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Wayne Clark

Generosity in Action: Unitarian Church in Harrisburg

The Unitarian Church in Harrisburg provides a great example of generosity in action; volunteers helped to work on Ida Lee Brown’s home, where she has lived for over 59 years. This group of volunteers, part of a team called “Rebuilding Together,” has helped repair homes for individuals facing significant barriers for over 24 years.


Read more about The Unitarian Church of Harrisburg and “Rebuilding Together” and share with us some stories you may have that are other great examples of generosity in action in your congregation!


Worship Space: Kingston Unitarian Fellowship

UU buildings come in many shapes and sizes and there are many alternatives to the proverbial white steepled church on the green in the middle of town. The Kingston Unitarian Fellowship is a good example of having taken a different approach to creating a worship space.

You can read the full article about the unique worship space of Kingston Unitarian Fellowship and what the congregation is doing the celebrate the renovated building.


Planned Giving Programs: Authority and Responsibility

In the past couple of weeks, I have received several questions about planned giving. Most of the questions have come from lay leaders who want to begin a planned giving program in their congregation. More specifically, I have been asked about the parameters of authority and responsibility.

Here’s my take on the issue.

The size of a congregation determines how planned giving is approached. Ideally, two standing committees are formed. The planned giving committee establishes planned giving guidelines and seeks donations. The endowment fund committee develops and manages the endowment fund by:

  • Encouraging, accepting, and acknowledging gifts (if there is no planned giving committee).
  • Ensuring that restricted gifts are honored and properly recorded.
  • Arranging for professional accounting of the funds.
  • Reporting on fund activities to the governing body.
  • Making prudent investment decisions.
  • Administering the distribution of funds.
  • Ensuring appropriate checks and balances regarding control of the funds.

Small congregations may not have enough human resources to create two committees. In that case, the planned giving committee is responsible for all the tasks identified above. In a congregation of seventy-five members, for example, a few committed and knowledgeable volunteers may be able to both create and implement a planned giving program and manage an endowment fund.

When forming a planned giving committee, five to seven volunteers are sufficient. Ideally, each volunteer serves a three-year term, using a staggered appointment schedule that guarantees continuity from one year to the next. Good candidates are those who have been active congregants long enough to know potential donors. They also need a working knowledge of planned giving.

Planned giving is a form of stewardship. The planned giving committee is a group of three congregants who are the fiscal agents for assuring a healthy long-term financial future. These volunteers are obligated to develop a plan that will protect the financial rights of the next generation of congregational members. It is also imperative that all planned giving committee members lead by example and make their own planned giving donation to the endowment fund.

Whatever organizational structure is created, using one committee or two, develop specific lines of responsibility and accountability. Provide for a clear and simple separation of power. Institute controls that demand more than one set of eyes and hands for accepting gifts, managing investments, recording donations, and spending endowment funds.

Define the interaction of the planned giving committee (and endowment fund committee, if there is one) with the governing body, the treasurer, the finance committee, the annual budget drive committee, and any other relevant standing committees of the church. It would be wonderful if congenial relationships could be guaranteed among these groups. But at some point, conflicts are almost certain to arise. The most common situations are ones in which the governing body wants the endowment fund committee to release funds to balance the annual operating budget or to solve a pressing facility-related, deferred-maintenance need. Personal relationships can be strained when the endowment fund committee objects to or even refuses the request.

Ultimately, the congregation controls the endowment fund. Create bylaws to clearly indicate that control. Create enabling resolutions indicating that endowment funds can be used only as designated by donors. Any exceptions are subject to a congregational vote, with a significant majority required to approve any exception.

Ask the planned giving committee and endowment fund committee to report once each quarter to the finance committee, the governing body, or both. They should also report to the congregation at least once a year.

Is Your Congregation Ready for a Stewardship Assessment Visit?

UUA stewardship consultants provide assessment visits to congregations to help determine a congregation’s readiness to begin a strategic planning process, launch an annual budget drive or a capital campaign. There are three outcomes of an assessment visit.

First, an assessment visit provides an opportunity for your congregation to get an objective assessment from a UUA stewardship consultant. Prior to the visit, congregational leaders send many documents to the consultant. Once on site, the consultant gathers more information in a series of meetings with key constituents, often including the following professional and lay leaders.

  • Minister(s)
  • Annual budget drive chair
  • Director of religious education
  • Strategic planning committee chair
  • Any other professional staff members
  • Building/grounds committee chair
  • Finance committee chair
  • Members of the governing body
  • Person responsible for nurturing new members
  • Person responsible for coordinating volunteers

Second, an assessment visit provides your congregation with specific recommendations to get “from here to there.”  Based on all the gathered information, the consultant lists several steps necessary to allow your congregation to reach its long-term goals.  These recommendations are given verbally at the end of the assessment visit, and are then followed by a written summary.  The recommendations may address the following issues.

