Many churches have just completed their annual Commitment or Stewardship programs where the congregation is asked to recommit to their church giving including their time, treasure and talent. There are many available resources, experts and programs to address this critical activity. Some are well executed and others have mixed or failing results. My observation is that often times it is the follow-up that is the weakest link that undermines these programs.
By this time, the well-organized among us will have carried out our carefully laid stewardship campaign plans and will be reaping the harvest of generous pledge cards. The rest of us will manage somehow to keep things flowing for another year, using whatever combination of grit, habit, late mailings and frantic or low-key appeals.
In the pledge-driven madness, let us not forget the other half of good stewardship: faithful and realistic budgeting. Whether we have had glorious pledge campaign success or more of a white-knuckle experience, the church budget -- now under preparation in most of our congregations -- can elevate or sink the best efforts at generating support for our ministries.
To be useful, budgets have to be realistic. This might seem to go without saying, but I have seen many churches trim ruthlessly on the expense side, while taking a wildly optimistic (if not downright fantastical) approach to the income side of the church budget. Heck, I’ve done it myself in more than one place, on more than one occasion.
Here are a couple of guidelines to start with.
In the middle of my first ‘stewardship’ season as a new rector, now ten years ago, I was doing everything by the book and already feeling overwhelmed and unenthused. The congregational leaders appeared only mildly interested in doing a pledge drive. And yet it’s drilled into us, in most every way, that the fall is the time to do stewardship, be intentional, make sure you make the proper ask, but of course couch it in terms of God’s larger mission because you’re not just asking people to pay the church’s salaries and light bills – oh, and remember to do stewardship year-‘round so it’s not only an annual request for generous pledges.
At a local clergy meeting that fall, the wiser, more senior rector of a neighbor parish said to me, “I simply hate this time of year.”
This is part two of a two part blog in which I address a question I hear frequently: “But, what will happen to our annual stewardship pledging if we hold a capital campaign? Won’t it go down? We can’t afford to have our annual stewardship pledging decrease!” This fear is common among so many congregations because, often, adequate time has not been spent talking and educating about the different ways we can give to the church.
In part one, I addressed annual stewardship. In part two, I will address capital giving and planned giving.
Last weekend, as I do several times per year, I was standing in front of a group of parishioners at an Episcopal church introducing the process ECF uses to guide a faith community in deciding if a capital campaign is in their future. As the rain poured down outside the window behind me and my PowerPoint presentation shined into the dim room, a man in the back row asked a question I hear from someone at almost every church I visit: “But, what will happen to our annual stewardship pledging if we hold a capital campaign? Won’t it go down? We can’t afford to have our annual stewardship pledging decrease!” This fear is common among so many congregations because, often, adequate time has not been spent talking and educating about the different ways we can give to the church.
The short answer to his questions is, if we (the campaign leadership from your parish supported by me, your ECF capital campaign consultant) do our jobs right, the total given through annual stewardship pledges will not decrease over the course of a capital campaign.
The words we choose to discuss annual giving with our congregation can resonate obligation or gratitude. Or both. Kate Ferris wrote about this in her 2007 Vestry Papers article, Good Stewardship Addresses Hopes and Fears. She described a successful annual giving campaign at St. George’s in Clifton Park, New York, that “provided both practical and spiritual messages about pledging:”
We made an effort to balance the type of messages people received. Some people understand that unless they pledge, the church cannot meet its financial obligations. Others respond to the biblical teachings about giving first fruits or giving back to God.
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.