De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 3 (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.  We’ll be running a twelve part series de-bunking fundraising myths to take a close look at these false assumptions about giving.

This is the third 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).  We all feel the pinch during an economic downturn; however, this does not spell disaster for our faith communities.

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #3

Myth: During periods of economic downturn, people can’t be expected to give as much money to their faith community.

Truth: When faced with limited discretionary income, people choose their charitable organizations more carefully. If a compelling case is made in support of the annual budget drive or a capital campaign, they will make significant financial commitments. If a case is not made, potential donors think that the faith community does not deserve to get their money.

Household Giving is on an Upward Trend

Mary Gleason, Congregational Stewardship Consultant at the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA), recently came upon an article that was posted on the Association of Fundraising Professionals for Washington website and shared it with the other Congregational Stewardship Consultants. We thought that it was such interesting and positive news that we wanted to share it with you.

Mary writes:

“There is good news on the horizon for the success of annual budget drives.

In 2009 non-profit organizations experienced a downward trend in household giving, the kind of giving our congregations rely on.  Blackbaud, makers of fundraising software, monitors giving on many levels and has noted some positive trends in the quarter April – June 2010.

Their study shows that small non-profits with annual revenues under $1 million experienced a 12.3 percent increase over the same time period last year.  That’s good news for congregations with late spring annual budget drives.  Mid sized non-profits with annual revenues between $1 million and $10 million still had a decline of 2.5% but is considered recovering because it is less of a decline than for the same time last year.

The study also reports that online giving is up by 13.1 percent for small organizations. If you are not using online giving as an option for your annual budget drive and other gifts you may want to consider adding this opportunity.”

You can read the article at the Association of Fundraising Professionals or the full report at Blackbaud.

If you’re looking into on-line giving, the UUA Office of Congregational Stewardship Services encourages congregations to explore Vanco Services.  Currently over 8,500 congregations nationwide are served by Vanco’s electronic giving solutions.

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 2 (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.  We’ll be running a twelve part series de-bunking fundraising myths to take a close look at these false assumptions about giving.

This is the second 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).  Just because people say that it is true and have repeated it over time does not mean that it is the truth much like the existence of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #2

Myth: Because baby boomers (those born just after World War II) are generally self-centered, materialistic, and achievement-driven, they do not give much money to faith communities or other charities. Furthermore, they do not have the time to offer their call or spiritual vocation to their congregations.

Truth: Research conducted in 1994 by the Barna Research Group indicates that baby boomers were the most generous generation of the twentieth century. Barna states, “If we compare their giving to that of prior generations when those people were the same age, boomers emerge as more generous.” His research indicates that boomers might be willing to give more to faith communities if furnished with sufficient motivation to do so. It is the “show me what difference my contribution will make” mindset of many boomers that often frustrates older congregational leaders. In contrast, these older congregants come from a generation that sees giving as an obligation and an expectation. When older leaders fail to understand the motivation of boomers, they are unsuccessful at raising money from boomers and often unsuccessful at recruiting them for leadership roles.

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 1 (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.  We’ll be running a twelve part series de-bunking fundraising myths to take a close look at these false assumptions about giving.

This is the first of 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).  Just because people say that it is true and have repeated it over time does not mean that it is the truth much like the existence of unicorns.

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Myths About Giving #1

Myth: Those in low-income households don’t have money to contribute, so they offer their time instead.

Truth: The myth that people contribute money or time has been disproved. Recent research by Ian Evison, formerly of the Alban Institute, shows that, in general, financial contributions follow an investment of time. Those who give more time also give more money. In addition, anecdotal observations by fundraising consultants indicate that people with limited income often contribute a higher percentage of that income than those with larger incomes.

Does Your Congregation Have a Healthy Distribution of Financial Commitments?

Have you ever wondered if your congregation’s distribution of financial commitments (annual pledges) is healthy? Because so many lay leaders have asked that question, the UUA stewardship consultants created a chart that illustrates a healthy distribution of financial commitments:

The first 25% of total dollars is coming from the first 10% of the household donors
The second 25% of total dollars is coming from 15% of the donors
The third 25%of total dollars is coming from 35% of the donors
The final 25% of total dollars is coming from the last 40% of household donors

We believe that this distribution is healthy and we recognize that it is not the norm. We encourage congregations to use this distribution as a guide, not as the one and only answer to healthy finances.

Over the years, we have consulted with many congregations in serious financial trouble because they were overly dependent on a few household donors in the first quartile of giving. If 10 percent of household donors contribute the first 25 percent of total giving, a congregations is not too vulnerable if a top donor moves away, reallocates their financial commitments to other causes, or dies without having left a bequest to the congregation. On the other hand, if only 5 percent of household donors contribute the first 25 percent of total giving, a congregation will have a serious financial problem if a top donor ceases to contribute financial commitments.
(more…)

Welcome abundance and generosity into your life…

I was invited to speak on a panel at the UU-UNO 2010 Intergenerational Spring Seminar – A Climate of Change: Heads, Hearts, and Hands Around the Planet.  The panel topic was: Faith-Based Perspectives on Climate Change.  When I speak at Unitarian Universalist events I like to start with a reflection and/or reading to get participants thinking in a certain way.  The reading I chose for this particular event comes from Earth Bound: Daily Meditations for All Seasons by Brian Nelson and just so happens to be today’s (April 12) entry so I decided that it would be interesting to share on this blog.  It addresses stewardship in the broadest sense and in the sense that my office approaches stewardship.

“As the days get longer and the temperatures get warmer, animals start shedding the fur that helps them weather the winter and hoard their body heat.  Unless they shed this fur, they’ll overheat in the months to come.

