I woke up today and became inspired to write the following…it is very personal, but being still a little ‘hooked’ on generosity evangelism I wondered if it might be useful…”

One of the benefits of being a member of the “older generation” is to look back on life and realize while, yes, it is about the big choices (where to live, what career to choose, whom to marry), our life is also much more than we realize about the daily choices we make.

Early on while supporting a friend finally leaving an abusing marriage. I learned that “given all the choices you feel you have, you are where you want to be.”  I learned that change in our life is really all about relooking at the assumptions we have about our choices

Later when I was dating my second husband I found a painted stone in a gift shop – on it was written the way to my wonderful, successful new life “To love is to choose”.   What are we choosing?  Every choice — I realized.  We make our life through our daily choices.  We continually “construct” not only our life, but also who we are by our many, many small daily choices.

So, when, a few years ago, a dear and close friend gave me one of those little books of wisdom about choices, I was open to learning from The Secret by Michael Berg of the Kabbalah Centre.  Michael gave me my most important “pithy” insight to my daily choices.  “The only way to achieve true joy and fulfillment is by becoming a being of sharing”.

Slowly over time I shared with family, friends and others all those things I had that I didn’t need. With less stuff, I was easily moved to buy less stuff. I then looked at the spending I wasn’t doing and increased my giving.  I found myself celebrating every gift as a gift to myself. I am now continually becoming a being of sharing and generosity.  I now tithe to my congregation and am able to give more than I suspected to two other non-profits.

Today, with joy and fulfillment, my choices are the gifts of giving love and the gifts of sharing to myself.  Generosity gives me more than I can give.

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 9 (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 ninth 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).  Does it make sense to publicize past due financial commitments to the entire congregation (of course, without breaking confidentiality)?

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #9

Myth: The church newsletter is a good place to include current financial commitment fulfillment information because it prods people to keep their payments up-to-date.

Truth: People usually know their fulfillment status of their annual commitment. If I am current with my payments, a public newsletter article bemoaning the sad state of payments may only cause me to be upset at others who are not up-to-date. If I have fallen behind, I know that I have fallen behind and don’t need a public reminder in the newsletter. It is find to spend monthly personal reminders to all donors, and it is a caring gesture to make pastoral phone calls to those who have fallen behind, but avoid public broadcasting. Besides, financial fulfillment rates are often 95 percent or more of the initially committed amount. A lower fulfillment rate indicates a problem that won’t be resolved in the monthly newsletter. It often reflects the impersonal way in which people were asked to contribute.

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…)

Give Until It Feels Good

This piece is from the First Unitarian Church of Portland‘s Annual Fund Drive Brochure
written by Rev. Thomas Disrud, Associate Minister

A friend describes his spiritual approach to generosity quite simply: “I give until it feels good.” I try to remember that in my life. Giving is not primarily an obligation, nor a duty and certainly not a burden. Generosity is an opportunity to make real our connection to others and to that which is larger than our-selves. Generosity is one of the important ways we participate in the Spirit of Life.

Generosity and most spirituality grow out of a sense of gratitude. We work hard and many of us struggle to overcome obstacles and oppressions. But we have also been given so much. We did not create our talents or our energy. The wonder of the natural world, the capacity to love and to be loved, to know beauty and to treasure friendship, life itself…these are all gifts we did not create.

The Spirit of Life calls us to respond with gratitude. One great theologian said that if our only prayer is “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” that would be enough. But that feeling of gratitude for all we have been given also calls us to give back, to find ways to bless the world as we have been blessed.

Generosity is making love manifest in the world; it is offering our gifts in the service of building the Be-loved Community. Generosity to this church supports a community of caring, compassion and hope with a ministry that goes deep both within and beyond our walls.

You have found a religious home here at First Unitarian Church. I hope you will express your gratitude and your dedication to this community with a pledge generous within your means. Give until it feels good.

Study Shows Americans Plan to Give More to Charity in 2011

For the first time since the recession began, Americans say that in 2011 they are more likely to increase their giving to charity than decrease their charitable support, according to the annual Dunham+Company New Year’s Philanthropy Survey conducted by Wilson Research Strategies.

Compared to 2010, there is a 29 percent surge in households that say they plan to increase their giving in 2011, a 20 percent jump in households that say their giving will stay the same and a 48 percent drop in the number of households that say they will decrease their giving.

Overall, nearly 1 in 5 respondents (18 percent) say they plan to increase their giving in 2011. (more…)

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 8 (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 eighth 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).  Do we want to paint a picture of our congregation as a sinking ship?

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #8

Myth: If people only understood the dire financial straits of the church, they would feel guilty and increase their annual financial commitment.

Truth: In spite of Garrison Keillor’s notion that “guilt is the gift that keeps on giving,” nobody wants to throw money at a sinking ship. Emphasizing a financial problem may actually drive people away from the faith community. It is more effective to focus on the positive ways that annual contributions will be used once the money has been received. Have a discussion about the successes of current giving. Talk about how much money is being used and emphasize how much better the programs and ministries will be when the giving is increased. Again, people want to know what difference their financial contribution will make.

Signs of living (and dying) churches

Is your church alive or is it dying? Take a look at the following whimsical poem to see if you recognize your congregation.

Living and Dying Churches
(Adapted from Pilgrim United Church of Christ newsletter, Port Charlotte, Florida by UU minister the Reverend Sam Trumbore)

Living churches always have a parking problem; dying churches don’t.
Living churches are constantly changing their methods; dying churches don’t have to.
Living churches have lots of noisy kids; dying churches are quiet.
Living churches expenses always exceed their income; dying churches take in more than they ever dream of spending.
Living churches are constantly improving and planning for the future; dying churches worship the past.
Living churches grow so fast you forget people’s names; dying churches you’ve known everyone’s names for years.
Living churches move forward and out in faith; dying churches operate totally by sight.
Living churches support community work heavily; dying churches keep it all at home.
Living churches are filled with healthy pledgers; dying churches are filled with tippers.
Living churches dream great dreams of beloved community; dying churches relive nightmares.
Living churches have the fresh wind of love blowing; dying churches are stale with bickering.
Living churches don’t have can’t in their vocabulary; dying churches have nothing but.
Living churches EVANGELIZE, dying churches fossilize.

Generosity Prayer

by Congregational Stewardship Services Consultant Mark Ewert, inspired by many others…

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names

The abundance of this world is an example for us

The universe is full of stars; this planet is full of different peoples, animals, insects, plants, stones, and elements
Everywhere we look, everything we hear and feel is quantity and richness

The beauty of this world is an example for us

Each species and landscape is lovely in its own way
The sky and the earth and all of its living and non-living manifestations carry your beauty

The love in this world is an example for us

From people we know and do not know, from animals and even the sun shining on our back, love can be felt all around
Whether we create it or deserve it or not, love is always offered to us

Help us to open out hearts and let these examples feed us in times of joy and sorrow
Help us to use these examples to know our own wealth, no matter what our financial situation
Help us to understand that what we have to give is limited only by our fear of not having enough for ourselves
Help us to follow your example and create

Abundance, beauty, and love all around us
With everything we have to give”