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.

Differing Methods of Fundraising at Churches and Synagogues Raise Similar Amounts

A recent study by the Jewish Weekly publication, Forward, concludes that giving levels at churches and synagogues raise similar amounts despite different methods—church dues are voluntary whereas synagogues charge membership dues.

Some churches require a 10% tithing rate, but many rely on the conscience of the member to decide the amount of the donation. In addition, some churches have high numbers of members who do not or cannot donate at the same congregation where other members donate many thousands of dollars. Synagogues charge dues for every member as well as fees for attending high holiday services, although the amount of the dues charged can vary.

Of the congregations surveyed, at the high end was an average gift per family of $7,800 and at the low end was an average gift of $100. For synagogues, base dues vary from $1,000 to $3,000 per family, although some members contribute much more than the required dues. Despite the large differences in voluntary versus required amounts, of those surveyed the median amount of funds raised per-capita by synagogues was $660, only slightly higher than by churches at $640. Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology at Duke University surmised: “Perhaps what the dues system does is even out the giving rather than get you more per capital.”

Historically, American churches and synagogues had similar models for raising money—both charged “pew fees” based on their location. This practice declined in churches in the late 19th century and represented a movement away from the idea that one could buy God’s favor by spending more money on the best seats. Most synagogues also moved away from the 19th century system in order to democratize the funding structure.

How do these results impact our Unitarian Universalist way of raising money through the suggested fair share giving guide and appreciative inquiry? If requiring set amounts from members does not raise more money than voluntary contributions that relate to ability to pay, then three cheers for focusing on equitable contributions and positive achievements to fund our church missions!

Stay tuned for the next installment of the study by Forward, that will focus on how churches and synagogues spend the money they raise.

For more details on the study, see the full article in Forward.

Using Credit Cards for Financial Commitments?

From time to time, congregations ask about providing donors  an opportunity to make their annual financial commitments on-line. We have spoken previously about Vanco Services, which offers electronic transfer options. Vanco will manage the process in which donors have their commitments automatically withdrawn from their checking account each month. Currently more than 100 UUA congregations successfully using this service.

But what about electronic payments using a credit card? Historically, we have shied away from this option because of the expense.  However, there has been recent conversation on the UU-Money email list that suggests there may now be a viable option. You can find lots of information about the possibility of using credit cards for financial commitments online.

We would welcome a blog conversation about this option.

  • Has anyone tried it?
  • If so, what have been the advantages?
  • What are some pitfalls to avoid?
  • If not, why?

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 4 (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. This is part of a twelve part series on de-bunking fundraising myths and taking a closer look about false assumptions about giving.

This is the forth 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).  Everyone is asking for money these days so what does that mean for for our congregations? And how do we make sure we’re at the front of the group?

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #4

Myth: Now that so many organizations are asking for contributions, people have decreased giving to their faith community in order to disperse contributions among many organizations.

Truth: There is no research to support this claim.  Those congregants who have become disciplined stewards tend to contribute to many organizations, including their faith community. Ian Evison has concluded that congregations and the programs they administer are receiving a greater share of charitable contributions than in the past.

Worship Web Resources for Tough Economic Times

Most of us continue to struggle through unsettling economic times. Yet money talk is still hard, generally unaddressed in our congregations.

How can we find words that will help us to talk about money?

How can we acknowledge that money provides us with the resources to live our ministries?

Take a look at the the UUA’s Worship Web for some helpful resources and please note that additional contributions (from you!) are requested.

Book Review: The Giving Book by Ellen Sabin

Teaching Youth How to Give Back to the World

Stewardship is “the spirit that influences” giving, receiving, and generosity (as Wayne Clark defines it in his book, Beyond Fundraising). As adults, while many of us give our time, money, or energy to worthy causes, one must recall where that desire came from. Think back to your life as a child; did you help others as you were growing up? In what capacities were you able to help? Who taught you how important it is to give back to the community? Wayne Clark writes, “People are not born with the giving gene,” so we must teach individuals to be successful stewards. If a culture of giving is created at a young age, becoming a successful steward as an adult is a likely reality.

