About the Author
Bill Clontz
UUA Stewardship Consultant

So Why Is Their Budget Drive Always So Successful? – Part II

In Part I, we began answering the question of what makes for successful resource campaigns. We discussed the following:

  1. Stewardship is ministry.
  2. The best stewardship campaigns are continuous, yearlong open discussions and references to resourcing our values.
  3. Most people do not give “to keep the lights on”. They give to actualize their values.
  4. Successful congregations celebrate their donors just as they do their volunteers.
  5. Leadership sets the example in financial commitments and in working the campaign.
  6. It’s “The 3 T’s” (time, talent, and treasure), not “pick 2 out of 3 T’s.” We contribute in all 3 categories as best we can.
  7. Don’t conduct a budget drive like it’s a new requirement every year. Have a plan.

Let’s look at some additional criteria for success:

  1. The Stewardship Committee organizes and leads the stewardship effort, but they do not do it alone. Once campaign planning begins, Membership, LSG, Social Justice, the Board, and others should be part of the Stewardship Team. The committee cannot and should not do it alone; we all own this.
  2. The mechanical guidelines for good campaigns are well known. You likely have copies of Wayne Clark’s Beyond Fundraising – read it and use it – it works. Plan on about 10- 12 key people to run a first rate effort.
  3. A good, simple theme and visuals help people connect to stewardship. Relate to and put texture to your Mission and Vision statements. Similarly, well-selected and prepared testimonials are powerful. Use them and capture them for reuse.
  4. This is about community. If, at the end, people feel part of something, energized, proud of the results, and the amount needed was raised – it’s a great campaign. If they are frustrated, exhausted, and short funds – we failed the community.
  5. Data counts, and so does knowing the congregation. Look at people from several perspectives (what quintile of giving are they in, how long have they been here, how active are they, what moves them, income changes, etc.?). Pair them with the right visiting steward. This helps people connect to the larger purpose of the effort.
  6. We need not be shy about asking – this is important to us all, so let’s ask. People often need help framing their contribution, especially new members. Make full use of the Fair Share guide. If people want to know the mean and median contribution from last year and the size of our budget, they should have that information, but at best they match their decisions to the Fair Share guide and do not focus so much on what others do. This is their commitment to make.
  7. Two things can be helpful. One, have a commitment Sunday wherein the Visiting Stewards and the Congregation exchanges pledges. It’s very powerful to see those stewards standing up front. Two, recognize that many members on fixed income have limited potential to increase. No one should be overlooked or assumed unable to make an increase, but if they cite fixed income, it’s an ideal time to talk about legacy giving. You should have a Legacy Society to recognize and honor those who have put the congregation in their will or estate plans.
  8. Encourage people to set up auto pay, making contributions more predictable, with less processing.

Good luck!

So Why Is Their Budget Drive Always So Successful? – Part I

Ever find yourself asking that question, wondering why your budget drive or capital campaign is struggling while another congregation’s always seems to do really well? Every congregation and every circumstance are different, of course, but consistently successful campaigns do seem to share a small number of key attributes.

By the way, by “successful,” I mean a campaign that builds community, reinforces mission, meets its goals, and leaves everyone feeling energized, not exhausted. Let’s look at some of the factors that most often provide a successful campaign: 

  1. Stewardship is ministry.  Ensure the leadership and everyone involved in the program remind us all that. This is the lifeblood for the rest of our ministry. Treat it accordingly. We should also be clear this is not just another charity to consider – this is our spiritual home and where we live out our values individually and as a community. This is the priority among the good causes in our lives.
  2. The best stewardship campaigns are not, in fact, campaigns. They are continuous, yearlong open discussions and references to resourcing our values – the campaign is just an exclamation point in that continuing conversation. Ensure this conversation is present and visible all year (including with new members), not just pulled out of the closet for 5 weeks every year.
  3. Most people do not give “to keep the lights on” or to save a sinking ship. They give to actualize their dreams and values. Stewardship should speak to that; what is it we do programmatically that merits our money (great services, inspiring music, social action in the world, being a just employer, etc.).  What difference does my contribution make? What else would we do if we had 5% or 10% more? Give people something real and meaningful to invest in.
  4. Successful congregations celebrate their donors just as they do their volunteers. They thank and recognize those who can and do donate, especially Fair Share givers (which avoids celebrating only the large amount donors). Celebrate running successes in numbers contributing, fair share pledges, numbers of households increasing, first time commitments, etc.
  5. Leadership sets the example in financial commitments and in working for the campaign. Exceptions should be extraordinarily rare. If the leadership is not committed enough to contribute and to talk to others about doing so, why should anyone else?
  6. We remind ourselves that there is a reason we so often cite “The 3 Ts;” not “pick 2 out of 3 T’s.” As responsible members of this community, we are called to contribute in all 3 categories as best we can. The fact that we may volunteer a lot or provide special talents does not lessen our responsibility to provide financial support as we can. Leaders and visiting stewards need to be prepared to have this conversation with those who may feel otherwise. You may have very few resources to share; that makes the sharing no less valued – quite the opposite.
  7. Churches often conduct their budget drive like it’s a new requirement – and a surprise – every year. The leadership should have a general plan for what type of campaign (face to face, cottage meeting, etc.) laid out at least 3 years out, if not 4, should know who the chair and vice chair are 2 years out, and should plan on doing face to face about every other year, certainly no less than every 3rd year.

