It’s that time of year when we are making decisions about how much we give to our church. Will I pledge annually or just put it in the collection plate when I attend church? Do I give what is left over or do I “give until I feel it?”
If we truly are following our Lord’s teachings, then some of us might have a guilty conscience. We may give regularly to our church but often it doesn’t have the same priority as mortgages, utilities, college, car or recreational loans. We think those have bills come first, then food, clothing, entertainment follow – there it is, there is what I can give to the church - the crumbs, the leftovers.
Saying thank you for a gift is good manners. So when donations or annual pledges are made to the church, most churches mind their manners and send thank you notes as well as official receipts acknowledging commitments.
Thank you notes are private communications. The issue of whether to publicly thank donors, by name, depends on the culture of each faith community.
As a congregational consultant, I’ve visited parishes in which nearly every space or thing installed has a name plate acknowledging the giver who made the pew/pulpit/font/organ/window/sacristy/choir room/chapel possible.
This month we offer five resources to help your congregation practice stewardship. Please share this digest with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and the monthly digest.
1. In Reframing Stewardship, Greg Syler shares how St. George’s in Valley Lee, Maryland engages in stewardship and financial generosity. Instead of stewardship drives, St George’s focuses on an annual pledge drive. In this article, Greg unpacks the difference between the two and why it matters.
We all know it’s coming. Letters are being written, folks are being asked to share their stories from the lectern, pledge cards are being designed. The annual giving campaign will soon be underway.
Unless it got started months ago. More and more, congregations are recognizing stewardship as an ongoing ministry. Activities occur throughout the year, such as celebrations of gratitude, education about different ways to give, and stories about the impact of gifts. Their communications shine a light on discipleship, not just the obligation of “membership.”
Vince Lombardi, former head coach of the Green Bay Packers, (supposedly) said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” For professional sports, winning drives every decision from strategy to personnel.
In the church, mission isn’t everything, it is the only thing! God’s mission (ideally) drives every aspect of church life. God’s mission determines when we say “yes” to certain opportunities, and also when we say “no.”
A clear vision of God’s mission is the heartbeat of a congregation’s movement as a community. And as we enter “stewardship season,” that vision plays a vital role in communication and helps answer the “why should I give” questions that many folks have.
Why do you give to the church? Is it out of obligation, loyalty, gratitude, assurance that the gift will make a good impact, support for community?
It turns out that there are studies about what motivates giving. They conclude: Often your perspective is tied to your generation.
The Episcopal Church Foundation has stressed this for several years in its teaching about how to strengthen stewardship ministry. St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, took the lessons to heart, including differently-worded letters to parishioners of different generations. The letters are delivered in annual giving packets that include a booklet describing the impact of St. John’s ministries, and a pledge card.
“We are doing something we've never done before. We are changing the culture of resource development in our Church to be more fruitful for God's mission.”
So boldly announce the College for Bishops, the Development Office of the Episcopal Church, and the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), in their partnership creation called Project Resource.
It’s Lent – a great time to start constructing your congregation’s annual giving campaign – and, no, not as part of your penance. It’s a great time because it’s early in the calendar year and, for most churches, the fiscal year too. There is ministry happening all over! Take advantage of opportunities now through the summer to document how current year giving is making impacts. Here are three steps to get you started:
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.