About the Author
Mark Ewert
Mark Ewert is a congregational stewardship consultant for the Unitarian Universalist Association; his focus is on helping congregations to grow their cultures of generosity. In addition to 10 years as a fundraising professional, Mark has been a fundraising consultant, facilitator, and teacher for nonprofit organizations. He has a practice as a leadership coach in the tradition of the Georgetown University Leadership Coaching program. Mark has been a lay leader at All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, DC since 2002. He formed and led their Development Ministry Team (now called the Stewardship Committee) and has served the Generosity Campaign (Annual Budget Drive) as the co-chair, as a committee member, and as a sub-committee chair coordinating all messages and communications pieces. He writes regularly on generosity for his blog, www.generositypath.com/blog, and is writing a book about generosity.

Stewardship and Transforming Us

Since I belong to a large congregation that is known to be more racially diverse, people I work with in other congregations often ask me what the keys are to growing their own diversity. This is especially challenging to people who are in predominantly white communities. I am not a diversity consultant or expert (and I am a middle aged white guy!), yet I do think the one thing we can all do, everywhere, is to work on changing ourselves first. That means learning about and practicing anti-racism.

I think this is also true with stewardship. Those frustrated volunteers (and sometimes staff members!) who cannot understand why pledging levels do not change – no matter what they do – can work on themselves first. If they have not done so already, they might examine their own giving and find a level which they feel is generous and honors their engagement in the congregation’s mission. After that, they might be supported with fresh energy through guidance, education, and inspiration from new and positive sources of stewardship ideas. And coming to appreciate that the rest of the congregation has very different levels of economic capacity, motivation, and knowledge about financial giving will help shift the concern from:

  • Getting them to change, to
  • Transforming us

Some people may feel that not pressuring, provoking guilt, leveraging cultural pressure or a specific prophet’s teachings, nor forcing – is weak. That is taking the easy way out, isn’t practical, feels good but won’t work, allows people to avoid the inevitable (they have to give a lot more money), and will leave “money on the table.”

Yet transforming us around stewardship is ultimately more challenging. First of all there is the challenge of how you actually do that. What does it look like? How do you measure change (aside from with raw numbers)? Then if there is a change how can you attribute it to something so subtle? Let’s start with this: We have to be more caring, trusting, inspiring, and inviting. We have to raise our heads up from the budget or the pledge numbers and be willing to be in relationship.

This will require us, as leaders, to embody a different approach to stewardship. What we do may look similar; we might still have testimonials, and one-on-one conversations, publish a brochure, do mailings, provide financial information, and put out a financial commitment form. Yet our changed underlying approach will suffuse the annual budget drive with collective concern and not create divisions between parts of the congregation. This is our shared endeavor, not we few trying to get you all to respond. In fact, we may have even more of a congregational focus on stewardship; have a greater sense of urgency about it. Yet it will build trust and ownership of the congregation. This takes a new discipline, self-awareness, and sensitivity.

And it requires us to look at our congregations more holistically. As people I have worked with are used to me saying, “Stewardship affects everything and everything affects stewardship.” If your board is in conflict or there are serious problems in other areas of the congregation, a pledge drive uses pressure and trying to corner people into giving may be enable you to muscle your way through the drive. However, if you are going to embrace stewardship in relationship, in community, then things will need to be well-aligned, or at least honestly worked-on. Without that, the inspiration to give and boldness in giving cannot grow.

This is a vision of sustainability in stewardship, where the leaders do not burn out or become cynical. This is a chance for us all to grow together – individually and collectively. And with this opening and invitation, more people will want to participate, so our capacity to implement our congregational missions may grow as well.

Stewardship and Community Building

Congregational community building and asking for money are an uneasy mix. That does not seem to be as true when trying to combine community building efforts with soliciting other congregant resources: skills, intelligence, time, and physical effort. On the other hand, asking for money (sometimes called fundraising or resource development) in the context of creating the “beloved community” for many folks would seem to be and oil-and-water endeavor.  Yet, this might provide the basis for a good definition of stewardship: a combination of community building and resource development.

