising effort, peace of mind in the process.

And, consultants can be less expensive than you think. At GSB, we’re about serving our client’s best interests, providing only services you need to be successful. Most of our clients secure funding to cover a consulting contract within the first couple of months of partnering with us. With associates throughout the U.S., obtaining local GSB counsel is easy; check our website to find an associate near you.

Data-Driven Fundraising

Data is big business—I mean majorly big business. Consumer information is arguably one of the fastest growing economic commodities in our society, and organizations are paying big bucks to get their hands on this consumer data. From political analysis to product development, data drives strategy and decisions.

In 2012, a New York Times article raised public awareness regarding how companies are collecting and statistically analyzing consumer information. The article’s author, Charles Duhigg, wrote, “Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a ‘predictive analytics’ department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them.”

While the for-profit industry capitalizes on data analysis to strategically grow profits and customer base, the nonprofit industry seems to lag behind—particularly in the area of fundraising.

Here are three ways to utilize data in your fundraising strategy, without a lot of added cost:

1)    Know your (potential) donors. It seems obvious, but I respectfully suggest that you don’t know your donors nearly as well as for-profit companies like Target or Amazon.com do. Understand why your donors give—and in this regard, loyalty doesn’t count. Find out what they specifically appreciate about your organization. What other organizations do they support, and why? Where does your cause rank in funding priority? What would cause a donor to increase his/her support?

2)    Track your donor-organization contact. It’s not just about when you send a mailing to the donor, but also when and how a donor responds. Did they attend an event or volunteer for a committee? Was a contribution made in response to a personal visit or public recognition? Are donations directed toward specific projects, but not others? Often donors self-identify and subtly communicate their interests. There is a host of data here, if organizations are willing to look.

3)    Tailor your appeals. Yes, this is a plug for segmentation. Not all donors are the same;  we should stop treating them so by expecting them to respond to one-size-fits-all appeals. We hail long-time supporters of our organizations with recognition and thanks, but often treat them as though they’re newcomers to our fundraising needs, oblivious to our previous partnership.

Target’s careful analysis enables them to send coupons for baby gear or power tools to specific customers rather than spamming their entire database with unnecessary material. When I log on to Amazon.com, I’m greeted with book recommendations tailored “just for me” based on previous purchases—and, no doubt, statistical analysis of similar purchases made by other customers.

Implementing data to grow support shouldn’t be limited to for-profit markets. Whether an agency or congregation, your nonprofit organization has similar information available if you’re willing to look for it. Use this data to uniquely message your organization—and your donors—for stronger partnerships and increased support.

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.

3 Tips For Fundraising From a Small Shop

Let’s face it, in recent years few development programs have increased staff. More often, fundraising officers are asked to do more with less, leaving them burned out or too stressed to know where to begin. Here are three tips to maximize your time and optimize your efforts:

1) Prioritize. You can’t personally get to everyone in your donor pool, nor should you. Consider how much time you will devote to stewarding long-term relationships, recapturing lapsed donors and acquiring new financial partners.

  • We know keeping a donor engaged is less costly than acquiring a new one. Maintaining those long-term relationships can result in greater support, both now and later.
  • Devote time to re-engaging former donors who have stopped giving. They know your organization and have emotional reasons to reconnect. Start with those who were strong supporters.
  • Have at least one strategy to attract new donors to your cause. While you should encourage your current supporters to introduce you to potential donors, be specific: Host an event where long-term donors bring a potential new donor, ask faithful supporters to write five letters to friends in their network who would resonate with the mission of your organization.
  • Don’t forget the self-identifiers. People who volunteer, who send a gift before you asked for it—or for more than you anticipated, who demonstrate an interest and loyalty to your organization seemingly “out of the blue” are people you should get to know.

2) Plan. Map out a year-long strategy for whom, how and when donors will hear from you. What do you want them to know? When do you want them to know it? How will you communicate and how will they respond?

  • Donor communication isn’t limited to mailings and donor visits. Also consider events, press releases, non-donor directed material, thank you notes and church announcements.
  • Consider the receiver’s perspective. Too often we communicate in ways that donors find incomplete or ill-timed. Just as in storytelling, donor cultivation requires a thoughtful process of bringing the person along to an engagement with the organization. How do the messages a donor receives from your organization tell the story in a thoughtful and logical manner?

3) Systematize. Critical for small fundraising shops, but incredibly valuable for larger ones, developing systems for donor cultivation will streamline the office work and keep moving donors along in engagement with the organization.

  • Automate your steps. Establish timelines for each step of the process from donor identification to calls and follow-up, from gift received to acknowledgement and receipt, and annual fund contribution to conversation about estate gifts. Wherever a donor is at in the process, you can move them to the next step based on your automation.
  • There are a number of tools available to help you automate. Online calendar reminders are a great way to track next steps. Consider outsourcing a step or two, such as arranging annual delivery of birthday flowers to a major donor with a local florist, or use an online vendor like www.sendoutcards.com to pre-arrange birthday and holiday cards.

When you prioritize, plan and systematize, you can allocate more time executing the task at hand, finding more time for donor cultivation and minimize missed opportunities for communication and strengthening donor engagement.