The Giving Book, which is geared towards children ages 6-11, is a 64-page activity book written to stimulate a child’s creativity and thoughts around the ideas of giving, donating, and saving. Some of the activities in this book include:

  1. creating a list of people who have been giving to you or have shown you acts of charity, making a list of what you are thankful for,
  2. compiling a list of special skills and talents you can share with others, and
  3. creating a giving bag in which you save up your money and then give to your charity of choice


In faith and occasional discomfort

As a stewardship consultant, I work with lay leaders, ministers, DREs, DMEs and others in how best to create a culture of generosity within congregations.  The discussions almost always lead to identifying where there is a consumer mentality rather than a transformational one.  Those with the consumer mentality are seeking Sunday school for the kids and a good sermon for themselves while those with a transformational mentality are seeking a congregational community that informs and shapes how one lives daily life.

Sadly, this article (“Congregations Gone Wild”) in the NY Times points out how for many ministers of many denominations, the culture of consumerism all too often is reflected in what people will accept from their experiences in a church community.  It seems that what we church goers want is confirmation that we are already living life correctly, some entertainment and not too big a bite out of our weekend schedule.  If we don’t get it, we leave.

I like to say that ministers are here to comfort the afflicted while consultants come to afflict the comfortable.  However, ministers do have an obligation to afflict some discomfort by challenging each of us to really live within our shared principals every minute of every day. After all, a traditional strength of faith communities is referencing the emotive story of “what ought to be.”

How well do you reward your minister for calling you to action and service?

Read this article and decide if you are part of the solution or the problem.  Your feedback would be most welcome.

In faith and occasional discomfort,
Mary Gleason

San Mateo’s Celebration Sunday Inspires Generosity

Guest Author: Rev. Vail Weller

“We are a religious community of open hearts and open minds working together to transform ourselves and the world.”  That’s the Mission Statement of our San Mateo congregation, who recently launched a wonderful experience in generosity.  It began as a worship service, which included handing out envelopes of cash to the adults, youth, and children, with the request that congregants use however much might be in their envelopes to “bless the world.”

Lead Minister, Vail Weller, explained, “Money can be used to bless the world, to help make life better for others.  Or it can be used to get more things for ourselves. . . I believe that money is meant to be shared to make life better for more people.”

The seed money for this was a $5,000 gift provided by a generous donor. Envelopes contained amounts ranging from $5 to $500, and the choice of how to spend it was left up to each individual. Parents were encouraged to help their children think about how they might want to make a difference in the world with their gift, perhaps making a family project of it. And everyone was encouraged to share their experiences on a blog set up for that purpose.

“Our congregation exists to help support personal and societal transformation,” said Reverend Vail.  “We’re all excited to see how far out the ripples of this generosity can reach.”

Read some of the stories of what individuals did with the money.

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 3 (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 third 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).  We all feel the pinch during an economic downturn; however, this does not spell disaster for our faith communities.

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #3

Myth: During periods of economic downturn, people can’t be expected to give as much money to their faith community.

Truth: When faced with limited discretionary income, people choose their charitable organizations more carefully. If a compelling case is made in support of the annual budget drive or a capital campaign, they will make significant financial commitments. If a case is not made, potential donors think that the faith community does not deserve to get their money.

Household Giving is on an Upward Trend

Mary Gleason, Congregational Stewardship Consultant at the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA), recently came upon an article that was posted on the Association of Fundraising Professionals for Washington website and shared it with the other Congregational Stewardship Consultants. We thought that it was such interesting and positive news that we wanted to share it with you.

Mary writes:

“There is good news on the horizon for the success of annual budget drives.

In 2009 non-profit organizations experienced a downward trend in household giving, the kind of giving our congregations rely on.  Blackbaud, makers of fundraising software, monitors giving on many levels and has noted some positive trends in the quarter April – June 2010.

Their study shows that small non-profits with annual revenues under $1 million experienced a 12.3 percent increase over the same time period last year.  That’s good news for congregations with late spring annual budget drives.  Mid sized non-profits with annual revenues between $1 million and $10 million still had a decline of 2.5% but is considered recovering because it is less of a decline than for the same time last year.

The study also reports that online giving is up by 13.1 percent for small organizations. If you are not using online giving as an option for your annual budget drive and other gifts you may want to consider adding this opportunity.”

You can read the article at the Association of Fundraising Professionals or the full report at Blackbaud.

If you’re looking into on-line giving, the UUA Office of Congregational Stewardship Services encourages congregations to explore Vanco Services.  Currently over 8,500 congregations nationwide are served by Vanco’s electronic giving solutions.