In my work with congregations, I often find people who are working to gain financial contributions are frustrated, burned out, sometimes with little support from the congregation, valiantly trying different approaches – yet are dissatisfied with the results. This can sometimes lead to an “us vs. them” framing of the challenge:

  • We have to get them to give money (increase their giving, fill out a pledge card, respond more quickly, etc)
  • There are people here with money who are not giving (giving enough, giving the way we need them to, etc)
  • People are having a hard time financially now, we can’t ask them for money (to increase, to fill out a pledge card, etc), or we need to give them a “special exemption”
  • We need to tell them how much it costs (per family, member, per attendee on Sunday, per year, etc.) to run this place
  • We need them to understand the value they are getting here

Whether you are concerned about “them” giving enough or not being able to give, you have set up a distinction between who we are and who they are. As a long time lay leader, I can understand how this perspective arises.

This dualistic thinking can also be seen when people want to compare Unitarian Universalism to other denominations or faiths – and sometimes try to hold UUs to the same ways of giving (although the whole rest of the belief/values system is different):

  • If we were like Baptists (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.) they would know exactly how much to give and cultural pressure would make sure they gave at that level.
  • People in other religions give a lot more than we UUs do.
  • If we were all Christians, we could hold up Jesus’ teachings and they would give at the levels we need. We could even talk about heaven and hell!

And yet as congregants this will be our spiritual home, for many of us or core community, for a very long time – sometimes a lifetime. We will know each other and grow in relationship for many years. For that reason, setting up a program to gather the financial fuel for the community’ mission based on these dualities (us vs. them, comparing UUs vs. other denominations) can divide the community and be counterproductive.

In fact, the dangers of “us vs. them” frames for stewardship in congregations can be profound. In some congregations, people “grin and bear it” through the annual pledge drive, or worse know to avoid Sundays during the period of the drive. Some will probably still contribute and come back because these people value other parts of congregational life enough to figure out a way to live with or work-around the pains of the annual drive. However, if we are not careful, we can break the very community-building that we say is our goal. If people get hurt, offended, or confused because of the way we act or communicate – or because it does not match the rest of our UU values – we are breaking the bonds of beloved community. Over time these small injuries become scars and we run the danger of those people never feeling like they belong in the congregation, or fully engaging in a stewardship relationship there.

Stepping into stewardship is challenging. It can be an act of faith and can help us develop along a spiritual path. It calls us to align our values, beliefs, and loves with our financial (and other!) resources. It can create a bridge to belonging so that our congregation truly feels like it is “ours.” And it can provide opportunities for community-building and meaningful conversations. With all of this rich potential, let’s find a way to do stewardship that is enlivening, spirit-filled, and caring for everyone.

Stewardship, Welcoming, And Economic Justice: Part II

We want our congregations to be welcoming to people of all ages, genders, races, sexual orientation, and economic levels. Our congregations may be Welcoming of LBGT people and handicapped accessible. Yet if we are giving people either specific financial amounts or no guidance about that we expect them to contribute, we are excluding people. They either cannot give at that specific level, or if they are not told something may fear they will not be able to afford whatever the expectation turns out to be.

The Suggested Fair Share Giving Guide (SFSGG) allows people to find their own capacity to give and to determine what level of giving they want to reach for. This means that a very low income person can find themselves on the chart and know that they are being just as generous, with their own level of financial resources, as the wealthiest person in the congregation. There is perhaps nowhere else in America where a very low income person and a very wealthy person can give at the same level. The Guide can allow your congregation to be such a place.

