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.

Need Some Stewardship Support?

As the economy slowly . . . very slowly . . . starts to recover, more congregations are asking for the support of Congregational Stewardship consultants. In some cases, congregations are asking for annual budget drive support. Some others are asking for strategic planning guidance and still others are asking us to lead them through a capital campaign.

In all cases, an assessment visit is the first step in a relationship between your congregation and one of our consultants. There are three outcomes of an assessment visit:

First, the visit provides an opportunity for your congregation to get an objective assessment from a stewardship consultant. Prior to the visit, you will have sent several documents to the consultant. Once on site, the consultant gathers more information in a series of meetings with key professional religious leaders and volunteer lay leaders.

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.

And third, an assessment visit clarifies how the Congregational Stewardship program can be helpful to your congregation. Since 1985, we have provided support to hundreds of congregations. 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 expectations.

Need more information? Please contact the Congregational Stewardship Services office for more information.

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.
                                                                                                                                                                                  You can read the entire article and respond in the comment section with your thoughts.

Reflections on “Personal Best”

I came across an article in the New Yorker magazine a few weeks back written by Atul Gawande, an expert surgeon who engaged a fellow surgeon to serve as his personal  coach with the goal of keeping his skills sharp and helping improve his performance and results.    See Personal Best at The New Yorker online. Dr. Gawande calls attention to coaching analogies from sports and the arts, noting that elite athletes and singers often have personal coaches to help them be their best.  They observe them in action and suggest small or large adjustments in preparation, strategy, or technique.  Now as you might imagine it’s pretty rare for professionals like doctors and lawyers to enter into a formal coaching relationship.   The same is true in my business of management consulting.  Well as the New Yorker article indicates, the coaching experiment was quite successful, and Dr. Gawande is convinced that both he and his patients have benefitted.

This got me musing about the work that I do as a management consultant and more specifically as a congregational stewardship consultant.   I have never been hired explicitly to be a coach, but surely that is a large component of what I do – observe leaders in action, offer suggestions to help them do their work more effectively, and then work collaboratively to implement the suggestions.  This is true whether the engagement is to improve the services delivered by the information technology department of a large non-profit or to help foster a culture of generosity in our UU congregations.

So now I’m pondering what it would mean for me to think of myself as a coach and my clients as generally skilled leaders interested in improving their skills and effectiveness.    I wonder how my work would be different if I embraced the coaching spirit more fully and openly.   And how might I benefit from personal coaching?

Well, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with my musings.   I’d love to hear from others who have experience either as coaches or being coached.  I’m convinced that there’s something useful in the coaching model and would love some ideas about digging further into it.  Please comment and share your experience and wisdom.

Expansion of Central Unitarian in Paramus, NJ

Church space limitations come in many different shapes and sizes. Read about how Central Unitarian Church in Paramus, NJ solved their problem. And remember, the UUA offers a variety of financial assistance programs such as Building loans, loan guarantees, and grants.
                                                                                                                                                     Please contact us  or call 617-948-4272 for more information.

Why we give to charity

Thank you to Congregational Stewardship Consultant Aggie Sweeney for sharing this article about generosity and the holiday season with our office.

“The urge to give that is awakened around this time is an important one: Philanthropy plays a crucial role in American society, providing funding for a vast array of services. Giving also connects us as a culture: According to a study by the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, nearly two-thirds of all Americans gave to charity in 2008. American charities took in nearly $300 billion in 2010.” by Leon Neyfakh

You can read the rest of the article on The Boston Globe website.

First Unitarian Society in Madison & Microfinancing

Stewardship efforts are highlighted in so many unique ways, and First Unitarian Society in Madison in Wisconsin is no exception. This congregation, with over 1,600 members, wanted to give back in a meaningful way. They decided to raise funds to contribute to microfinancing, which can provide individuals in developing countries with loaned money to start small businesses. An article in the Wisconsin State Journal details how the congregation approached raising money for this justice project.

“At First Unitarian, task force members bypassed traditional fundraisers and went to the congregation with a direct pitch to donate money. The church’s foundation pledged to match up to $10,000. The total amount raised would then be invested in microfinance organizations that would pay returns to the church on the money.

This approach, similar to socially responsible investing, made for a more sustainable, longer-lasting program than a one-time donation, said Scott Andersen, another task force member. It also made for an easier pitch — donors would be strengthening the church’s financial health while helping to reduce international poverty.

‘It was a one-two punch,’ he said. ‘There were benefits on both the local and global level.’

About 50 families donated a total of $13,000. With the church foundation’s $10,000 match and a $10,000 grant from the national Unitarian Universalist Association, the church had $33,000 to invest.”

First Unitarian Society also has highlighted information about the microfinancing kits on their website.

A New Definition of Generosity?

I have been thinking a lot about the definition of generosity. Recently, my colleague Ian Evison wrote:
 “I think we are going to enter into a time when the idea of getting people to be more generous is going to need to be much more balanced by focusing on sustainability—even what people will be generous about will be more about sustainability.”

Seems to me that since so many congregants have lost jobs or are currently under employed, that our congregations may be faced with flat annual budgets that reflect the new generosity.

For example, if a congregant had previously contributed $1,000 to the annual budget, and that same congregant is now unemployed, maybe a $250 annual pledge is even more generous than her previous pledge. Maybe you have a dozen other congregants, or more, facing the same dilemma.

By extension, it is quite possible that your annual budget might even be smaller than the previous year and could reflect even more generosity than the previous year.

Maybe a new definition of generosity is needed. Maybe we need to correlate generosity with sustainability. Maybe the idea of getting congregants to increase their generosity means that we focus on sustaining those most important aspects of congregational ministry, rather than expanding into new programs.

The Coming Death Tsunami, written by Lovett Weems and shared by Rev. Brian Covell of Third Unitarian Church in Chicago, pursues this issue. Take a look and see what you think. I would love to begin a conversation about this issue.

Looking forward to hearing from you.