In response to the current economic situation and several requests, with the help of my consultants and support staff, I have compiled best practices that relate to fundraising during difficult economic times. I especially encourage congregations to remain positive in these difficult times.
Giving During Tough Economic Times
Compiled by UUA Stewardship Consultants
- Stay positive. Don’t feed the anxiety.
- Act and lead with confidence.
- Assume that all will be well . . . Don’t assume the worst.
- See the recession as an opportunity to revisit your congregational vision and mission.
- Ask “How important is the congregation to you?”
- Believe that caring for people always trumps brick and mortar needs.
- Use pie charts to depict the distribution of the previous year’s spending.
- Use pie charts to indicate the anticipated distribution of financial commitments when the goal is met.
- Develop a line-item annual operating budget after completion of stewardship conversations.
- Do not presume other’s financial situation. Ask everyone for an annual financial commitment.
- Be pastoral. Focus on “how are you doing” personal conversations.
- In addition to monetary goals, create a goal for the number of congregants participating in the annual budget drive. Define success more broadly.
- Sponsor a “turn down the heat” day each week and host a pot luck meal at church.
- Sponsor a job-seeking club / a referral network / a resume writing workshop.
- Promote open conversations about “living well in tough times.”
- Market a “business is booming” slogan to spread the good news of the congregation.
- Focus on three key words; help, hope, and home.
- Emphasize that the faith community is a haven during tough times.
Some things not mentioned… and things that led us to a much more successful Canvass this year… was:
1. Share financial situation with membership and invite them to share in solving it. Come up with a “sustaining pledge” and make that an “ask amount”. Put this in a personalized letter to each pledging family with the “sustaining pledge” stated. We calculated this using the following formula:
a. for those who kept their pledge the same or increased it last year from the year before… increase by 5%.
b. for those who reduced their pledge (and there were many)… restore 50% of the amount they lowered it ( meet us half way).
2. Field a face-to-face canvass. We hadn’t done one in ten years… and we fielded 23 people.
3. By two weeks into our campaign with 60% pledges in (core members of the church) 78% of pledges received were “at or above” our “sustaining pledge.” Things weakened after that.. as more loosely connected members, or attendees were called on to pledge… did so.
4. New members and even “regular attendees” need to be canvassed early … do not wait until the next annual canvass.
The canvass was given top priority in August, a month after I became president of the church. And I signed on as co-chair of the committee.
Finally, we used the current economic downturn to launch a recognition of the importance of Stewardship as a dimension of church life. We renamed the “Canvass Committee” the “Stewardship Committee”. And we plan to have meetings continually throughout the year… and move away from talking about money “just at Canvass time”. A seminar on “managing money” is being considered…
We have a new understanding (by closely watching the results coming in from the Canvass)… the importance of a strong Membership committee (which we don’t have), the importance of Canvassing new members… and the loss represented by members or regular attendees who are disconnecting from the church.
Finally (again)… its terribly important to keep large donors in-the-loop with personal briefings and emails, so they don’t feel they are carrying the ball alone… and that the smaller guys are sharing the load.
President, First Universalist Church, Rockland, ME
Frank – Thanks for your comments. I especially like your mention of keeping large donors in the loop. It is important for them to know that, as they lead the financial way, others are contributing their fair share as well. Every year, regardless of your approach to the annual budget drive (stewardship conversations, neighborhood meetings, commitment Sunday, etc) these large donors should always be asked to participate in a stewardship conversation with a visiting steward.
What was the outcome of your most recent annual budget drive? Did the total financial commitments (pledges) match the previous year? Was the total larger than the previous year? Was the total lower than last year? Did the total exceed your goal? Meet your goal? Fall short of your goal? What is your current financial commitment average? What is the median amount?
In my second year of Stewardship Committee work, first year as Chair. An analysis of past pledges revealed (235 members, 180 pledge units) 40% of pledge revenue came from top 10% of givers. The top 10% gave 4X the average and almost 6X the median. Top 40% of givers generated 80%. Bottom 60% gave 20%. Average pledge – 150% of median pledge. Our goal is to elevate 10-15 of the pledge units previously in the bottom 60% from median givers to average givers and to expand the top 10% givers by 3-8 pledge units. Helping our members realize their leadership role in the direction and future of our Fellowship will, hopefully, generate the ownership perspective necessary for expanded financial responsibility. Utilizing multiple communication methods over a pledging “season” as opposed to a single event helps make the message less overwhelming. Being open to questions and proposals facilitates inclusiveness.
Questions. 85% of our Fellowship’s total revenue comes from pledges. Is that consistent with the experience of other small-medium congregations? Are there any examples of pledge revenues varying substantially from the 2% of total members’ income that has been cited? Pledges received in a time period other than their designated pledge fiscal year confuses pledge performance analysis. Any remedies?