  • Five-year strategic plan
  • Capital campaign
  • Planned giving program
  • Facilities planning
  • Annual budget drive
  • Commercial loans|
  • UUA loans, loan guarantees, grants and awards

Third, an assessment visit clarifies how the Congregational Stewardship Services program can be helpful to your congregation.  The program has provided consulting services to hundreds of congregations since 1985 and each consultant brings special skills, as well as the combined skills and experience of the other consultants. Each is prepared to guide and coach your congregation through all aspects of your comprehensive stewardship needs.

When to Hire a Stewardship Consultant

Pictured: Aggie Sweeney, Bill Clontz, Barry Finkelstein, Tricia Hart, Kay Crider, Mark Ewert, Dr. Wayne Clark, Mary Gleason, and Robin Nelson.

The UUA has a group of nine stewardship consultants who help congregations with annual budget drives, strategic planning (in preparation for a capital campaign) capital campaigns, and endowment program development.

These consultants are all UU lay leaders from around the country, who have received rigorous training.

There are some specific situations in which a stewardship consultant can be helpful to your congregation. Consider hiring a consultant when:

  • The congregation lacks a clear vision and is without a consensus about direction.
  • The congregation needs a fresh perspective from an external, impartial expert.
  • You need help shifting from a myth of scarcity to the reality of abundance.
  • You want to focus on broadly defined stewardship, instead of a narrow focus on fundraising.
  • You would like to implement FORTH, a stewardship development program.
  • You would like to be come a FORTH Partner congregation.
  • Leaders understand that money spent on a consultant can be a wise investment.
  • Recently, few congregants have been willing to work on an annual budget drive.
  • Even fewer have been willing to assume a stewardship leadership role.
  • The congregation has someone with fundraising experience who is willing to lead an annual budget drive, but their previous efforts have not been very successful.
  • There is conflict about which fundraising technique to use.
  • A proposed capital campaign project is too big to rely totally on volunteers.
  • A capital campaign project has been proposed, and a consultant is needed to determine how much money can be expected from congregants.
  • There is no active planned giving program.
  • There is no endowment fund, or the existing fund is moribund.
  • The congregation has a small endowment fund that represents less than three times the annual operating budget.

Learning to Receive (Part II)

Last week, we talked about the importance of receiving gifts unapologetically and with gratitude, so that others can experience the joy of being givers. We also described the value of allowing someone to give you a gift without attempting to repay them. And finally, we talked a bit about how to check your motives for giving.

Here’s Part 2.

Take people at their word. A California congregant shared that a friend was struggling with a terminal illness. The friend was feeling especially weak one day and called to ask for a ride to a medical appointment. The congregant explained how pleased he was that his friend called and that it felt like he was giving his friend a gift. The friend accepted this, and the congregant felt good knowing that he was taken at his word.

Accept compliments. “In the past,” another congregant explained, “I would frequently rebuff a compliment with a self-deprecating remark. Someone would compliment me on a meeting I had facilitated and I would respond with, ‘Gee, I didn’t really do a very good job. I forgot to mention an important point, and I allowed the group too much time to discuss another point.’ I never realized it, but my response would deflate the person giving me the compliment. I am better at accepting compliments now and am more likely to respond by saying, ‘Thanks. I am pleased that the meeting was helpful.’” The congregant has learned how to accept compliments.

Be a gracious receiver. In Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church, church consultant and minister Kennon Callahan says, “Gracious receivers become joyful givers.” When we receive a gift graciously, we can see how it gladdens the giver. Perceiving this joy, we are more likely to give to others. And when we appreciate the gifts we receive, we are more likely to invest and grow those gifts so that we have the ability to share our wealth.

Until the congregants of a faith community are willing to initiate conversations and share stories about receiving and accepting, growing and investing, returning and restoring, and joyfully giving their gifts, call, and spiritual vocation, they will be unable to change their culture of scarcity.

Learning to Receive (Part I)

Religious educators are fond of telling children that it is better to give than to receive. Does that mean it is less blessed to receive? Certainly not. It is also important to receive gifts unapologetically and with gratitude, letting others experience the joy of being givers. In fact, receiving gifts is often harder than giving them. In his book Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church, Kennon Callahan expresses his belief that “the key to giving is receiving, for in receiving, we learn how to give.”

The following suggestions have worked well for those who shared these stories. This sampling of individual stories illustrates how these congregants have learned to value the art of receiving. As such stories are shared in a congregation, the concept that receiving precedes giving will become part of the culture of your faith community.

Allow someone to give you a gift without attempting to repay them. A congregant from the Pacific Northwest tells the story of his two young-adult daughters who wanted to take him to the theater one evening. He was hesitant at first because he knew that the tickets were very expensive. The show was wonderful, and they all thoroughly enjoyed it. And he realized that a big part of his daughters’ fulfillment was seeing how much he enjoyed it.

