“Your view of money is the chief spiritual issue of your life,” the Rev. Dr. Thomas Carson told conference attendees years ago. This is true for each of us and also for our congregations.
It’s fall and for most congregations that means it is also stewardship or Annual Campaign season. I don’t have any data to prove it, but I am guessing that most congregations, members and clergy dread this season. It shouldn’t be this way.
According to the Giving USA Foundation, total charitable giving in the U.S. for 2012 rose for the third consecutive year and increased by 3.5% to $316.23 billion. The largest influence on this increase was made by individual giving, not corporations, trusts or foundations. Giving in all sectors (education, health, etc…) increased except for giving to religion and foundations. It has been flat, and when adjusted for inflation it has declined 2% from 2011. It shouldn’t be this way.
What can congregations do about this? From my perspective as an Episcopal Church staff person responsible for raising money, here are a few of my thoughts and best practices:
Teach and preach about the spirituality of money and fundraising as ministry.
Fundraising is a subject we seldom think about from a spiritual perspective. We may think of fundraising as a necessary but unpleasant activity to support spiritual things [but] from beginning to end, fundraising as ministry is grounded in prayer and undertaken in gratitude. (Nouwen, H.J.M. “A Spirituality of Fundraising” 2010).
Read and study Nouwen’s book.
Change happens. How organizations raise money has undergone seismic changes in the past years. The church needs to change too. Read “Not Your Parents Offering Plate” by J. Cliff Christopher.
Stop apologizing that the church needs money. How else can we hold worship services, offer Sunday school classes, have choir practice, open our soup kitchens or pay our staff? Money is a tool. If the church is embarrassed and uncomfortable to ask people to give, then people are going to be uncomfortable and embarrassed to give.
Fundraise! The word “stewardship” means different things to different people, and our exclusive use of it confuses people. A recent survey at the church where I work actually showed this. Sure, the word “fundraising” has a negative connotation in this culture, but that is what we’re doing – raising funds to support the mission of the church. If Henri Nouwen can use the word fundraising, we can too!
Define your program based on your unique and compelling vision, goals, plan and need. Talk about bold plans, lives transformed. Tell stories. Use a narrative budget. Approach giving from a perspective of gratitude and generosity.
Understand your donors. Not all donors give for the same reasons. Customize your request to fit your donors. For example, some people will give because of your service ministries, others for music, others to maintain your facilities and presence in your community. Match your needs to their interests.
Recognize that fewer and fewer people are comfortable making a financial pledge. This is especially true the younger the person is. Ask them to give financially even if they won’t or can’t pledge.
Focus on relationships ALL year long. People give because they have a relationship with an organization and feel connected to its mission. Build relationships with people as they give of their time and talents. Talk to them, listen to them, and work alongside them.
Thank your donors throughout the year. It’s amazing how many church donors say that they have never been thanked for their gift. This can be personal notes (which are critical immediately after a gift is received), a phone call, or a thank you card that is pre-printed but hand-signed. At the church where I work we do some kind of donor thank you once every quarter.
Online giving grew 13.5% between 2012 and 2013. Offer multiple ways to pledge and pay. This includes the Sunday offering, paper mailings and online giving through credit/debit cards and electronic bank transfers and payments.
“Your view of money is the chief spiritual issue of your life.” This is true for each of us and also for our congregations.
If you’d like to talk more about this you can reach me through my (awesome) church at 804-359-5628 ext. 16 or Carolyn@ghtc.org
Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.
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