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.

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.

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.

Three Options for Auditing the Finances of Your Congregation

From time to time, I get asked about ways to audit the finances of a congregation. Here’s a brief overview of three possibilities. It has been adapted from an original uumoney post by Don Mohr from the UU Congregation  of Columbia, SC. Refer to the article, Three Options for Auditing the Finances, to read more.


The goal of a compilation is to take information that is on the general ledger and accumulate it into financial statements in the same format that would come out of a review or audit. The key sentence of a compilation report from the accountant reads, “We have not audited or reviewed the accompanying financial statements and, accordingly, do not express an opinion or any other form of assurance on them.”


The goal of a review is to provide limited assurance that financial statements do not have any known errors or departures from the accounting rules found in GAAP. The key sentence in a review report reads, “Based on our review, we are not aware of any material modifications that should be made to the accompanying financial statements in order for them to be in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles.”


The goal of an audit is to provide reasonable, but not absolute, assurance that financial statements are fairly presented in accordance with GAAP. The key sentence in an audit report reads, “In our opinion, the financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of [organization name] as of June 30, [year], and the changes in its net assets and its cash flows for the year then ended in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles.”

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.

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:

Guaranteeing Success?

I occasionally get inquiries along the lines of:

“How much money will we raise if a stewardship consultant guides us through an annual budget drive? How much more money will we raise than if we conduct the drive without a consultant?” What will be our ‘return on investment?’

Seemingly good questions, yes? Well actually, not so much.

There is simply no way to prove a direct link between your congregation’s annual budget drive success and the person who has led the drive, whether that person is a lay leader or a stewardship consultant. People who espouse this line of thinking believe that the ‘right’ person, using the ‘right’ technique will guarantee success. If that were the case, fundraising would be quite easy.  Positive results could be guaranteed.

Unfortunately, there are just too many variables. For example, the amount of money raised can be effected by any one of several uncontrollable scenarios; a major congregational conflict, the sudden resignation of your minister, the death of a major donor, an economic crisis, an upcoming capital campaign, just to name a few.

So if there is no way to guarantee monetary success, what can a stewardship consultant promise?

  • A stewardship consultant will help you frame an annual budget drive in term of abundance, rather than scarcity, thus setting the stage for a culture shift.
  • A consultant will broaden the definition of ROI beyond a simple definition of how much money is raised.
  • A consultant will introduce (or reinforce) the broad concept of stewardship, rather than a narrow focus on fundraising.
  • A consultant will organize a drive so that you will prevent getting the cart before the horse.
  • A consultant will help to create a clear, compelling case to justify the ask and answer questions like: “What difference will my financial commitment make? How will we be better able to fulfill our congregational ministry if I contribute more than last year?”
  • A consultant will use the Suggested Fair Share Giving Guide to help donors create their own definition of fair share

Here’s how I framed this issue in Chapter One of Beyond Fundraising:

“We need to replace [the old tapes of scarcity] with positive, more accurate statements of abundance, such as ‘Our congregation has a clear mission, we are publicly passionate about that mission, and we will secure enough resources (people, time, and money) to successfully implement our mission.’ A congregation with a culture of abundance believes in the reality that there can always be enough. They believe that diligent stewardship will provide everything needed. The glass is at least half full. Sometimes there are several glasses. Sometimes they even overflow.

Focusing on abundance requires a new vocabulary, one that emphasizes the reality of abundance by diminishing our focus on money. This vocabulary puts fundraising under the umbrella of stewardship. Rather than discussing the goal of raising money, congregations should discuss money as no more than a means to an end. Money is most meaningful when we can move from thinking of it as a way to pay the bills and regard it as a way to fulfill the ministry of the congregation. . .

Some of today’s healthiest faith communities focus more on stewardship than fundraising. While fundraising refers specifically to money-raising efforts, stewardship is an attitude that is reflected in all of the congregation’s efforts. Fundraising emphasizes the need of the recipient; stewardship addresses people’s spiritual need to give. Stewardship must precede fundraising.

Healthy faith communities see stewardship as a vital component of their ministry. They understand that stewardship is an act of worship. Worship includes the joyful sharing of gifts (aptitude, ability, and money), call (willingness to proclaim the congregation’s spiritual message), and spiritual vocation (willingness to take up volunteer efforts to support the faith community). Note that gifts have a wider meaning than money exchanged for the programs and ministries of a faith community. For example, one’s gift to the faith community might be to serve on the finance committee because one has a good understanding of financial matters. Or a member with landscaping ability might agree to become the caretaker of the memorial garden. All kinds of gifts should be valued and considered meaningful.

Stewardship, then, is the growing, nurturing, promoting, and building of the gifts, call, and spiritual vocation of the members of a faith community. Stewardship is not necessarily the things people do, but the spirit that influences the things they do.”

Shibboleths of Leadership

A shibboleth has come to mean the use of old words or phrases that form part of the specialized jargon of a group, and reveal their users as members of a group. Since many of us continue to cling to old ideas, Lance Secretan coined the term shibboleths of leadership.

He believes the practice, theory and teaching of leadership as been in a rut for years. He has noticed a herd mentality afoot. Consultants, professors, academic writers, and theorists work hard to deepen the existing paradigm, thus excluding new thinking.

He believes our attachment to shibboleths and theories often serve our need to be right more than the need to make the world better. This frailty of ego results in making work experience debilitating or many people whose common sense tells them that the philosophies and theories being practiced and promoted are inadequate and anachronistic. Yet, people are pulled along on the stream of fashionable shibboleths masquerading as wisdom, unable to change it all. The CEOs, leaders and HR practitioners responsible for training and development, often scan the environment for the most popular theories and books—obsolete paradigms and shibboleths—and not wanting to be seen to be out of step, they encourage the same obsolescence  themselves, reinforcing the inadequacy and providing validation for those still stuck in their old paradigms.

You can read the rest of Shibboleths of Leadership by checking out the article in Paradigms magazine.

To Rebuild church, Stop looking for Quick Fixes by Dan Dick

“To rebuild Church, stop looking for quick fixes,” speaks to congregations that try to meet fundraising goals by selecting the ‘perfect’ technique. The best possible technique will not guarantee success unless congregants really care about the church.

Dan Dick writes, “At what point do we finally wake up to the fact that there is no such thing as a lasting, transformative ‘quick fix’? The United Methodist Church has suffered through over 50 years of ‘church-in-box’ programs that have produced poor results at best.

Disciple Bible Study came closest to delivering transformation, but ultimately “popular” did not translate into “effective.” Literally thousands of people have had wonderful, meaningful, enjoyable Disciple experiences. However, a variety of independent follow-up evaluations indicate that there is a very low retention rate, that few people adopt sustained spiritual formation practices, and few report any transformed behavior in their daily lives. I hear about the handful whose lives were completely changed, and I do not devalue any such experience—but unless Disciple has been an integrated component of a comprehensive developmental process of spiritual formation, it remains a pleasant experience for the vast majority. ”

You can read the entire article on the United Methodist Portal’s website.