Why do donors give?

I was recently at a guest speaker presentation called “Why Fundraising is Everyone’s Job.”  Abbie J. von Schlegell, guest speaker, shared these reasons as “Why Donors Give”

  • To experience the joy and happiness of giving
  • Because the asker offers an opportunity to meet certain needs
  • To affiliate wit those who have like values
  • To enhance community resources
  • Because of a relationship between the donor and the organization
  • To make a difference
  • Because they are asked

This cartoon, shared by Mark Ewert, UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant, demonstrates the first reason “To experience the joy and happiness of giving.”

Are there other reasons you give?

Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is: New Ideas in Stewardship

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Regional Leadership Development Consultant for Central East Regional Group (CERG), recently wrote to us about a successful stewardship conference in Akron, OH.

“Planning the conference was a wonderful example of trusting the creative process.  The Ohio Meadville District’s (OMD) resource development team and various district and regional staff members were inspired after reading the book Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate (the OMD District Executive, the Rev. Joan VanBecelaere, was the one who got everyone reading the book in the first place). We asked around and found several UU’s from area congregations who did fundraising in the non-profit sector, had them read the book, and invited them to sit on a panel for the conference.   We then offered a free copy of the book to everyone who registered for the conference.  We had over 82 register and 4 walk in, in spite of Ohio winter weather!

We had the panel discussion in the morning, lunch, then folks broke out into 1-1/2 hour small group discussion sessions in the afternoon.

Since we are in prime stewardship season, we quickly processed a rough cut of the video of the panel discussion and Mark Bernstein turned our afternoon discussion notes into a study guide.  Thanks to this group effort, these resources are up on our CERG website and available for congregational use. ”

Web-based Resources: On Demand Webinars

Greening the Plate

A Story of Doing Good Work on a Small Scale – and Finding Bigger Results to Follow
by Bill Clontz

Our congregation, the Mt Vernon Unitarian Church in Alexandria VA, hosted a workshop some time ago at which UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant Larry Wheeler shared a story that was so simple, yet so powerful, it became a part of our approach to generosity.

Larry was working with another church sometime ago, and a friend of the church mentioned that when he first began coming to the church, he was struck that when the collection plate came around on Sundays, it was almost always empty. He could not help but wonder if this was an indicator that the congregation did not support the church. When he mentioned this to members of the church, they assured him that there was no lack of support, but that most people contributed by automatic deposit or by check through the mail.

Still, his question got them to thinking about appearances and symbolism; from their reflection, came the idea of “Greening the Plate.”

Now, congregants who have contributed by other means simply put a dollar or whatever they wish in the plate when it comes around on Sunday; no one lets it go by untouched. It’s a symbolic act, and perhaps only a dollar, but what an effect. At the end of the passing around, the plate is full, the new visitor, and the members, have a visual cue that people here care enough to put something in the plate, and even though its only small amounts, you would be surprised how that adds up over a year. The money goes directly into programs and other church needs. (more…)

Nurturing Young Stewards

UU Society of Sacramento, kids planting a garden

When visiting with different congregations I encourage the leadership to think about how to help the children become good stewards of their faith community. Even the littlest ones can plant a bulb on the grounds and watch it grow over time. By the time they are teens, however, they are able to articulate in joyful and powerful ways what their faith community means in their daily lives. They freely share what they like, what they wish were different and are almost always so willing to help bring about their desired future. Adding teenage youth to your discussions about the future, in your committee meetings, and sitting at the table with the adults is a wonderful way to grow their understanding of stewardship in the fullest possible meaning. Teens also serve as a powerful reminder to adults that their decisions today will impact the next generation.

How is your congregation including youth in their most important discussions? Are they prepared to be givers of time, talent and treasure as they become adults and members?

“The Power of Giving” – Book Review

When many people think back to the best times in our life, often a part of this memory is the experience of giving to another. One of my fondest memories was when I participated in a volunteer trip two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated many parts of New Orleans, LA. Our volunteer group participated in the clean up of both a day care center and a school library. By the end of the week, many of the trip members (including myself) felt this experience to be so profound that it changed our lives forever. In fact, it was so profound for me that it had some weight in my decision to go back to graduate school and pursue my Masters degree in Social Work. So, when I started reading The Power of Giving by Azim Jamal and Harvey McKinnon, memories of experiences in my life where I had given something came back to me, and I was reminded of how impactful the feeling of generosity can be.

Differing Methods of Fundraising at Churches and Synagogues Raise Similar Amounts

A recent study by the Jewish Weekly publication, Forward, concludes that giving levels at churches and synagogues raise similar amounts despite different methods—church dues are voluntary whereas synagogues charge membership dues.

Some churches require a 10% tithing rate, but many rely on the conscience of the member to decide the amount of the donation. In addition, some churches have high numbers of members who do not or cannot donate at the same congregation where other members donate many thousands of dollars. Synagogues charge dues for every member as well as fees for attending high holiday services, although the amount of the dues charged can vary.

Of the congregations surveyed, at the high end was an average gift per family of $7,800 and at the low end was an average gift of $100. For synagogues, base dues vary from $1,000 to $3,000 per family, although some members contribute much more than the required dues. Despite the large differences in voluntary versus required amounts, of those surveyed the median amount of funds raised per-capita by synagogues was $660, only slightly higher than by churches at $640. Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology at Duke University surmised: “Perhaps what the dues system does is even out the giving rather than get you more per capital.”

