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!

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!


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.

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.

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.


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.


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?

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