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


Five Pillars of Congregational Financial Management

When most of us think about church finances, we think of the operating budget. That is the day-to-day finances that must be planned for and executed.

But a congregation that is financially healthy actually has five such “financial pillars”. Leaders who would also be good stewards always have these five pillars in mind when planning for the future and when exercising due diligence as stewards of church resources.

1.) The Operating Budget. This pays the day- to-day bills. Allocated funds are designated for staff compensation and operating expenses.  It may include payments into other funds. Operating funds are not “fair game” to pay other requirements.

2.) The Operating Reserve. At any given time cash flow for the operating budget could be disrupted. This rarely happens; when it does, may be only for a short period, but timely payment of salaries, workman’s compensation, etc. could be at risk.  An emergency operating reserve, perhaps equal to a month’s operating expenses, ensures employees have no worries and that other time sensitive payment are not at risk. Funds are not to be used whenever someone sees another need.


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.

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.

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.