Five Pillars of Congregational Financial Management

When most of us think about church finances, we think of the operating budget. That is the day-to-day finances that must be planned for and executed.

But a congregation that is financially healthy actually has five such “financial pillars”. Leaders who would also be good stewards always have these five pillars in mind when planning for the future and when exercising due diligence as stewards of church resources.

1.) The Operating Budget. This pays the day- to-day bills. Allocated funds are designated for staff compensation and operating expenses.  It may include payments into other funds. Operating funds are not “fair game” to pay other requirements.

2.) The Operating Reserve. At any given time cash flow for the operating budget could be disrupted. This rarely happens; when it does, may be only for a short period, but timely payment of salaries, workman’s compensation, etc. could be at risk.  An emergency operating reserve, perhaps equal to a month’s operating expenses, ensures employees have no worries and that other time sensitive payment are not at risk. Funds are not to be used whenever someone sees another need.


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.

Learning to Receive (Part II)

Last week, we talked about the importance of receiving gifts unapologetically and with gratitude, so that others can experience the joy of being givers. We also described the value of allowing someone to give you a gift without attempting to repay them. And finally, we talked a bit about how to check your motives for giving.

Here’s Part 2.

Take people at their word. A California congregant shared that a friend was struggling with a terminal illness. The friend was feeling especially weak one day and called to ask for a ride to a medical appointment. The congregant explained how pleased he was that his friend called and that it felt like he was giving his friend a gift. The friend accepted this, and the congregant felt good knowing that he was taken at his word.

Accept compliments. “In the past,” another congregant explained, “I would frequently rebuff a compliment with a self-deprecating remark. Someone would compliment me on a meeting I had facilitated and I would respond with, ‘Gee, I didn’t really do a very good job. I forgot to mention an important point, and I allowed the group too much time to discuss another point.’ I never realized it, but my response would deflate the person giving me the compliment. I am better at accepting compliments now and am more likely to respond by saying, ‘Thanks. I am pleased that the meeting was helpful.’” The congregant has learned how to accept compliments.

Be a gracious receiver. In Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church, church consultant and minister Kennon Callahan says, “Gracious receivers become joyful givers.” When we receive a gift graciously, we can see how it gladdens the giver. Perceiving this joy, we are more likely to give to others. And when we appreciate the gifts we receive, we are more likely to invest and grow those gifts so that we have the ability to share our wealth.

Until the congregants of a faith community are willing to initiate conversations and share stories about receiving and accepting, growing and investing, returning and restoring, and joyfully giving their gifts, call, and spiritual vocation, they will be unable to change their culture of scarcity.

Stewardship Conversations

In our previous blog, we spoke about creating a culture of giving. We recommended that leaders create an intentional plan to explore the meaning of giving. We suggested that by initiating conversations about giving, you can introduce the topic and reinforce the concept until it becomes a part of your congregation’s life. In this blog we will talk about initiating these stewardship conversations.

Conversations about giving can be initiated in many ways. Use the pulpit, guest speakers, the newsletter, the website, the worship service, and committee discussions. Convene small groups before or after the Sunday service for several weeks. Invite the finance committee to participate in a conversation with congregants about the meaning of spiritual stewardship in contrast to the meaning of fundraising. Make “giving” a major theme at annual budget drive orientation workshops. Prepare visiting stewards (the term we prefer instead of canvassers) to discuss the concept of giving during their conversations with donors.

You may also want to invite a fundraising consultant to facilitate a Mission and Giving Retreat. Focus on these questions during the retreat: What is the difference between stewardship and fundraising?

  • What relationship can we construct among giving, compassion, and community?
  • In what ways can we grow and invest the gifts we have received?
  • How can we return and restore our gifts?
  • What does generosity mean to us? How do we define the term? How will we know if we are being generous? What will it look like?
  • What will we do with increased giving? What difference will it make?
  • How can we make spiritual stewardship a year-round conversation?
  • How can we frame conversations to focus less on the need for money and more on giving as a way to implement our mission?
  • How can we help our society move away from an increasing culture of materialism?

Helping congregants discover their own personal generosity will create joyful givers. Joyful givers will help create healthy congregations that view spiritual stewardship as a vital component of their ministry and that believe that sharing one’s gifts, call, and spiritual vocation is an act of worship.

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.

To Rebuild church, Stop looking for Quick Fixes by Dan Dick

“To rebuild Church, stop looking for quick fixes,” speaks to congregations that try to meet fundraising goals by selecting the ‘perfect’ technique. The best possible technique will not guarantee success unless congregants really care about the church.

Dan Dick writes, “At what point do we finally wake up to the fact that there is no such thing as a lasting, transformative ‘quick fix’? The United Methodist Church has suffered through over 50 years of ‘church-in-box’ programs that have produced poor results at best.

Disciple Bible Study came closest to delivering transformation, but ultimately “popular” did not translate into “effective.” Literally thousands of people have had wonderful, meaningful, enjoyable Disciple experiences. However, a variety of independent follow-up evaluations indicate that there is a very low retention rate, that few people adopt sustained spiritual formation practices, and few report any transformed behavior in their daily lives. I hear about the handful whose lives were completely changed, and I do not devalue any such experience—but unless Disciple has been an integrated component of a comprehensive developmental process of spiritual formation, it remains a pleasant experience for the vast majority. ”

You can read the entire article on the United Methodist Portal’s website.

Is Your Congregation in the Used Car Business?

The following question was recently posted on the UUmoney listserv:
“Is there a best way for a church to receive the donation of a car and turn it into cash?”

While that’s an intriguing question, a better question might be, “Should a church accept donation of a car?”

Ideally, a congregation has anticipated this second question and has written a clear endowment document. This document provides written policies for a planned giving program and clearly describes what types of gifts can be accepted without review and which gifts require approval of the governing body or the entire congregation.

It is especially helpful to outline a procedure for reviewing gifts of real estate, used cars, or other personal assets that may be difficult to sell. Does the congregation really want to be in the business of managing a piece of real estate, or brokering a deal on a donated car, or assessing the value of Aunt Maude’s priceless bric-a-brac? (more…)

A Quiz and the FORTH Report

This week we have a quiz for you.

Answer yes or no to the following questions.

  1. Yes/No Does your congregation have enough money?
  2. Yes/No Do you have an active planned giving program?
  3. Yes/No Is there a predominant culture of generosity in your congregation?
  4. Yes/No Are your board and committee meetings conducted in a consistently positive manner?
  5. Yes/No Does your congregation have a common definition of stewardship?
  6. Yes/No Do you have a year-round calendar of stewardship-related activities?

If you answered no to any of these questions, there is a recent report that might be helpful.

Does this sound familiar? (Endowment Fund Question)

“[My congregation] does not have a coherent policy regarding earmarked gifts, special funds, special fundraising etc… We also have a history of programs raising their own funds as well as some history of people who participate in just one aspect of church life not pledging to the whole stewardship campaign but contributing to their favorite program, if at all…”

That statement has been excerpted from a current discussion on the UU-Money email list.  The following information might be helpful if your congregation has experienced the same dilemma.

Sample Endowment Investment and Distribution Policy

A. General

  1. The Endowment Fund Committee shall invest the assets of the endowment with the objective of earning an average total return of 8 to 12 percent consistent with moderate risk.  The Committee shall endeavor to invest the assests of the endowment in a socially responsible manner. It is intended that reasonable restrictions placed on any gift by the donor will be faithfully followed, subject to the Committee’s determination of the integrity and best intersts of the endowment.
  2. (more…)