Check your motives for giving. Another congregant shared a story from a recent holiday. A friend surprised her with a gift. They had not exchanged gifts in the past, and she had not bought her friend a gift. She felt embarrassed, then guilty, and was ready to create an excuse for not having a gift to give in return. She thought of saying, “I’ve ordered a gift for you, but it hasn’t yet arrived.” Fortunately, before she spoke, she remembered advice from an article written by Bonita Joyner Shield, an assistant editor of the Adventist Review. Shield said, “If the only reason you would buy them [a gift] is because they bought you one, forget it! Humble yourself, and allow them the joy of giving.” She joyfully thanked her friend for the gift.

Look for Learning to Receive (Part II) posted on our blog next Wednesday.

Stewardship Conversations

In our previous blog, we spoke about creating a culture of giving. We recommended that leaders create an intentional plan to explore the meaning of giving. We suggested that by initiating conversations about giving, you can introduce the topic and reinforce the concept until it becomes a part of your congregation’s life. In this blog we will talk about initiating these stewardship conversations.

Conversations about giving can be initiated in many ways. Use the pulpit, guest speakers, the newsletter, the website, the worship service, and committee discussions. Convene small groups before or after the Sunday service for several weeks. Invite the finance committee to participate in a conversation with congregants about the meaning of spiritual stewardship in contrast to the meaning of fundraising. Make “giving” a major theme at annual budget drive orientation workshops. Prepare visiting stewards (the term we prefer instead of canvassers) to discuss the concept of giving during their conversations with donors.

You may also want to invite a fundraising consultant to facilitate a Mission and Giving Retreat. Focus on these questions during the retreat: What is the difference between stewardship and fundraising?

  • What relationship can we construct among giving, compassion, and community?
  • In what ways can we grow and invest the gifts we have received?
  • How can we return and restore our gifts?
  • What does generosity mean to us? How do we define the term? How will we know if we are being generous? What will it look like?
  • What will we do with increased giving? What difference will it make?
  • How can we make spiritual stewardship a year-round conversation?
  • How can we frame conversations to focus less on the need for money and more on giving as a way to implement our mission?
  • How can we help our society move away from an increasing culture of materialism?

Helping congregants discover their own personal generosity will create joyful givers. Joyful givers will help create healthy congregations that view spiritual stewardship as a vital component of their ministry and that believe that sharing one’s gifts, call, and spiritual vocation is an act of worship.

Creating a Culture of Giving

People are not born with a giving gene. Because joyful giving for the sake of the giver is a worthy goal, faith communities want to help their congregants discover their own personal generosity. This discovery process requires focusing on the joy of giving, on being self-giving rather than self-serving. Recruiting volunteers and raising money can be almost incidental to creating a healthy culture of giving.

In Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church, Kennon Callahan writes that the purpose of stewardship is giving, not fundraising, and that stewardship actually provides a service to the giver. The role of those leading a stewardship campaign, he believes, is to help people discover their own generosity.

Callahan proposes a four-year program to increase giving. He suggests that a congregation focus on growing the donor base in the first year and increasing the number of volunteers who work on the annual budget drive in the second year. He recommends that the third year be devoted to increasing the giving level of specific current households. He believes that the cumulative result of the first three years should create a quantum leap of giving during the fourth year.

While Callahan’s plan offers a well-conceived sequence, I believe that the first step is to find a way to talk about giving. The conversations can’t be specifically about money. They must include talk about call and spiritual vocation. A person might share his call (willingness to proclaim the good works of the faith community) by talking about his passion for one of the congregation’s programs or ministries at a new-member reception. A congregant might demonstrate her spiritual vocation (willingness to take up the spiritual work of the faith community) by participating in a Habitat for Humanity project or volunteering to teach English to a group of recent immigrants.

If your congregation is entrenched in a culture of scarcity, develop an intentional plan to explore the meaning of giving. By initiating conversations about giving, you can introduce the topic and reinforce the concept until it slowly becomes part of the congregation’s way of life.

Are you telling stories of transformation or just asking for money?

William G. Enright, executive director of the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University says that evidence suggests American congregations can be divided roughly into three categories:  one-third who haven’t been affected much by the recession, one-third whose budgets have remained the same, and one-third whose budgets have shrunk.

And, Enright notes, even those congregations that are faring well should be careful, as trends show that religious giving has declined as a percentage of overall philanthropy and that “devout donors” may be motivated by faith but don’t necessarily give to religious institutions. The lesson, Enright believes, is to tell a story of transformation rather than just ask for money. “Increasingly, people want to know, ‘What difference does my gift make?’” he said.
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