Turning challenges into opportunities

The following article is an update of our October 5, 2010 blog post. Vanco Services provides a variety of e.services and they are currently working with nearly 200 UUA congregations in 46 different states. Some churches use only one e.service® solution while others use an entire suite of solutions that includes online giving, direct debit giving (ACH), credit & debit card giving and remote check deposit.

We encourage you to contact Vanco to explore the possibilities for your congregation.

Author: Stephen Rose
Director of Marketing
Vanco Services, LLC

As a provider of electronic giving solutions to thousands of churches, Vanco Services, LLC is pleased to share insights we’ve gained over the past 16 years.

Special Challenges

Seasonal donation slump. Donations tend to track closely with the number of weekly worshippers, producing a seasonal donation slump in most congregations. A church’s operating costs and program expenses continue year round, but weekly check & cash offerings are erratic. Donations typically taper off after Easter and then drop—often precipitously—during summer months before recovering in the 4th quarter. Vanco data shows an average 43% decline in weekly giving by paper check from Easter to mid-summer. Even the most dedicated churchgoers miss services. Vacations, illness and weather (good and bad) all enter into the equation. In the fall of 2009, the flu—and even fear of the flu—depressed attendance at services. In recent winters, snowstorms also kept worshippers of all faiths at home in many areas of the country. One Greek Orthodox Archdiocese estimated that February 2010 snowstorms resulted in at least $1.4 million in lost weekly offerings.
Declining check use. Getting twentysomethings to attend services is one thing. Getting them to write a check is quite another. Many families no longer carry a checkbook and most young families never did. A growing number of households simply prefer to make electronic payments and contributions whenever possible. A December, 2010 study from the Federal Reserve reported that paper check use declined by more than 43% in the past decade. The same study showed that electronic payments increased by 276%. This shift in payment practices presents a stewardship challenge for every congregation. (more…)

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 11 (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 eleventh 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).  Sending out a mailing is surely the easiest way to ask for financial commitments but is it the best way?

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #11

Myth: Because people don’t like to talk about money, annual financial commitments must be sought in an indirect way. It is best to send financial commitment forms through the mail and ask recipients to return them by mail. In this way, they will not be offended, embarrassed, or angry.

Truth: The more indirect the approach, the less money will be contributed. Personal stewardship conversations are most effective. Getting groups together is a less direct approach, but it can provide an occasional break from the stewardship conversations. Telephone calls and mail solicitations are the most ineffective ways to ask for money. If you are uncomfortable talking about money, the solution is to find ways to become more comfortable talk about it, not to avoid direct, personal conversations.

Creative Capital Campaign Gifts (1 of 5)

Over the last 26 years I have served as a Congregational Stewardship Consultant for the UUA.  During that time I have worked with over 135 of our congregations, some of them more than once.  I have had the opportunity to talk with many people about how they made their decisions to support a capital campaign in their congregation.  One technical note:  Financial commitments to a capital campaign are usually paid over a three year period.  Here is one of my favorite stories.

These stories are illustrative.  They contain one common element.  Persons with commitment to the vision of the church will find a way to give generously.  Each of these stories involves people who “gave until it felt good.”  And that really is the criterion for our success.  Each pledge is important.  Each person will give according to her or his commitment and will want to feel good about it.
David L. Rickard
UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant

For ten years, Joan and Jackson had looked forward to retirement.  In recent years, they had told their friends of their plans to avoid the cold, snowy winters in the northern city where they lived.  Joan said, “You will not see us during January, February, or March.  We will be in Florida.”  As part of the campaign to fund a new church building, the couple (both former presidents of the congregation) was asked to give an endorsement during the Sunday service.  Joan spoke for both.  “We lied to you,” she began.  “We will be here throughout the next three winters even though we have retired.  We are pledging the money we would have spent in Florida to the capital fund drive.”

Look for another story from David Rickard in the coming weeks!

