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.

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!


Is the Fair Share Giving Guide Fair for Fixed Income Retirees?

In Beyond Fundraising, Wayne Clark introduced a revised Suggested Fair Share Giving Guide. (SFSGG). The guide is an adaptation and expansion of a model used at the Henry David Thoreau Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Stafford, TX.

In my consultations with congregations, I often hear that the SFSGG is unfair to congregants who are retired and living on a fixed income. My response is that it’s pretty normal for these fixed income congregants to be among the highest annual donors.

Congregants have two pockets to give from: annual income and secured assets. For those with only annual giving pockets, I suggest that they make their financial commitment based on their adjusted gross income from their IRS forms. Once they have done that, I ask them to consider using the SFSGG to make a Fair Share commitment based on the percent that is suggested for that income level.

I have found that these UUs are smart enough to do just that and the good news is that one of two things occur: they look at the chart and decide that with just a little extra level of giving they can be a Fair Share donor. This is particularly true where the dollar value of the gifts is not that high.

At the other end of the scale are congregants who have a significant nest egg but haven’t been giving much to their congregation. By checking the SFSGG and their financial capabilities, many congregants are motivated to increase their giving levels.

I have found that the SFSGG helps many UUs consider a variety of ways in which they can become more generous to their congregations and feel better about themselves at the same time. Give it a try.

Growing Up Generous: A Book Review

In continuing in our effort to address engaging young adults in generosity, I have read and reviewed Growing Up Generous: Engaging Youth in Giving and Serving, written by Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Elanah Dalyah Naftali, and Laura Musegades. This text, published in 2000, provides timeless tips for nurturing generosity in youth.

Chapter 1: Nurturing Generosity as a Way of Life

There is a particular focus in this chapter on faith traditions and their specific connections and experience with stewardship throughout history. There is also a discussion on how to create a culture of generosity in your congregation; there are eight key concepts that the authors list as essential to forming a generous culture.

Chapter 2: The Unexplored World of Youth, Money and Giving

There is a discussion here about youth of today and their particular patterns as consumers as well as information on advertising focused on youth. This chapter also focuses on financial literacy and youth, and the importance of financial education from an early age.

Chapter 3: Obstacles to Addressing Money and Giving with Youth

There is a deep discussion in this chapter on some of the largest obstacles that we face when addressing stewardship issues with youth. There is recognition by the authors that some adults feel uncomfortable talking about money and that many people may experience financial anxiety. This chapter also addresses some of the stereotypes that individuals often have when concerning youth and money; that they shouldn’t be expected to give, that they don’t have money, or that if they are asked to give they might decide to leave the church. This chapter provides invaluable information about these and many other obstacles that might come up when engaging youth in stewardship but also analyzes these obstacles and explains why they are harmful.

Chapter 4: Serving Others: An Emerging Emphasis

This chapter analyzes all-things-service learning, and explains how there has been a movement in recent years of youth being heavily involved in service learning. The authors also explore service learning in and through congregations. Lastly, obstacles that come up for youth engaging in service work are also addressed.

Chapter 5: Rethinking Youth Giving and Serving

There is a focus on how to face the obstacles presented in earlier chapters and logically respond in the most receptive, respectful, and engaging way. The authors discuss developmental assets in youth, and how these assets contribute to healthy youth development, which in turn leads to higher levels of generosity. Additionally, the authors tackle eight cultural shifts that need to occur in congregations in order to effectively nurture generous youth.

The final two chapters, Chapter 6: Creating a Culture of Generosity, and Chapter 7: Cultivating the Practices of Generosity focus on eight keys to giving and serving in congregations. The first four keys emphasize creating a generous culture in a congregation, while the last focus on practices of generosity.

We hope that this review may assist your congregation with effective strategies to create, or build on, youth stewardship practices.

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.

Are You Assuring the Long-Term Fiscal Stability of Your Congregation?

One of the greatest missing teachings in the American church today is the reminder to men and women that nothing we have belongs to us.

–Gordon MacDonald

Does your congregation have a planned giving program? Is the program actively growing with new bequests?

If your answers are Yes, congratulations! Your congregation is one of the few Unitarian Universalist congregations that have an active planned giving program. In fact, we estimate that well over 50 percent of our congregations do not have an active planned giving program.

An important element of a comprehensive financial management plan for congregations is planned giving. A well-conceived planned giving program encourages congregants to give financial support for the long-term fiscal stability of a congregation. The gifts given to a planned giving program establish and maintain an endowment fund, the part of a congregation’s income derived from donations. By providing investment income, the endowment fund becomes the vehicle through which long-term fiscal stability is assured.

Conventional wisdom says that planned gifts are most often made by people between the ages of 55 and 75. Currently, almost 14 percent of the United States population is 65 years or older. The median adult age of Unitarian Universalist members is estimated at 54+ years, and their average household net worth is estimated to exceed $232,000.

Planned giving can be accomplished by several means. For example, a person could name the church as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy or retirement plan. Charitable bequests, however, are the most commonly used form of planned giving. A charitable bequest is a gift given to charity through the provisions of a legal will or living trust. From the donor’s standpoint, bequests have several advantages that make them popular. They are relatively inexpensive to arrange, save one dollar in estate tax liability for every dollar given. They are also easy for a congregation to promote. However, it is estimated that 70 percent of all Americans die without a will. It is also estimated that fewer than 10 percent of those capable of making a charitable estate gift have ever been asked.

The best news is that your congregation doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Chapter Eight in Beyond Fundraising provides a step-by-step process to create a planned giving program. The Appendices include several important document samples that can be modified to fit the specific needs of your congregation.

So what are you waiting for?

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.

Welcoming Congregations and Conversations about Money

It’s been almost a year since we’ve launched FORTH: A Stewardship Development program, and we now have over 50 partner congregations. If your congregation doesn’t know about the FORTH Program, please take a look at our website and learn more about it. Below you will see some data from FORTH Partners who have taken our Congregational Stewardship Self Assessment.

Each bar represents the average scores for each question in Section 1 of the assessment.  The highest possible score for any question is 25. As you can see in the middle bar, the average FORTH Partner believes that their congregation is welcoming to people from varying socio-economic situations. Do you think that your congregation is welcoming to all? What techniques have been especially helpful?

While scoring for welcoming is relatively high, many Partners indicate there is a hesitancy to talk about money in their congregation (see the third column from the left). How does your congregation approach conversations about money? Do you have any gems to share?

Let’s start a dialogue about the two issues of welcoming and money.

Click the Graph for a clearer image