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.

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.

Stewardship and Community Building

Congregational community building and asking for money are an uneasy mix. That does not seem to be as true when trying to combine community building efforts with soliciting other congregant resources: skills, intelligence, time, and physical effort. On the other hand, asking for money (sometimes called fundraising or resource development) in the context of creating the “beloved community” for many folks would seem to be and oil-and-water endeavor.  Yet, this might provide the basis for a good definition of stewardship: a combination of community building and resource development.

In my work with congregations, I often find people who are working to gain financial contributions are frustrated, burned out, sometimes with little support from the congregation, valiantly trying different approaches – yet are dissatisfied with the results. This can sometimes lead to an “us vs. them” framing of the challenge:

  • We have to get them to give money (increase their giving, fill out a pledge card, respond more quickly, etc)
  • There are people here with money who are not giving (giving enough, giving the way we need them to, etc)
  • People are having a hard time financially now, we can’t ask them for money (to increase, to fill out a pledge card, etc), or we need to give them a “special exemption”
  • We need to tell them how much it costs (per family, member, per attendee on Sunday, per year, etc.) to run this place
  • We need them to understand the value they are getting here

Whether you are concerned about “them” giving enough or not being able to give, you have set up a distinction between who we are and who they are. As a long time lay leader, I can understand how this perspective arises.

This dualistic thinking can also be seen when people want to compare Unitarian Universalism to other denominations or faiths – and sometimes try to hold UUs to the same ways of giving (although the whole rest of the belief/values system is different):

  • If we were like Baptists (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.) they would know exactly how much to give and cultural pressure would make sure they gave at that level.
  • People in other religions give a lot more than we UUs do.
  • If we were all Christians, we could hold up Jesus’ teachings and they would give at the levels we need. We could even talk about heaven and hell!

And yet as congregants this will be our spiritual home, for many of us or core community, for a very long time – sometimes a lifetime. We will know each other and grow in relationship for many years. For that reason, setting up a program to gather the financial fuel for the community’ mission based on these dualities (us vs. them, comparing UUs vs. other denominations) can divide the community and be counterproductive.

In fact, the dangers of “us vs. them” frames for stewardship in congregations can be profound. In some congregations, people “grin and bear it” through the annual pledge drive, or worse know to avoid Sundays during the period of the drive. Some will probably still contribute and come back because these people value other parts of congregational life enough to figure out a way to live with or work-around the pains of the annual drive. However, if we are not careful, we can break the very community-building that we say is our goal. If people get hurt, offended, or confused because of the way we act or communicate – or because it does not match the rest of our UU values – we are breaking the bonds of beloved community. Over time these small injuries become scars and we run the danger of those people never feeling like they belong in the congregation, or fully engaging in a stewardship relationship there.

Stepping into stewardship is challenging. It can be an act of faith and can help us develop along a spiritual path. It calls us to align our values, beliefs, and loves with our financial (and other!) resources. It can create a bridge to belonging so that our congregation truly feels like it is “ours.” And it can provide opportunities for community-building and meaningful conversations. With all of this rich potential, let’s find a way to do stewardship that is enlivening, spirit-filled, and caring for everyone.

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.

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.


Book Review: Raising Financially Fit Kids by Joline Godfrey

There is a strong call for well written and informative texts that parents can use to teach their children about financial literacy. However, there are few books that are as in depth and practical as Raising Financially Fit Kids by Joline Godfrey.

Twenty years ago, Godfrey started a project called Independent Means, Inc. This organization offers financial education for parents and kids. Having spent many years doing this work, Godfrey has amassed a large amount of information that can help parents conquer the complexities of raising children to be financially literate and generous individuals. Additionally, Godfrey is very aware that it’s not just about money. She makes a point in her introduction to say that her book goes far deeper, and supports parents who want to raise wonderful children who are “independent, balanced, and able to exercise good judgment, practice responsible habits, and live independent lives as contributing members of both family and community.”

There are some very unique components to Godfrey’s book, particularly in how she chooses to lay out stages of financial literacy. In her book, she covers “Apprenticeship” – or ages 5-18, where she says individuals “Develop financial vocabulary, establish early financial habits and values, practice saving, spending, earning and philanthropy.” Within the Apprenticeship stage, Godfrey says there are four stages that children go through. Clearly well-versed in psychological development, she lays out social and emotional development during a specific age range and what are the appropriate financial skills to master in those age groups.

