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.

Creating a Culture of Giving

People are not born with a giving gene. Because joyful giving for the sake of the giver is a worthy goal, faith communities want to help their congregants discover their own personal generosity. This discovery process requires focusing on the joy of giving, on being self-giving rather than self-serving. Recruiting volunteers and raising money can be almost incidental to creating a healthy culture of giving.

In Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church, Kennon Callahan writes that the purpose of stewardship is giving, not fundraising, and that stewardship actually provides a service to the giver. The role of those leading a stewardship campaign, he believes, is to help people discover their own generosity.

Callahan proposes a four-year program to increase giving. He suggests that a congregation focus on growing the donor base in the first year and increasing the number of volunteers who work on the annual budget drive in the second year. He recommends that the third year be devoted to increasing the giving level of specific current households. He believes that the cumulative result of the first three years should create a quantum leap of giving during the fourth year.

While Callahan’s plan offers a well-conceived sequence, I believe that the first step is to find a way to talk about giving. The conversations can’t be specifically about money. They must include talk about call and spiritual vocation. A person might share his call (willingness to proclaim the good works of the faith community) by talking about his passion for one of the congregation’s programs or ministries at a new-member reception. A congregant might demonstrate her spiritual vocation (willingness to take up the spiritual work of the faith community) by participating in a Habitat for Humanity project or volunteering to teach English to a group of recent immigrants.

If your congregation is entrenched in a culture of scarcity, develop an intentional plan to explore the meaning of giving. By initiating conversations about giving, you can introduce the topic and reinforce the concept until it slowly becomes part of the congregation’s way of life.

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.

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.

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:

Interested in a unique fundraising option?

Interested in a unique fundraising option? If so, we have found the article for you! Jeff Shapiro writes about a group of senior citizens posing nude for a calendar to help raise money for their church. Shapiro writes, “a group of senior citizens from a congregation in Massachusetts stripped down to their birthday suits to pose for photos in a 2012 calendar created to show the beauty of aging.

Twelve men from First Parish in Framingham, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, who are all between 64 and 87 years old, took it all off in the making of the parish’s Celebration 2012 Calendar. Don’t worry though, they don’t reveal everything. In each of the calendar’s images, the men aren’t wearing any clothes, but each of them is covered up by a prop in their private areas.

The goal of the calendar is to show, in a society that can sometimes be obsessed with youth, growing old can be a joy. The parish wanted to show that these older men are still full of life, they have a lot to offer and they have a great sense of humor.”

You can read the full article on The Christian Post website.

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.