Telling the Story

Scripture abounds in stories of God’s work in the world. 

  • God provides: water in the wilderness, food in the desert, healing for the sick
  • God walks with people in joy and sorrow: Even though I walk through the darkest valley,    I fear no evil; for you are with me;   your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
  • God shines light in dark places:a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it
  • Nothing stands in God’s way: not faithless kings or invading armies, not famine or flood, not sin death or the devil. Nothing.

In the words of Scripture we encounter a God of hope and possibility.

Many church bulletins and newsletters abound in stories of frustration and despair.

  • We’re broke: we’re behind on the budget (and have been all year). If that doesn’t turn around we’ll have to cut something.
  • We don’t have enough volunteers: the same announcement, begging for Sunday School teachers, runs for a month. Obviously nobody wants to serve.
  • We’re busy: long lists of events vie for people’s attention, with little clarity about what happens at any them. 
  • We whine: guilt serves as a motivator to get people to act.
  • We work really hard: God gets barely a mention.

In the words of our publications we sometimes encounter people wishing that others would step up and make the church vibrant like it used to be.

Quite a contrast between the two! 

It’s time for our publications to tell God’s story! Churches should be experts at telling stories of God’s activity, but many times as soon as one activity ends our thoughts turn to the next one, the next program, the next sermon.  

What if we slowed down and spent time reflecting on our ministry? What if we invited our people to share how God works through our congregations to impact their lives? What if we had clarity about God’s calling for our congregation? Then what if we shared the ways that people’s generous giving led to people’s lives being changed? 

Imagine a congregation with regular announcements like these:

  • “I went to Bible Camp last week and experienced God in a way I’ve never done before. I want to thank the congregation for the grant that made it possible for me to go.” – Johnny Smith
  • Last week 75 people received food through our Food Pantry. One family shared how this food helped their son have a solid breakfast before going to school. This really improved his test scores. Your generosity made that possible.
  • “I used to think praying was really hard, something only really ‘faithful’ people could do. Last Wednesday night my small group experimented with different prayer types, and I felt a connection with God in a way I’ve never done before. We meet on Wednesday at 6:00. I’d love for more people to share this kind of experience!” – Imani Atu
  • “The kids of this congregation have great questions about God. I’ve taught Sunday School for the past five years, and every week they help me learn more about God. Who would like to join me in this journey of faith of helping our youth experience God in a new way?” – Maria Rodriguez

How do your church publications help people encounter a God of hope and possibility?

Reprinted from Fall, 2018 edition of River Crossings, a newsletter of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod

Rev. Pete Reuss
Learn more about Pete’s work with GSB HERE

Giving Tuesday’s Over. Now What?

While many non-profit organizations are still wondering how the new tax code will impact donor giving, this year’s Giving Tuesday was record-breaking according to several metrics. From the Fundraising Effectiveness Report:

  • $380 million contributed in the United States
  • About 6 million donations made
  • Mean gift size of $105.55
  • A record number of Giving Tuesday transactions processed each by Facebook, Paypal, and Blackbaud

 

Was Giving Tuesday successful for your organization?

Whether you’re celebrating the results of the day, or were a bit disappointed with the overall outcome, December has historically been a significant month for donor giving and a lot of work remains in the waning days of 2018.

Tips for maximizing your Giving Tuesday support

  • Welcome New Donors.Identify first-time givers to your organization and pick up the phone to thank them for their support and welcome them to the organization. Didn’t acquire their phone number as part of their gift? Make a note to gain the information via future appeals; this time send a personalized email or a written note instead. Send a Welcome Packet with information about your organization.

 

  • Send a Prompt Thank You. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to send a quick note of thanks with an update on the appeal’scollective giving.One of the best parts of Giving Tuesday is the collaborative feeling of support for the organization or cause. Let donors know the total sum of what was contributed to your organization through the Giving Tuesday appeal and the number of givers who made it happen. Be sure to tell supporters specifically how the money will be put to work to the cause of your organizational mission. This can be done via email push and social media posts, though for supporters who may not utilize these electronic tools, consider sending a postcard or making a phone call to assure they receive the message.