The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects by Barbara Lewis: Book Review

Stewardship isn’t just about graciously giving of monetary resources; it is also about graciously giving our time. Some adults have a longing to engage in service, yet don’t know where to start. Or some adults live their live s without giving any of their time to volunteer work, and reach a point in which they feel unfulfilled. The giving of time is not only good for your own personal satisfaction; it’s appreciated by those on the receiving end of service. If early in life we teach kids about not only the value of service but als o about how to get creative in choosing what service projects they decide to get involved in, we are creating future caring stewards.

In Barbara Lewis’ book, The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects, the author spends each chapter listing idea s of small and large service projects that kids can participate in in their own communities. All of these ideas are basic in nature and can be built upon by the child by investigating the resources that are available to the student in their specific community. Some of these projects are those where a child would follow the direction of others, and some of these projects are those where a child can take initiative and be a leader in creating and implementing the project. Prior to fully committing to a service project, the child should spend some time thinking about what is important to them. Is the environment an issue that they feel is close to their heart? Do they get really revved-up when talking about politics or government? Do they believe that health and wellness are the keys to a great service learning project? The child should spend some time thinking about these things, and Ms. Lewis spends the first few pages discussing in more detail how a child can help decide what service project is right for them.

Here are some examples of chapters & projects that are in The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects. These projects can be adapted and implemented for kids up through teenagers.


  1. Contact your local humane society or animal shelter to get the latest statistics on the numbers of homeless dogs and cats in your community. Ask their advice on what needs to be done
  2. Contact your local zoo and ask which animals need help. Find out what animals need the most.
  3. Join a wildlife organization. Be an active member.

Politics and Government:

  1. Telephone unregistered residents and explain how to register to vote.
  2. Provide a voter pickup and transportation service for seniors or other people with special needs who might not be able to travel to the voting booth.
  3. Petition a student position on your community council, neighborhood committee, school board, or any state or local agency.

Community Safety:

  1. Assist an after-school little league or other sports program for younger children
  2. Create a play that teaches children how to stay safe at home while their parents are away.

Free Money? Well, yes actually.

Coming out of this recession, congregations are looking for new ways to augment church income. Many of the more traditional options (craft fairs, flea markets, service auctions) can, if well done, help build community, but they tend to be one time affairs, place high demands on volunteer hours, and most often do not raise substantial amounts of money.  Many congregations are making use of more technologically assisted options with good results. You might wish to consider something along these lines.

One such program is to sign up your congregation as an affiliate with a service provider, such as Amazon. Being an affiliate simply means your organization will post somewhere on its website a notice that anyone who wishes to order anything from Amazon may do so by clicking on the Amazon logo on your web site. When this is the done, the purchase is automatically credited to the church’s account for a share of the purchase price. Signing up is simple, and Amazon provides a monthly statement, as well as automatic deposits of the proceeds. How much the church earns is a bit more complicated an answer, depending on volume and amount and types of purchases, but in my congregation’s experience, it runs about 4% of the amounts spent. The pattern for most seems to be for a bit of a slow start the first couple of months; once members get used to the idea, volume builds up quickly. Since the program applies not just for books but for everything purchased on Amazon (furniture, clothing, electronics, etc), the totals grow nicely. There are other affiliate programs available (Barnes & Noble, for example). We chose Amazon because the variety of items available for purchase is so much larger. (more…)

Replacement Reserve Fund

Has your congregation ever been faced with replacing the heating and cooling system, or the electrical system, or the plumbing system, or the roof?  Were you prepared? Did you have the money set aside for the work?

Here are some guidelines to prepare for the inevitable replacement of these systems:

Introduction. Because congregations are non-profit organizations, they generally do not pay taxes. As a result, leaders have little incentive to set up depreciation schedules for their various systems. Still, congregations must face the inevitable replacement of heating and cooling systems, the roof, the exterior paint and sometimes the electrical and plumbing systems
To address these issues in a systemic way, congregations are encouraged to create a maintenance reserve fund; the same type of fund that the business world uses to be eligible for depreciation under the tax laws. The fund enables congregations to create a long-range maintenance plan, as opposed to reacting to emergency situations.

