This month we offer five tools to help with your congregation’s annual giving campaign efforts. Please share this digest with your congregation's stewardship or annual giving committee and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.
I had an idea for a post about annual stewardship campaigns. Before I launched into writing, I visited the ECF Vital Practices’ web site to see if someone else had already written about my idea. As you likely know, dear reader, on the Vital Practices home page, the dark blue bar across at the top includes an option for Topics. When you click on that, you receive a listing of Featured topics, as well as a list of 28 topics covering myriads of ministries, from Administration to Youth and Young Adults.
I clicked on Stewardship, one of the Featured Topics, and found not one page, but TWELVE PAGES of articles and links to recorded workshops – all about stewardship ministry. I read several posts as I investigated whether my topic idea had been covered by someone else.
I looked at her capital campaign pledge card and set it aside. At first, I thought it must be a mistake. She couldn’t possibly afford to give this much. I knew her well. She was among the first to greet me when I first came to serve this parish, and was a regular volunteer in the church office. She was rarely absent on a Sunday morning. I knew that she lived off a minimal income and relied on assistance from a variety of community resources. I had visited her in her home often enough to know that she eschewed luxury, and obviously embraced a simple lifestyle out of necessity.
“Doesn’t having a capital campaign negatively impact annual stewardship?” This question is one of the most frequently asked by churches anticipating a capital drive.
And “No!” is the most frequently given answer when ECF Capital Campaign consultants respond! In fact, we have found that annual stewardship usually goes up in tandem with capital fundraising.
“That is certainly our experience at Church of the Advent,” reports Nancy Junk, Senior Warden of this small southeast Florida congregation. “Our annual operating fund is up more than 7% since we launched our building campaign in August of 2015,” she notes.
One of the positive features of a capital campaign that seeks extraordinary giving participation is that once the asking phase starts, it's over relatively quickly. The campaign leadership committee is engaged for about 4 months. Other Volunteers are active with specific responsibilities for relatively short periods of time. It's a project, not a lifetime commitment.
Now think about the stewardship activity of your parish. Many of us may consider that to be more of a drudgery assignment. Year after year. Over and over. While a capital campaign rolls around every 5 to 10 years and generally boasts big, compelling needs, annual giving is sometimes viewed as just the same old message about the same old budget.
Our faith communities are continually concerned about how to raise income or offset expenses especially during the summer months when attendance is lower. There are many wonderful stewardship programs that have been deployed to varying levels of success. I wholeheartedly endorse trying one and staying with it for a few years and where possible customizing for the congregation’s needs. Many stewardship committees simply distribute the pledge forms on Stewardship Sunday and wonder why the same approach yields the same result which is fewer pledge forms being completed and a strained budget.
The annual campaign is behind us. “Stewardship minutes” testifying to “reasons I give,” letters bravely asking people to consider tithing, bulletin reminders about pledge cards – gone. Even churches that try to avoid language of obligation may have allowed their treasurer to make an impassioned plea to avoid the dire, but that’s history too.
Call the papers. This is breaking news: An Episcopal church is ending a longtime tradition without gnashing of teeth or calling in a mediator.
My church has held a spring card party since at least folks in my generation (and I’m in my 40s) were children. I know that because some of these women were models in the card party fashion show.
I’ve written about this event before in Vital Practices – I’ve learned some important lessons about patience and change. To recap: The card party is a luncheon with ribbon sandwiches as the featured meal. For those who are unfamiliar with ribbon sandwiches, they are comprised of layers of salads—tuna, chicken, egg, pimento, with mayonnaise and white bread serving as the dividers. In past years, the ladies would play cards after the meal, but that pastime has dwindled to just a few tables trying to play euchre or hearts while the clean-up crew fold up the chairs around them.
If you’ve never done it before, asking someone to contribute their money for a cause, however good, can seem scary or uncomfortable. As a philanthropy and fundraising professional, I’ve made numerous “asks” and written countless grant proposals. And yet, the first time I faced the challenge of making a face-to-face, personal request for financial support of a project to which I was deeply and passionately committed – my own parish’s capital campaign – I was incredibly nervous.
We’re investigating and working to install more energy- and, we hope, financially-efficient HVAC systems at St. George’s. The very comprehensive energy audit taught me a lot, and not just about insulation and ducts. I learned that the most effective way to adjust the temperature in a room isn’t only to force more cold/hot air into the space. “Picture a glass full of water,” our auditor told me, “you can’t get more air into that glass until you get some of the water out of it.” The HVAC principle: you can’t cool a space simply by shoving more cold air ducts into the room; you need to also find a way to get the hot air out.
I’d say that principle also applies to the organizational capacity of churches (maybe even my un-intended pun about hot air), especially now as most of us are looking at next year’s budgets. Few church leaders will be able to change the ‘temperature’, the capacity of our congregations until we also, and at the same time, move out some of the stuff which is standing in the way. Many (most?) clergy and lay leaders in The Episcopal Church are trying valiantly to straddle the line between desiring the emerging ‘new’ and maintaining, or at least not threatening, our conventional and, to date, relatively financially coherent strategy: create members of the local church and ask them to fund its operations. If funding slips, either (a) get more members or (b) get more money out of the ones you have or (c) cut expenses.