Let me give you a concrete example. If you were going to have a “Leadership Givers Event” next month, how would you know who to invite? Most congregations would take a list of members, sorted by financial contribution, and invite the top dollar amount givers. That is not a bad thing to do, because you know who those people are – you can identify them easily. And based on the amount they give, you can presume a fairly high level of dedication to the congregation and its mission. Those are folks you want to gather and talk to. However, you are missing an opportunity to invite people who may be just as dedicated to the congregation, and are giving just as generously, yet their resources are more limited. Some of those lower income people may actually be stretching themselves more – and feeling it more strongly – than the higher income folks.

If a good number of people in the congregation use the Guide, and are willing to indicate that they do by their own self-report, you will have a better idea of who is being generous to the congregation. And in this instance, their level of financial resources will not divide out people who have more resources from people who have less.

Using the Suggested Fair Share Giving Guide, you can provide an environment where congregants can stand together – low, median, and high income. All are welcome, all can feel that they contribute their share, all can feel generous for their own financial contributions. Imagine a leadership givers’ event that includes more than the usual members; it might include people from all socio-economic levels, yet who are dedicated and generous in relation to their own capacity. Now that is economic justice lived in our own congregation!

Stewardship, Welcoming, And Economic Justice: Part I of II

If you have worked with me as a consultant to your congregation, or you have been in a workshop with me at General Assembly, you probably know that I am quite fond of the Suggested Fair Share Giving Guide (SFSGG). In fact I consider it an important economic justice and welcoming document.

Many congregations struggle with getting people to use the SFSGG. They hand it out, include it in mailings, add it to their brochures (usually in very small print) – yet people do not seem to use it. Or they use it for a yearly cycle or two and then let it fall into disuse.

I often find that in some congregations only part of the Guide is used, usually the part that is a grid-chart. And congregations sometimes edit the SFSGG so that the income amounts are lower, or they do not include the highest percentage levels. They do this because they assume that people do not have those resources, or that they would never give at those percentage levels, or that they would be offended at even the suggestion that they would give that much. Perhaps they personally object to some piece of language on the chart. Or they may think that someone is trying to impose specific giving levels on them – i.e. the Guide is designed to get more money out of unsuspecting people. Some people may even think (incorrectly!) that they are revealing personal financial information if they use the Guide. Actually it is a personal tool and no one else need ever see it, nor can deduce what was on it.

I find all of this to be sad – and a missed opportunity because, if used well, the SFSGG is wonderful. Here is what I have learned about its use:

  • People will not use the Guide unless someone walks them through how it is used, with an actual example. Usually the person explaining it has used it and tells something about how they use it themselves. Generally no one wants to be told what to do, yet people are usually interested in someone else’s authentic story.
  • There are two parts to the Guide – the grid chart part and the “Determining Your Income” part. Without both parts, it is not really “fair.” If you just include the chart, people may balk at it, and may have good reason to. When you use the “Determining Your Income”, you can account for resources and challenges that make the chart section of the Guide more reasonable.
  • Editing the chart to protect your members, adapt to what you consider local levels of poverty or wealth, or because you do not think people are already giving at those levels will not help. In most cases this indicates that the SFSGG is not well enough understood.


Helpful and Amusing DVD on Stewardship

The folks at the Eno River UU Fellowship in Durham, NC have produced a DVD of skits about financial stewardship called Dramas to Provoke Generosity. It features members from the Fellowship in 6 skits. Some of the skits touch on religious beliefs and giving and others connect our UU values to our financial giving. They are amusing and provocative, and try to get at some of the considerations that our members may have about financial stewardship in our congregations.

The producers provide the scripts for the skits, in files on the DVD, so your congregation can adapt them and produce them in your own congregation. They are all brief enough – perhaps you have some talented folks in your congregation who would present one skit each week during your annual budget drive period? Or maybe you could invite congregants to read the scripts together and discuss them as an adult spiritual development series? They might also be useful as a starting point for exploring other religions and their approaches to stewardship.

If you are less adventurous, you might consider just showing the skits as a starting point for consideration or discussion. Because the DVD is well produced, the acting fits the material, and the scripts are broadly humorous; they are engaging but not likely to offend anyone. Click here to purchase the DVD.

