October 14, 2016

Connectedness and Stewardship

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.

Aside from the elements of our Christian faith and worship practices, churches are not so different from secular nonprofit organizations, and can learn valuable lessons from our non-religious cousins. We can learn a thing or two from nonprofit best practices in financial management, organizational development, strategic planning, marketing/communications, and <GASP!> fundraising.

In my work as a capital campaign consultant for ECF, I see many of my clients and potential clients cringe when I talk about “making the ask.” Take this example: During a recent conversation with a parishioner, I heard something like this (as she vigorously shook her head from side to side and crinkled her nose):

Oh, I’d be happy to help behind the scenes, but I do NOT want to ask anyone for money. I’m just not comfortable sitting down to talk with anyone about money. I’m not good at fundraising.

I’d like to offer a concept from the secular nonprofit world that just might ease some fears about fundraising. It is called the Constituency Model.

Constituency Model Concept

The Constituency Model consists of concentric circles that represent levels of connection an organization’s constituents have to an organization. I have modified the model to fit the structure and life of the Episcopal Church. The model can serve as a powerful fundraising and engagement tool for finding donors and volunteers and more deeply engaging those who already contribute time and talent.

The closer to the center an individual is, the more dedicated or “linked” he or she is to the parish. At the center, individuals give time and talent freely and generously, but the relationship must be carefully and lovingly stewarded. Toward the outer rings, individuals are loosely connected and uncommitted to the parish, but with a simple face-to-face conversation and invitation, they might work inward toward the heart of the congregation. People in each circle must be treated with unique care in order to maximize their commitment to the parish.

The Parish’s Constituency Model

Here is a sample Constituency Model for a generic Episcopal congregation. To ensure the model fits your parish, you will need to continue to develop and fill out the model for your own congregational use.

Inner Circle (deepest bonds, “converts” or “advocates”): vestry, major donors, committee chairs, founding members, deacons, clergy

The parish’s inner circle consists of a group of incredibly committed individuals, all of whom currently hold positions of leadership and influence within the parish. They demonstrate, through their substantial monetary and temporal contributions to the congregation, that they care deeply about the longevity and vitality of the church. These individuals need to be stewarded carefully to maintain their strong commitment and linkage to the parish.

Second Circle (bonded, “involved”): dedicated volunteers (e.g. altar guild, choir, lay eucharistic ministers, acolytes, etc.)

The individuals in this list are currently involved in parish life through a dedicated, supportive relationship. These parishioners believe in the congregation enough to regularly volunteer their time; however, the connection of these individuals to the parish is not quite as strong as the inner circle. Within this group lies the greatest potential to pull people into the inner circle because familiarity and a foundational connection have already been established. The linkage to the parish is strong but could be strengthened by asking for additional commitments to leadership roles or larger financial contributions.

Third Circle (bonded to some extent, “linked”): members with regular worship attendance

Two types of churchgoers could be in this circle:

  • These individuals might have been connected to the parish in the second or inner circle at an earlier time, but their deeper connection lapsed. They already understand the value of the parish, have previously demonstrated their affinity for the mission, and might be pulled back into one of the inner two circles easily; however, they may also be angry with the parish, “burnt out,” or no longer interested in volunteer service.
  • These individuals might be new to the parish and might not have found their deeper connection to the church. They are committed to attending this new church for worship but do not yet know how to delve deeper into the community.

Assessing the reason for an individual’s presence in this circle will be crucial in tailoring the “ask” to their needs. Linkages need to be established or reestablished.

Fourth Circle (similar interests, loosely “linked”): Christmas and Easter worshippers, outside groups using facilities (e.g. AA, Boy Scouts, etc.)

People in this circle attend worship at the parish on special occasions, such as Christmas and Easter, or utilize the church’s space for meetings. They are likely Christians (or even already Episcopalians) but are not committed to the parish itself because they are unaware of the mission or are overcommitted in other areas of their personal life. If the parish can attract the attention of the people in this circle and prove its values and mission align with their values and interests, these people have the potential to become part of the inner-two circles. Having a powerful and inspirational mission will be crucial to creating stronger linkages and converting these people into inner circle constituents.

Outer Circle (the “universe” in which the parish operates, but does not necessarily connect, very loosely “linked”): friends of members, former members, all Episcopalians

These people are likely unaware of the parish’s work in their community, or are peripherally aware but not engaged. They may be the most difficult to engage because the possible linkages are not strong enough. We will need to connect the parish’s mission/vision to their lives and demonstrate the potential benefit to them in order to pull them into church life. A personal ask to attend worship on a Sunday would likely be the only way to engage this circle more deeply.

Try This

Considering the constituency model for your congregation will guide the ways in which your parish engages with different groups of people in an effort to raise funds and increase commitment. Tailoring your asks will make fundraising a painless—dare I say joyful? —experience for both the asker and the parishioner, whether it is for annual stewardship, a capital campaign, planned giving, or drumming up volunteers.


Seiler, T. (2011) “Chapter 3: Developing a Constituency for Funding.” Achieving Excellence in Fundraising. eds. Eugene R. Tempel, Timothy L. Seiler and Eva E. Alrich. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Fund Raising School. (2011). Principles and Techniques of Fundraising. Indianapolis: The Indiana University Center on Philanthropy.

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