Celebrating, Not Pledging

I don’t necessarily enjoy being on Facebook, but it does keep me connected. I am part of several denominational Facebook communities where pastors can share questions and get support.  I normally just skim my way through, but the stewardship posts normally catch my attention, and they often get my blood pressure going.

The other night, someone posted that they were so excited that the congregation decided not to pledge this year!  I was furious and perplexed.

Studies show that those who pledge give many times more than those who don’t.  The same people who complain about pledging are willing to get married and take out mortgages—both forms of pledging.  By not pledging, we proclaim that something is not important.

If we believe what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, your heart will follow,” then for our organizations to get the hearts of our members, they have to be investing their treasure in them.  The average donor gives less than 3 percent of their income to the church.  The median member gives 0.9 percent.  Therefore, the majority of our members are not investing their treasures in our organizations or churches.

We need to expect more of our constituency, not less.  It is about their hearts.  I’m not interested in not having the heart of my people in my organization, therefore I am not willing to let people not pledge.  Our organizations deserve our best.  If they don’t, then we need new leadership in our organizations.

Ignorance Will Kill the Kingdom

I was speaking with a group of pastors the other day.  The topic of stewardship came up, as it often does when I am in the room.  We talked about how larger portions of congregation budgets are being provided by fewer donors.  There used to be the 80/20 rule that 80 percent was given by 20 percent of the people.  Recent studies have shown a shift to 90/10, and worse.

The critical problem occurs when these large donors leave, either because they move, they get mad, or they die.  Making up the difference from a few large donors can be nearly impossible for many churches.

When you have a large donor or several, you should celebrate.  However, you should work exceedingly hard to raise up other donors.  Just because the Smiths will write a check at the end of the year to balance your budget, doesn’t make that a good thing.

In fact, when you have that situation, growing your donor base should become even more critical.  I suggested to these pastors that they encourage these large donors to use their gifts to help raise up other generous donors.  This can happen by matching or challenge gifts.  Even better, it can happen by personal witness and faith sharing by the donors who understand generosity.  If we are going to replace these donors someday, we have to be teaching the next generation how to become like them.

Offering Plates

I have definite ideas about offering plates.  I think offering plates should be round, large, (at least 12 inches in diameter) made of brass and heavy.  A person receiving the plate from a pew neighbor should have to put both hands on the plate, and it should not rise up in the air when it is received. Felt material in the bottom of the plate is optional.

In other words, the receptacle should be worthy of the gift.  If I’m making an offering to God, and putting money in an offering plate is a symbol of giving something of myself, then that act needs proper attention.

I may be obsessing about offering plates because I have read three books recently with “offering plate” in the title.  For a while now, however, I’ve been observing the passing of the plate ritual in congregations, and I’m not very happy with what I see.

The ritual has changed.  I can remember when receiving the offering took an usher on each end of the pew to keep the plates moving smoothly and reverently.  Nowadays, the passing of the plate is anything but smooth because there are sometimes whole rows where nobody puts in anything. What’s an usher to do?

Last Sunday, I had to chase down the plate in the pew behind me because the first person on my pew shook his head when the usher offered the plate.  The person in the middle of the row ahead of me actually held up her hand like she was stopping traffic to indicate that she didn’t need the plate, either.

I’m fairly confident that this negative body language does not indicate that these worshipers have no intention of giving; rather, it is a sign that they have already given. They either write one check monthly or use automatic bank draft.  Either of those methods of giving is good and represents “first fruits” giving. Congregation leaders should encourage such systematic donations.  But where does that leave the passing of the plate or receiving the offering?

Are there ways we can keep the emphasis on the offering as an important part, maybe even the most important part, of worship despite the many conveniences of non-cash contributions?  Consider the following:

  • The pastor can state, before distributing the offering plates, that now is the time in the service when we offer something of ourselves to God. Passing the plate symbolizes our giving something we value to God, even when the money doesn’t go in the plate at that very moment. An announcement such as, “We now worship through our tithes and offerings,” can remind people that we’re still in worship mode, not transacting the church’s business. Quoting the first verse of, “We Give Thee but Thine Own” is also good.
  • Place filled offering plates on the altar (or other place significant in the worship service) even if they are moved later to prepare for communion elements.  Sacrifices have a rightful place on an altar and are central to our worship.
  • The choir anthem, which is most often sung while offerings are being received, could be placed at another time in the service thereby giving both the financial offering and the anthem more emphasis.
  • Worshipers who contribute once a month (by check or bank draft) can be encouraged to place an additional offering representing something they have given up during the week or something or someone for which they are especially thankful.
  • Some congregations have available in the pew row preprinted cards that state this person gives electronically. This allows the person opportunity to use the offering plate and serves to remind others about electronic giving.
  • Children and youth can be encouraged to place their tithes and offerings during Sunday worship.  Parents who contribute in other ways should explain to their children how and when they are giving.
  • Occasionally receive a designated offering by asking everyone who is able to come forward and place that offering directly on the altar or some other place of significance.

Giving is worship and deserves our best presentation.