For years I have used Vestry Papers and TENS resources at my church (St. Mark’s Episcopal in Boonsboro, Maryland) sharing them with vestry members. This year we re-focused our stewardship letter and presentation; I am sharing our letter and Tree of Life illustration* with you to show what a smaller church can accomplish.
Many of us have just completed the stewardship campaigns in our congregations and, as we are in my congregation, reviewing how close we came to having 100% of the pledge cards completed. More than likely there is a shortfall from pledges and we are now looking at supplemental income streams if we are not blessed with a large endowment.
Many fundraising committees were formed to fill this shortfall gap, and hold within them the tension of raising desperately needed funds with the desire to have an event that the congregation, family, and friends will support.
Something I quickly learned when I began working with Episcopal churches was that often, we do not think of ourselves as “nonprofits” or “charities.”
While their exact words might vary, congregational leaders seem to ascribe to a view that churches are fundamentally different:
Nonprofits are secular organizations out in the community providing food or healthcare to people who have fallen on hard times, providing enriching cultural activities to our residents, or providing educational programming for children. Nonprofits are the recipients of our Christmas offering and are partners on our annual day of service, but WE are different.
It’s the time of year when, in many churches, lay people encourage us to participate generously in the annual giving campaign. As we listen to their “stewardship minutes,” our thoughts may wander from, “Where did I put that pledge card?” to, “Wow, what a beautiful faith story,” to, “I’m so glad I wasn’t asked to speak!”
On the surface, stewardship messages remind us to find, complete and return that pledge card. More deeply, they are invitations to prayerfully consider our own response to God’s abundance.
Episcopal priest and author Gerald W. Keucher words his invitation like this: “Put your money where you want your heart to be.” In his book, Remember the Future: Financial Leadership and Asset Management for Congregations (2006), Keucher challenges:
A Grow Christians blog post by Nancy Hopkins-Green
The other day, I was sitting at a table with a group of parishioners when a mother asked, “How do we teach and model stewardship with our kids in a digital age?” Speaking specifically about her desire that her children establish the habit of tithing from an early age, she spoke of the challenge of what to do when the plate is passed on Sunday mornings, when she and her husband give to the church online.
I have very distinct memories of my own experience of being taught to give at an early age. My parents had their offering envelopes – and so did I. Instead of participating in common worship with the adults, we had a small worship service as part of the Sunday School class. Included in that service were the small brass offering plates. My box of offering envelopes were provided to help me learn giving. Each envelope was divided into two sections: one for the church, and one for mission and outreach.
Why give? Why do people of faith give their time, talent, and treasure in service to God? This month, our Vestry Papers articles each offer a response to this question. Included are congregations rebounding after a painful split and the different approaches taken to help make them feel whole again. Also shared are details of a Latino/a congregation’s practice of year-round stewardship, as well as a process individuals or congregations might use to cultivate their own personal giving practice.
I hope the experiences and ideas of these congregations and individuals will spark a conversation in your congregation:
Walk back in time with me when you were new to the vestry, as I was. Like a deer-in-the-headlights, I was paralyzed by the information overload and I began asking myself the proverbial question: “What did I get myself involved in”?
I recognized if I was going to be a member of the vestry, involved in this important ministry, I needed some facts — pertinent facts. I was looking for answers to “where have we been over the past 10 or 15 years”, and “are we growing, are we stagnant, or are we withering?” The three-ring binder of do’s and don’ts for vestry members didn’t include this. I needed a one page or two page of “factoids” that immediately painted a picture of our church and how those facts could relate to current and previous rectors’ tenures, our congregational numbers, and, very importantly, stewardship and pledges over the years.
...Or, going forth into the world to love and serve with joy.
The letter was from Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. Another solicitation from an organization my husband and I support. I added it to his pile of mail. Then forgot about it.
Later that day, in our shared office, Bill said, “Hey look at this! You’ll want to see what we got from Commonwealth Shakespeare,” then added, “I bet you’ll want to share this on your website.”Now curious, I looked at the sheet of paper in his hand. Readers of Vestry Papers – especially my article in our current issue – might smile, as I did, at what I saw.
Here’s a photo:
“Stewardship” is a topic about which I’ve heard and prayed throughout my Christian journey. Having grown up in the church, at first I became aware that “stewardship happens in the fall” so we have enough money to operate next year. Mom and Dad received pledge envelopes, put money in them, and placed them in the offering plate on Sunday. It’s what you do when you’re a responsible member of a church. (I don’t remember them telling me that; it’s just what I came to assume).
When I became a capital campaign consultant with the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), I soon realized my understanding of stewardship as a ministry was limited around the concept of obligation.
I began searching for how to better express the meaning and benefits of stewardship. I also prayed for my own response to God’s abundance to be more significant. One of my favorite authors on this subject is priest and fellow ECF consultant Gerald W. Keucher who encourages church leaders “to move from the language of obligation” in our stewardship ministries.
In his book, Remember the Future: Financial Leadership and Asset Management for Congregations (2006), Keucher discusses how the practice of proportional giving actually frees us from the idea of obligation:
In the September Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources you can easily incorporate into your fall stewardship campaign, with the 5th a resource to help establish year-round stewardship in your congregation.
It’s easy and free to connect with more great resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.