Historically, American churches and synagogues had similar models for raising money—both charged “pew fees” based on their location. This practice declined in churches in the late 19th century and represented a movement away from the idea that one could buy God’s favor by spending more money on the best seats. Most synagogues also moved away from the 19th century system in order to democratize the funding structure.

How do these results impact our Unitarian Universalist way of raising money through the suggested fair share giving guide and appreciative inquiry? If requiring set amounts from members does not raise more money than voluntary contributions that relate to ability to pay, then three cheers for focusing on equitable contributions and positive achievements to fund our church missions!

Stay tuned for the next installment of the study by Forward, that will focus on how churches and synagogues spend the money they raise.

For more details on the study, see the full article in Forward.

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 4 (of 12)

We’ve all heard myths about fundraising.  These often lead us to do the exact opposite of what we should be doing to raise money. This is part of a twelve part series on de-bunking fundraising myths and taking a closer look about false assumptions about giving.

This is the forth in the series and we will run one each month (if you can’t wait to a year to read all of them you can purchase the book Beyond Fundraising: A Complete Guide to Congregational Stewardship and read them in Chapter 1: The Spiritual Roots of Stewardship).  Everyone is asking for money these days so what does that mean for for our congregations? And how do we make sure we’re at the front of the group?

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #4

Myth: Now that so many organizations are asking for contributions, people have decreased giving to their faith community in order to disperse contributions among many organizations.

Truth: There is no research to support this claim.  Those congregants who have become disciplined stewards tend to contribute to many organizations, including their faith community. Ian Evison has concluded that congregations and the programs they administer are receiving a greater share of charitable contributions than in the past.

Book Review: The Giving Book by Ellen Sabin

Teaching Youth How to Give Back to the World

Stewardship is “the spirit that influences” giving, receiving, and generosity (as Wayne Clark defines it in his book, Beyond Fundraising). As adults, while many of us give our time, money, or energy to worthy causes, one must recall where that desire came from. Think back to your life as a child; did you help others as you were growing up? In what capacities were you able to help? Who taught you how important it is to give back to the community? Wayne Clark writes, “People are not born with the giving gene,” so we must teach individuals to be successful stewards. If a culture of giving is created at a young age, becoming a successful steward as an adult is a likely reality.

The Giving Book, which is geared towards children ages 6-11, is a 64-page activity book written to stimulate a child’s creativity and thoughts around the ideas of giving, donating, and saving. Some of the activities in this book include:

  1. creating a list of people who have been giving to you or have shown you acts of charity, making a list of what you are thankful for,
  2. compiling a list of special skills and talents you can share with others, and
  3. creating a giving bag in which you save up your money and then give to your charity of choice


In faith and occasional discomfort

As a stewardship consultant, I work with lay leaders, ministers, DREs, DMEs and others in how best to create a culture of generosity within congregations.  The discussions almost always lead to identifying where there is a consumer mentality rather than a transformational one.  Those with the consumer mentality are seeking Sunday school for the kids and a good sermon for themselves while those with a transformational mentality are seeking a congregational community that informs and shapes how one lives daily life.

Sadly, this article (“Congregations Gone Wild”) in the NY Times points out how for many ministers of many denominations, the culture of consumerism all too often is reflected in what people will accept from their experiences in a church community.  It seems that what we church goers want is confirmation that we are already living life correctly, some entertainment and not too big a bite out of our weekend schedule.  If we don’t get it, we leave.

I like to say that ministers are here to comfort the afflicted while consultants come to afflict the comfortable.  However, ministers do have an obligation to afflict some discomfort by challenging each of us to really live within our shared principals every minute of every day. After all, a traditional strength of faith communities is referencing the emotive story of “what ought to be.”

How well do you reward your minister for calling you to action and service?

Read this article and decide if you are part of the solution or the problem.  Your feedback would be most welcome.

In faith and occasional discomfort,
Mary Gleason

San Mateo’s Celebration Sunday Inspires Generosity

Guest Author: Rev. Vail Weller

“We are a religious community of open hearts and open minds working together to transform ourselves and the world.”  That’s the Mission Statement of our San Mateo congregation, who recently launched a wonderful experience in generosity.  It began as a worship service, which included handing out envelopes of cash to the adults, youth, and children, with the request that congregants use however much might be in their envelopes to “bless the world.”

Lead Minister, Vail Weller, explained, “Money can be used to bless the world, to help make life better for others.  Or it can be used to get more things for ourselves. . . I believe that money is meant to be shared to make life better for more people.”

The seed money for this was a $5,000 gift provided by a generous donor. Envelopes contained amounts ranging from $5 to $500, and the choice of how to spend it was left up to each individual. Parents were encouraged to help their children think about how they might want to make a difference in the world with their gift, perhaps making a family project of it. And everyone was encouraged to share their experiences on a blog set up for that purpose.

“Our congregation exists to help support personal and societal transformation,” said Reverend Vail.  “We’re all excited to see how far out the ripples of this generosity can reach.”

Read some of the stories of what individuals did with the money.