Imagine driving by a restaurant with this sign outside: We lose money being open on Mondays. Come eat and help us break even. Doesn’t that just make you want to go out to eat on a Monday night??
In order to increase business during their slow times restaurants appeal, not their bottom line, but to the self-interest of their potential patrons. They think, “What would appeal my customers? What would encourage them to come out to eat on the first work day of the week after a busy weekend?” This thinking leads to marquees that read things like $5 Burger Night and Free Pie Mondays. Cheap burgers? Free pie? I could be convinced!
Considering the customer’s standpoint changes the messaging from one of scarcity to one of possibility.
The same is true for congregations. In the middle of summer, most experience a dip in giving. As people head out of town for weekend activities, worship attendance goes down. Fewer people in worship translates to fewer dollars in the offering plate. Church budgets feel the pinch.
To address this challenge, many congregations offer their members some form of automated giving (many Lutheran churches use Simply Giving through Vanco). Congregations with larger percentages of automated givers have better cash flow during the summer months, easing the strain on treasurers as bills come due.
This leads to announcements like this (that I have heard many times in many places), “During the summer months we experience a shortfall of giving. Automated giving is a way for you to help your church! Even when you are out of town your donations will continue to come and help us meet our expenses. Please, won’t you sign up now?” It’s 100% true, but it doesn’t prove very inspiring. It focuses on scarcity and shortfall and not on God’s abundance. At the heart, this message sounds much like the first restaurant marquee. We lose money in the summer. Sign up for automated giving and help us break even. Not very inspiring!
A couple weeks ago I attended a congregation that came at this from a different direction. A video showed a couple who said, “We love this church and are excited to be a part of financially supporting a place where we can see God at work in powerful ways. We had a hard time keeping track of the checks that we put in the offering plate. Every time we’d come to worship we’d have to pull out the checkbook and look back to see when the last check had been written. Automated giving took those worries away. Now we can support our church on a regular basis without the worry and hassle of trying to keep track of it all. We love it.”
Considering the donor’s standpoint changed the messaging from one of scarcity to one of possibility. The focus remained on the ease of supporting God’s activity through the church and not on the lack of funds in the plate.
What message does your congregation convey as you seek to expand the rolls of automated givers? Do you appeal to scarcity and need or to possibility and abundance? Do you focus on what is good for the congregation or what is good for the donor?
“They’ll never know his name.”
Many of us gathered in Blair, Nebraska to celebrate the life of Gene Meyer who passed away after years of valiant and faith-filled struggle with ALS. Gene was a fifteen-year associate with GSB and served many clients over those years. Prior to that Gene served as a development professional and executive in higher education, health care and social service agencies.
Gene’s son, Pastor Kevin Meyer, preached the sermon this day and he, along with his brother and sister, gave testimony to Gene’s joyous and energetic role as father and grandfather. A great day of remembering this fine man – though all of us are saddened and will sorely miss Gene’s bright smile, laughter and conversation.
During his sermon, Kevin provided us another dimension to Gene’s life. We were reminded that in Gene’s lifelong career as a fundraiser and nonprofit leader, he left his mark and his work put in place strong ministries and funding that have touched tens of thousands and still continue to do so even now, as Gene has left us.
The money that Gene raised, the counsel he provided to assist others in raising money, the organizational coaching that he did with so many and the kind and effective encouragement he provided to volunteers has been multiplied many times over. Gene will continue to touch people for years to come in this way but “they will never know his name.”
That is the work that we, who serve with nonprofits in many different roles, are engaged. We really are change agents in society and bring about answers and solutions to problems across our country and the world. And, for the most part, those we touch will never know our names. That’s okay, isn’t it?
The following statement is attributed to many – I will attribute it to President Harry Truman: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you do not care who gets the credit.”
A good mantra for our work and for our lives, don’t you think?
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
Whether personally or professionally, a new year often includes new strategies and new goals. We’re a predictable lot: always looking for the new, shiny, quick fix from health and fitness to fundraising—seeking strategies which will magically realize our new goals with little effort and great rewards.
There’s always more data to research, more social media to engage, a new generation to court. And the chase is on—trading tried-and-true practices for glitzy new gimmicks. Don’t misunderstand; there’s a valuable and necessary place for testing and implementing new strategies in your fundraising program. Data research should be conducted; implementing social media strategies and engaging new donors are important elements to an effective fundraising program. They key is maintaining a healthy proportion of known successful strategies while exploring new strategies.
Now that the year has turned, and by now your books are closed, it’s time to review your fundraising results from last year. Did you gain first time donors? Did you retain previous donors? Did your donors grow in their average gift size, or number of gifts? Celebrate your successes, and mark your challenges. Let this review inform what strategies you consider in the year to come.
Good fundraising programs test new strategies and methods in tandem with long-known practices of fostering donor-centered relations which build financial support through well-developed and inspiring stories of mission and outcomes.
In this new year, continue to develop the strategies which have shown to be successful in your efforts: personalized engagement, clarity of message, responsive and transparent reporting of outcomes. Build on the relationships of those who already support and encourage your organizational mission. Then, based on your results from last year, intentionally incorporate new strategies which support your current plan and don’t monopolize vital resources of time and finances. It’s the key to sustainable long-term growth of your fundraising efforts.