 

  • Share a Story of Impact. A short video clip sent via email, infographic or written note about how contributions make a real difference in the broader cause help connect donors to the value they add by supporting your organization.

 

  • Provide Context for further support. By November, most non-profit organizations have quite a bit of work – and fundraising – to do before the end of the fiscal year. Tell donors about the work which remains and the funds needed to achieve the service or ministry goals and invite them to be part of reaching the goal.Develop a message that reflects your own organization’s aim, such as this one:
    Because of donors like you, we’re closing the gap on child hunger. Now at 1,168 children served this year, your support has brought us closer to our goal to provide weekend meals for 1,300 K-12 youth.We’re always looking to partner with others who share this passion. Would you share the story of XYZ Organization with friends who care deeply about child hunger? Together we can assure more children have access to healthy meals.

 

Communicating a message that there is still more giving to be done, empowers donors to be part of the solution – in both financial and non-financial ways.

Whatever you do, don’t close the chapter on Giving Tuesday just yet. You asked and donors responded. In some cases, they self-identified as people who care about what your organization is doing. Cultivate this unique set of givers to grow their support for the coming year.

 

Jennie Wolf Smith

Learn more about author Jennie Wolf Smith HERE

Fundraising: A Spiritual Activity

Imagine that you sat down with a member of your congregation and started a conversation with, “Let me tell you what God is doing through our congregation.”? I think most people would be thrilled to have a conversation like this. It feels deeply spiritual.

But what if that conversation ended with, “Would you consider a gift of $5,000 to allow our congregation to live out that mission?”  Who still wants to be in that conversation? I suspect many church leaders would not. There is a palpable discomfort of talking about money. It feels worldly, dirty, or tainted. It’s something other organizations do, but not the church! But consider:

If we come back from asking someone for money and we feel exhausted and somehow tainted by unspiritual activity, there is something wrong.

Those aren’t the words of the latest fundraising guru. They come directly from Henri Nouwen, renowned priest and author, known for his writing and speaking about the spiritual life. In his very brief book, A Spirituality of Fundraising (which I highly recommend), Nouwen continues:

As a form of ministry, fundraising is as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry.

Really? How is this possible?

Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and ministry.

When our congregations have a clear sense of God’s purpose for ministry, we have the exciting opportunity to invite people to generously provide the finances to expand it.  If we truly believe that we’re doing what God calls us to do, how can we not invite people to financially make that vision turn into reality?

On a synodical level, much discernment work has gone into clarifying our purpose. As a synod, we develop and equip spiritual, resilient congregations and leaders.  We accompany partners around the globe. Or, to put it another way, “We are equipping congregations and leaders to follow Jesus into a changing world.” As a synod, we don’t ask individuals or congregations to give to support a $2.1 million budget. We invite them to participate in this mission that God has given us and we have specific stories showing what God is up to.

What does your congregation believe in such a way that you can offer other people the opportunity to participate with you in your congregation’s vision and ministry?

What part of God’s great mission invigorates people in your corner of God’s kingdom? Once you have clarity about that, then inviting people to be a part of it is easy. You simply tell the story of God at work among you and allow people to join in that work.

We don’t invite people to meet a budget goal. We’re simply inviting them to be a part of what God is already doing in our midst, and God’s activity is not limited by budget spreadsheets. We invite people to unleash our congregation’s potential to make a significant impact in people’s lives, both within and outside of our congregations.

Fundraising not only makes ministry possible, it opens people take steps on a spiritual journey, a journey of generosity. God works in the midst of it all, building faith and trust in individuals while expanding God’s ministry through communities of faith.

This article appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of River Crossings, a newsletter of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod
Pete Reuss

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.