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.
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.
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.
CFRE, M. Div., Partner
Click here to view my GSB website
If any generation has a fairly clear and even uniform set of characteristics, it is those born before the 1960’s. Some have called this group the” traditional generation.” It is always challenging to determine exactly where generations begin and end, but for the purpose of this article, I think it should include those who are now in their late 60’s and up. They are what are more commonly called “senior citizens.”
Those leading stewardship ministries in congregations would be wise to keep in mind some of the traditional generation’s mindsets, beliefs, and lifestyles as they plan how to invite people to a more faithful stewardship. Specifically, for the senior generation, that includes an awareness that they tend toward a high degree of institutional loyalty. Senior citizens generally like the organized church, especially their local congregation. A higher percentage of these ” Traditionals” have grown up with a single denominational identity. Also keep in mind that studies indicate that this generation is more generous in their overall giving including to their local congregation than are those who are younger. The Lake Institute for Charitable Giving has found that 72% give to religious causes as opposed to 45% for those born after 1964.
As a result, presenting the call to faithful giving as a way to support the church often appeals to this age group. Many of them are aware of the threat to local congregations if not to the entire denomination. They worry about their church’s finances and building. They may even be concerned about the support of their pastor and staff. They are often concerned about future leadership for the church. Highlighting those sorts of concerns and appealing to them on the basis of such matters is likely to elicit a response and the potential for increased giving.
Another characteristic of the traditional generation with regard to their church and their faith is concern for youth. They are worried about their grandchildren and whether the church is actively engaged in ministry to them in creative and effective ways. In some regards, this generation may have as much or more concern than some of the parents! That is, in part, because many of them had positive experiences in the church of their youth which may be less true for today’s parents. Lifting up youth ministry and the need for strong financial support can be a key for this generation.
At the same time this generation of those in their late sixties and up is also frustrated and often disappointed with their congregation’s ministries to seniors. Many of them feel their needs are overlooked and that even pastoral care has failed them. It is important that every congregation have clearly defined and effective ministries for them. If there are such ministries, they will be appreciated and will garner financial support. It is especially critical to provide care such as that offered by a parish nurse or a volunteer network of caregivers as well, of course, as visitation by the pastor(s) as needed. If those things are missing, financial support may be lacking too!
Perhaps more than some other generations, the senior citizens of today are also open to preaching and teaching about stewardship, They, actually expect that and may be disappointed if their pastor does not address stewardship with some frequency. A once-a-year sermon on stewardship during the annual pledge program is not sufficient. Frankly, it is not sufficient for any people of faith, but this is especially true for many of the traditionalists.
One final thing in this brief essay needs to be said. This generation either tends to be living very frugally or to have significant resources. There are many who are just getting by. On the other hand, many have accumulated significant assets. We may even be surprised by those who have large assets because it is not obvious. Stewardship efforts should keep the extremes in mind, appealing especially to those with assets to give out of their assets. This is more common in capital appeals but can happen on an annual basis as well. For example, gifts of stock from those who have a stock portfolio are advantageous to both the giver in terms of taxes and, of course, to the congregation.
Do you have people over 65 in your congregation? Of course you do! As you plan your stewardship ministry these are some things to keep in mind. Regardless of our age, we can keep growing in the gift of generosity.
Gary F. Anderson
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.
CFRE, M. Div., Partner
Click here to view my GSB website
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.
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.
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.
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?
My phone rings….”Can you do a talk to the kids before Sunday School. They will be getting offering envelopes and we want you to tell them about giving.” “I can do that,” I reply. “What will the offering from the kids be used for?” I ask. “Let me get back to you!”
As I thought about this conversation, isn’t this how we often do stewardship and fundraising? We start with our desire to get money, or perhaps our desire to teach generosity and instill a value that everything comes from God. Then, we decide what we need the money for.
In stewardship and fundraising, the “Case for Gifts” is most critical. With a good case, gifts will come because it is a cause that people can wrap their minds around it.
As you begin to think about your fall stewardship appeal, decide on your case first. Then, go back and figure out who you will ask, for how much and how you will ask them.
My next question when they called back…”How will we let the kids know the impact of their gifts?” Don’t worry, we’ll figure that out too!