Similarly, the longer we act as though we’re in a winter culture, a culture of scarcity and deprivation, the more likely we are to overheat now that it’s spring.

Stop living in a winter of your mind and shed the barriers that keep things at bay.  Act as though abundance and generosity are not only possible but imminent.  Welcome easier times and they will happen more often.”

From You I Receive – Sermon

This is a sermon delivered by Rev. Mark Ward to his congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, on March 21, 2010.  We felt that many congregations would find it helpful especially since many are currently in the midst of their annual budget drives….

Rev. Mark Ward’s Stewardship Sermon

The story is told that the Japanese Zen master Nan-in once received a visit from a professor from a famous university. The professor said he heard much about the practice of Zen and was interested to know more about it. Nan-in nodded, and so the professor launched into his questions: what were its origins, who were its teachers, were there many schools, and so on, in rapid fire.

As the professor went on, Nan-in rose, walked over to his tea pot and gestured to ask if the visitor wanted tea. Amid his questions, the professor nodded, “Yes.” And so Nan-in took two tea cups and set them down on a tray, then brought over the tea pot.

As Nan-in served the tea, he poured the professor’s cup full and kept pouring. The professor watched the tea overflowing onto the tray and then finally called out, “It’s overfull. No more will go in.”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of opinions. How can I teach you Zen until you empty your cup?”

From you I receive, to you I give.

Together we share. And from this we live.

Each Sunday as they end their gathering time downstairs before going to their classes our children sing those words together. They help reinforce an ethic of reciprocity that is central to our understanding of how we live in community, both in this congregation and in the larger world. Reciprocity is the grease that makes community work. We give, knowing that we will receive, and we receive knowing that we will give.
(more…)

What It Means to Give and Receive

As a UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant, I am always eager to learn and explore new ways to tap into the deep pools of generosity among my fellow Unitarian Universalists.  At our most recent consultants’ retreat, Mary Gleason introduced us to a powerful exercise that invited us to explore what it means to give and what it means to receive, and how that might relate to stewardship at our congregations.

I have since tried this exercise at several congregations, including my own, with great success.  The exercise is simple and I commend it to you.  Just ask people to take a few quiet moments to think about a time they gave something to someone that was really special – something that really hit home and was the “perfect” gift for that person at that moment.  The gift need not be physical – it could be the perfect word or a hug or a smile.  Ask people to remember what it felt like to give that gift, and to imagine what it must have felt like to be on the receiving end.  Then ask them to do the whole thing in reverse, thinking of a time when they were on the receiving end of the perfect gift.  After a few moments of quiet reflection, I like to ask people to share their stories in pairs and then in the whole group.

Reactions to this exercise have been varied, sometimes surprising, often inspiring.  Some folks have had a hard time remembering giving or receiving any special gifts – they’re just not used to thinking in these terms.  For these people, this exercise stirred up some deep memories and new ways of understanding how they relate to other people.

My most powerful experience with this exercise was with a UU middle school youth group.  Now, middle schoolers are not always easy to reach, and I approached this with some trepidation.  The results were amazing!  The kids shared moving stories of the most personal gifts – a hand-written card, a poem, a drawing, a touch, just the right stuffed animal – and were articulate about the impact of these gifts.  The exercise has worked equally well with people of all ages.   The sharing of giving and receiving stories lets people reach into the depths of their human connections, and after all isn’t that a big part of what we’re about in our UU congregations – and what stewardship is all about?  No matter how much time I allow for these sharing moments, it’s never enough.

As stewards of our congregations, we are called upon to be cheerful givers and grateful receivers.  May we tap into our spirits of generosity by lifting up what it means to do this work with grace and love.

Opening Our Hearts to Stewardship

Love heals, love reconciles,
love helps us move when we are stuck,
love helps us cast out all fear…

– Rev. Laurel Hallman

Photo by Gabe Caby

Stewardship is a holistic concept that encompasses and connects how we understand and appreciate:  what we have been given and inherited, what we have earned, how we track and account for those resources, what we decide to do with them (according to our values/beliefs), and how we ensure that they are skillfully used to those purposes. As such, it is integral to our spiritual, ethical, and philosophical lives.

As Unitarian Universalists, our programs and communications addressing stewardship must be congruent with our core belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people. These approaches follow the same paths that we have learned are effective in challenging sexism, bias against sexual preference, and in anti-racism: We seek to reduce generalizations and discrimination (based on giving and economic status or the indicators of status), to encourage self-examination, to promote consciousness-raising, and to understand all people as interdependent, multi-faceted, and developing over the lifespan. Shaming, judgment, assumption, reproach, guilt, pressure, elitism, censure, and demanding language (or programs built on these concepts) are inappropriate and ineffective tools to open people’s hearts to deeper stewardship.

Aligned stewardship programs and communications use:

  • Orientation toward individual spiritual needs as well as the needs of organizations
  • An appreciative inquiry approach
  • Empowerment and choice models
  • Facilitation of personal development and spiritual growth
  • Inspiration and leadership
  • The provision of rich information (mission, planning, accounting, etc.) to increase motivation
  • Respect for each person as a rich repository of diverse resources as well as individualized needs
  • Caring systems (not cold, inhumane processes)
  • A respect for the challenges inherent in countering our consumer culture by aligning our values with our resources
  • An understanding of the reasonable fears and past wounding that may challenge a broadening of generosity
  • A view of giving and receiving as dynamically linked

Below is a hotlink to a chart intended to provide language for responding to people who are negative, frustrated, or angry about the stewardship of others. Just click on the line below:

Language Choices in Stewardship

How do you see loving stewardship as opening hearts and hands to both give and receive in your congregation? What language do you use to help you convey that?