In Part II of this blog, we will look at more of these keys to success.

Five Pillars of Congregational Financial Management

When most of us think about church finances, we think of the operating budget. That is the day-to-day finances that must be planned for and executed.

But a congregation that is financially healthy actually has five such “financial pillars”. Leaders who would also be good stewards always have these five pillars in mind when planning for the future and when exercising due diligence as stewards of church resources.

1.) The Operating Budget. This pays the day- to-day bills. Allocated funds are designated for staff compensation and operating expenses.  It may include payments into other funds. Operating funds are not “fair game” to pay other requirements.

2.) The Operating Reserve. At any given time cash flow for the operating budget could be disrupted. This rarely happens; when it does, may be only for a short period, but timely payment of salaries, workman’s compensation, etc. could be at risk.  An emergency operating reserve, perhaps equal to a month’s operating expenses, ensures employees have no worries and that other time sensitive payment are not at risk. Funds are not to be used whenever someone sees another need.


Free Money? Well, yes actually.

Coming out of this recession, congregations are looking for new ways to augment church income. Many of the more traditional options (craft fairs, flea markets, service auctions) can, if well done, help build community, but they tend to be one time affairs, place high demands on volunteer hours, and most often do not raise substantial amounts of money.  Many congregations are making use of more technologically assisted options with good results. You might wish to consider something along these lines.

One such program is to sign up your congregation as an affiliate with a service provider, such as Amazon. Being an affiliate simply means your organization will post somewhere on its website a notice that anyone who wishes to order anything from Amazon may do so by clicking on the Amazon logo on your web site. When this is the done, the purchase is automatically credited to the church’s account for a share of the purchase price. Signing up is simple, and Amazon provides a monthly statement, as well as automatic deposits of the proceeds. How much the church earns is a bit more complicated an answer, depending on volume and amount and types of purchases, but in my congregation’s experience, it runs about 4% of the amounts spent. The pattern for most seems to be for a bit of a slow start the first couple of months; once members get used to the idea, volume builds up quickly. Since the program applies not just for books but for everything purchased on Amazon (furniture, clothing, electronics, etc), the totals grow nicely. There are other affiliate programs available (Barnes & Noble, for example). We chose Amazon because the variety of items available for purchase is so much larger. (more…)

Greening the Plate

A Story of Doing Good Work on a Small Scale – and Finding Bigger Results to Follow
by Bill Clontz

Our congregation, the Mt Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria VA, hosted a workshop some time ago at which UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant Larry Wheeler shared a story that was so simple, yet so powerful, it became a part of our approach to generosity.

Larry was working with another church sometime ago, and a friend of the church mentioned that when he first began coming to the church, he was struck that when the collection plate came around on Sundays, it was almost always empty. He could not help but wonder if this was an indicator that the congregation did not support the church. When he mentioned this to members of the church, they assured him that there was no lack of support, but that most people contributed by automatic deposit or by check through the mail.

Still, his question got them to thinking about appearances and symbolism; from their reflection, came the idea of “Greening the Plate.”

Now, congregants who have contributed by other means simply put a dollar or whatever they wish in the plate when it comes around on Sunday; no one lets it go by untouched. It’s a symbolic act, and perhaps only a dollar, but what an effect. At the end of the passing around, the plate is full, the new visitor, and the members, have a visual cue that people here care enough to put something in the plate, and even though its only small amounts, you would be surprised how that adds up over a year. The money goes directly into programs and other church needs. (more…)