  • Stage One (5-8): Counts coins and bills; begins to develop a sense of ethics
  • Stages Two (9-12): Can make change; can balance checkbook and keep up with savings account
  • Stage Three (13-15): Can shop comparatively; can read bank statement
  • Stage Four (16-18): Actively saves, spends, invests; shows developing capacity for economic self-sufficiency

It is important to note that Godfrey is also practical and realistic; she recognizes that financial literacy can sometimes come later, and that some skills are developed at different ages, depending on the child. The important thing, she says, is to remember that “this is a developmental, not a chronological, approach to raising financially fit kids” so she does encourage parents to backtrack if the skills still need to be developed by the child.

Additionally, this book is unique in its approach because it has practical, clear, and creative ways to work with children of all different skillsets. Some of the ways Godfrey explores approaching financial literacy with children are:

1.)    Common scenarios in each developmental stage that can provide teachable moments for parents.
2.)    Some very basic money skills that individuals in each age group should have or develop and how to help them develop these skills.
3.)    Books and websites that inspire the entrepreneurial spirit.
4.)    Inspiring quotations about independence, financial literacy, and happiness.
5.)    Detailed activities that a parent can do with each age group in order to teach children how to make smart financial decisions.

If you have been searching for an easy-to-read, hands-on, and practical guide to aid you in teaching your children about generosity, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy, I would highly recommend this book as a resource to you and your child.

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:

Creative Ways to Explore Giving with your Congregation

Recently, a UUA staff member attended a service at First Parish Brewster, Unitarian Universalist, in Brewster, MA. This congregation happened to be leading a service about happiness and its connection to giving. For congregations who are struggling with ideas on how to incorporate these types of discussions into their church service in a creative way, First Parish is a great example of a congregation who is using creativity to start conversations about stewardship.

Here is an excerpt from First Parish’s sermon, which built a connection between personal happiness and giving generously. In this excerpt, Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz discusses a few ways to practice compassion as a means of finding your happiest self. Compassion and happiness are linked with stewardship in a story about First Parish’s own church community:


“…Find a community to practice with – a group of people who are mutually committed to each other’s practice of compassion. A lot of the small groups in this church partake of this happiness. In Small Group Ministry, six to 12 people come together with a mutual commitment to listen to each other, to hear one another’s stories non-judgmentally, with compassion in their hearts. If you’re not in one of these groups this year, please consider whether you might be able to join in the fall.


The happiest people I’ve met in this church were in a group that met only three times. This was a class gathered by Judy Jollett to consider a practice of giving one gift a day for 29 days. People report that this helps them to focus on what it is they have to give and not on what their limitations are. The third meeting of that group, not quite a month ago, virtually rocked with joy. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  People reported finding joy in the most ordinary things – large and small ways they had discovered that they could give to someone else. Like taking the time to look in the eyes of a harried checkout clerk, and smile, and say, “Don’t worry. I’m in no hurry.” When we take the time to pay attention to what we have to give, our hearts overflow with generosity. Giving becomes a way of life, a path that leads to happiness.”

There are also members of the congregation who have gotten involved in stewardship conversations in their church. Here is an excerpt from a testimonial, titled “This I believe,” which was written by lay leader Kevin Lowey.

“I know we are capable of this type of abundance. Here’s just one sign of our changing prosperity. Last year our open plate collections totaled $14,000. Guess how much has been collected this year to date?…If you guessed $28,000, you’re right!! There’s a growing momentum and a renewed vision here at First Parish. If we can put the same spirit of generosity and abundance into the commitments we make this spring to support our church, it will allow our leaders to build a budget that will make good on the potential that I think all of us are feeling. I know I’m feelin’ it!”

While each congregation may approach stewardship conversations differently, this blog was meant to illustrate how thoughtful church members and staff can be when discussing stewardship. Special thanks to Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz, Rev. JD Benson, Allison Beavan and Kevin Lowey for their permission to highlight their work on our blog.

Stewardship as Spiritual Discipline

A Mini-Sermon by Barry Finkelstein
UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant
Emerson UU Church, Marietta, GA
November 14, 2010

I am one of the crazy ones – the people who sign up to do stewardship in our churches.  Go around and talk to people about money.  Both in my own church and as one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s congregational stewardship consultants – which is how I come to be among you this weekend.

When I ask myself why I do this, an image pops immediately into my mind.  An image of one of my former churches – South Church Unitarian Universalist – in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.   We’re in the sanctuary – a beautiful historic sanctuary inside a granite monument of a building – and it’s January 1 2008, a  Tuesday.  On what might have been an ordinary New Year’s Day, the church is filled with people, with energy, with magic.  A beautiful, powerful magic that changed the world. (more…)