Initial funding. There are at least two ways to start a replacement reserve fund.
1. A replacement reserve fund can be started immediately after the purchase of a new system, roof, or entire building. The congregation calculates the life expectancy of each component and creates a line item in the operating budget that is equivalent to the annual amount needed to replace the system.
2. A replacement reserve fund can be created as part of a capital campaign. Most congregations do not include depreciation money in their annual operating budget. As a result, the initial funding is often provided as part of a capital campaign.

Annual Funding. Whichever of the two methods is chosen, the key to success is the annual appropriation to the replacement reserve fund. The annual budget should include a line item for depreciation equal to the decline in the value of the depreciable assets as calculated according to the General Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP). We recommend that money should be deposited in a separate account that already contains the initial funding and held until approved for expenditure. Interest accruing on the funds should be held in the same account.

Expenditures. Expenditures from the replacement reserve fund should be limited to the replacement of depreciable assets. In Unitarian Universalist congregations, expenditures can be recommended by the governing body and then approved at a duly called congregational meeting.

Adapted by Wayne B. Clark from a document written by David L. Rickard

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 10 (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 tenth 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).  Hosting a great luncheon after a Sunday Service is the key to people’s pocket books, right?

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #10

Myth: As long as a fellowship event (to launch an annual budget drive or capital campaign) provides a free meal, people will attend the event and give generously of their gifts, call, and spiritual vocation. A beautiful brochure with a clever slogan and attractive logo will further increase giving.

Truth: A free meal is not enough. When people reserve time in their busy schedules, they expect more than just some mediocre food and an average after-dinner program. They want a well-planned event that includes an opportunity to interact with other congregants. They also want to have fun. Many fundraising consultants have determined the best entertainment involves the attendees. For example, a program of group signing is preferable to having the choir perform for the gathering. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the format and promotion of the event matter less than the message. A well-planned fellowship event, a beautiful brochure, and a clever slogan will add absolutely nothing to financial commitments unless a clear and compelling case for stewardship has been made.

Let’s talk about Unitarian Universalism and money.

“Ask” given at joint Association Sunday service planned by seven Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations in South Central Pennsylvania.

From my work with Unitarian Universalist congregations about money, I’ve learned that there are 3 different kinds of money we gather from among ourselves.

First, there’s the money we gather up so we can give it away – to people or organizations who need it more than we do, because they are changing the world in ways that we know are essential.

This is the kind of money we like best.  We never have enough of it, but we make a point of talking about it, and it makes us feel good to give it away.

The second kind of money is what we use to run our churches – to keep our buildings warm and lit and not-falling-down; to pay our staff, update our websites, send money to Boston or the District to pay our “dues.”

This kind of money we would rather not think about, but we do, all the time.  Usually, we find just enough to keep the church going, but it doesn’t make us happy – thinking and talking about it makes us tired. (more…)

Making the Most of Our Money – Palatine, IL

We learned about this congregation’s stewardship education work through the Green Sanctuary Program application process (we do live in an interconnected web of life) and thought that it might be interesting and inspiring for other congregations.

Guest Author, David Cohen,Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist,
Social Action Committee

Making the Most of Our Money is a 9-session money management class aimed at low-income, food pantry and general assistance residents in the Northwest Suburbs. The program is sponsored by and held at Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist (“CCUU”) in Palatine Illinois.

At the summer 2007 leadership retreat for CCUU, the congregation voted for a long-term social action project to turn our church covenant of recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every person into action. Palatine Township caseworkers requested that we provide money management classes to the low-income recipients of the food pantry and the township’s general assistance clients.

We started with a curriculum called All My Money from the University of Illinois Extension Service. Eight persons and 3 Palatine Township caseworkers attended the training and received the teaching certification. (more…)

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?