Here is a video preview of the DVD:

Generosity Prayer

by Congregational Stewardship Services Consultant Mark Ewert, inspired by many others…

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names

The abundance of this world is an example for us

The universe is full of stars; this planet is full of different peoples, animals, insects, plants, stones, and elements
Everywhere we look, everything we hear and feel is quantity and richness

The beauty of this world is an example for us

Each species and landscape is lovely in its own way
The sky and the earth and all of its living and non-living manifestations carry your beauty

The love in this world is an example for us

From people we know and do not know, from animals and even the sun shining on our back, love can be felt all around
Whether we create it or deserve it or not, love is always offered to us

Help us to open out hearts and let these examples feed us in times of joy and sorrow
Help us to use these examples to know our own wealth, no matter what our financial situation
Help us to understand that what we have to give is limited only by our fear of not having enough for ourselves
Help us to follow your example and create

Abundance, beauty, and love all around us
With everything we have to give”

Give So That Giving Transforms Your Life

The Reverend Mary McKinnon Ganz, Minister of Community Building at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA (UUCA) is leaving that ministry to go to another congregation in Massachusetts. Here is her wonderful final sermon at UUCA.

Reverend Mary McKinnon Ganz

I post it here, not because it mentions my name, but for the reason that it speaks beautifully about the true faith it requires in our congregations to set aside our pessimism and bring our “wild hopes” of things being different. It speaks to the risk of truly living out our values and fully stepping into our engagement with the world. She makes the connections beautifully between believing in our congregations, investing in those hopes, and enacting them with stewardship. Rev. McKinnon Ganz truly preaches about stewardship with love. Enjoy:

Last Words: View from the Tightrope
by Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz June 13, 2010


deeper is life than lose:higher than have
~ e.e. cummings

Only connect!
~ E.M. Forster

Opening Our Hearts to Stewardship

Love heals, love reconciles,
love helps us move when we are stuck,
love helps us cast out all fear…

– Rev. Laurel Hallman

Photo by Gabe Caby

Stewardship is a holistic concept that encompasses and connects how we understand and appreciate:  what we have been given and inherited, what we have earned, how we track and account for those resources, what we decide to do with them (according to our values/beliefs), and how we ensure that they are skillfully used to those purposes. As such, it is integral to our spiritual, ethical, and philosophical lives.

As Unitarian Universalists, our programs and communications addressing stewardship must be congruent with our core belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people. These approaches follow the same paths that we have learned are effective in challenging sexism, bias against sexual preference, and in anti-racism: We seek to reduce generalizations and discrimination (based on giving and economic status or the indicators of status), to encourage self-examination, to promote consciousness-raising, and to understand all people as interdependent, multi-faceted, and developing over the lifespan. Shaming, judgment, assumption, reproach, guilt, pressure, elitism, censure, and demanding language (or programs built on these concepts) are inappropriate and ineffective tools to open people’s hearts to deeper stewardship.

Aligned stewardship programs and communications use:

  • Orientation toward individual spiritual needs as well as the needs of organizations
  • An appreciative inquiry approach
  • Empowerment and choice models
  • Facilitation of personal development and spiritual growth
  • Inspiration and leadership
  • The provision of rich information (mission, planning, accounting, etc.) to increase motivation
  • Respect for each person as a rich repository of diverse resources as well as individualized needs
  • Caring systems (not cold, inhumane processes)
  • A respect for the challenges inherent in countering our consumer culture by aligning our values with our resources
  • An understanding of the reasonable fears and past wounding that may challenge a broadening of generosity
  • A view of giving and receiving as dynamically linked

Below is a hotlink to a chart intended to provide language for responding to people who are negative, frustrated, or angry about the stewardship of others. Just click on the line below:

Language Choices in Stewardship

How do you see loving stewardship as opening hearts and hands to both give and receive in your congregation? What language do you use to help you convey that?