For 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.
Having been through my share of capital campaigns, including some I led myself in my own congregations, I have developed a set of keys to helping such campaigns be successful. One of those is “don’t do it yourself!” That’s my first key.
Yes, I realize I just said that I had done my own but I definitely don’t recommend it. There are several reasons. One of the most important is that as a pastor you are most likely simply too busy to dedicate the time a really effective campaign needs. Capital campaigns are intensive and demanding. They aren’t something you can just whip out in your spare time.
Another reason for not doing itself is that most of us don’t have the expertise. That’s where a professional comes in. Those who work in the development field have training and experience. They have learned the “dos and don’ts” of a campaign. In addition, since this is what they are paid for, they have the time. This means a “key” key is to get outside, professional help. And one more reason is that sometime the outside professional can take the “heat” that might otherwise go to local leadership. Capital campaigns can generate some controversy. If so, how nice is to to direct that to this person the congregation has retained.
Almost as important is a second key which is simply involving as many people as you can. When there is widespread involvement throughout the congregation there also tends to be widespread understanding and support. A capital campaign is a good place to involve dozens, even a hundred or more, people in a variety of roles from preparing treats or meals to serving on the main steering committee.
Yet another key is to allow plenty of time for planning the campaign. Frankly, a year is not too long. One reason for a lengthy planning time is to get the “buy in” of the congregation, beginning with its leadership and ultimately reaching as broad an audience as possible. All of that takes time as does the recruiting of leaders and communicating the mission. A campaign can be done in six months. I did one once for a congregation in two months! But a longer period of time is generally a good thing.
A fourth key is to have a very carefully developed case statement. Such a statement sets of vision and the rationale for the campaign. Why are we doing this and what will it accomplish? The case statement needs to be clear and concise as well as motivational. This is not a good place to try to answer all the questions. That can be done in an “FAQ,” or “frequently asked questions” document. Along with a case statement, an FAQ is also of key importance.
While there are more keys to a full “set,” a fifth key I will mention in this brief article is having strong communication materials. Too many congregations or organizations skimp at this point. What is called for are materials professionally prepared and produced. Many congregations have people with training and experience, maybe even equipment, to help with communicating effectively. But also don’t hesitate to spend what it takes if, for example, you want a fine video. Typically that isn’t something with a small home camera can do. Hiring a professional, while not cheap, can make a world of difference.
It is amazing how many keys most of us have. So, too, there are quite a number to conduct a successful capital campaign. Now you have in your hand or pocket, a few such keys.
Gary F. Anderson
Endowment programs have nearly always taken a back seat in non-profit organization fundraising programs, and the economic squeeze of the last decade adding to the urgency of annual funding for current programs has pushed conscious efforts to secure deferred and estate gifts further out of view.
Regardless of the size of your organization—be it big or small, if intentional cultivation of planned gifts isn’t part of your on-going fundraising strategy, you’re setting up your organization for perpetual financial struggle.
It has been suggested that as much as 50% of future contributions to non-profits may come from gifts planned years before (Greenfield, 1999). Few organizations can afford to pass on this financial support, and none would want to.
There are many reasons to improve your endowment program now. Here are three:
- You don’t have to be an estate tax specialist.
In our current philanthropic climate, it’s possible that securing estate gifts has never been both easier and more complicated at the same time. Access to information and education for potential donors has never been more plentiful while the host of charitable vehicles and ever-changing tax codes can intimidate even the most seasoned gift officers.
The good news is that there are financial advisors and tax specialists available to help when a donor is ready to make such a gift. In fact, we strongly recommend gift officers direct potential planned gift donors to seek out third-party financial and tax advisors to ensure gifts made to the organization are in the interest of the donor, and avoid the perception of coercion or other impropriety. Establish organizational policies and procedures to receive these gifts, and leave the gifting technicalities to the estate professionals.
- For some donors, giving later may be easier than giving now.
Donors who are conscientious about economic uncertainty, or who are anticipating financial transitions (i.e., college-bound kids, a pending retirement, a future inheritance), may have limited resources today, but can more easily support the organizations they care about as part of their estate. Even a small percentage of an estate can have a significant impact on your organization and create a legacy for the giver.
Raising awareness among your faithful supporters that your organization is prepared to receive and manage deferred gifts instills confidence in donors that their donations will have an impact for years to come.
- Despite immediate financial pressures, the organizational mission is about the long-view.
For donors and organizational staff alike, it’s common to feel the pressure of immediate needs around budgets, facility maintenance and program funding shortfalls. Deferred and estate gifts help transition responses from reactive to proactive—a healthier and more productive way to carry out the organizational mission.
Endowments create financial resources for those same needs in the years to come, while also inspiring supporters, board members and employees to think about how needs and mission may develop in the future in response to cultural and environmental trends.
If your organization has suspended in endowment fundraising efforts for more urgent funding demand, it’s time to reallocate your strategy. Don’t have an endowment program in place? It’s time to start!
For 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.
Greenfield, J. (1999). Fundraising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process. 297.
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
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.
Paul N. Marsh, CFRE
Click here to view my GSB website
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
If 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: