December 8, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

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. 

Topics: Stewardship
December 2, 2016 by Richelle Thompson

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.

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Topics: Change, Stewardship
November 29, 2016 by Diana Church Empsall

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.

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November 9, 2016 by Greg Syler

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.

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Topics: Change, Stewardship
November 4, 2016 by Anne Weatherholt

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.

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November 3, 2016 by Annette Buchanan

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.

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Topics: Finance, Stewardship
October 14, 2016 by Sarah Townsend Leach

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.

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October 10, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

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:

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Topics: Stewardship
October 7, 2016 by Grow Christians

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.

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October 5, 2016 by Nancy Davidge

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:

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Topics: Stewardship
September 30, 2016 by Joseph John

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.

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September 27, 2016 by Nancy Davidge

...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:

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Topics: Stewardship
September 26, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

“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:

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Topics: Stewardship
September 21, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

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.

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Topics: Stewardship
September 7, 2016 by Nancy Davidge

Labor Day is past; a new program year begins, often followed by the annual giving campaign. We invite you to set aside time to think about the ‘why’ of a person’s decision to give, perhaps starting with your own giving story and reflecting on how to speak to the ‘why’ this annual campaign season.

The experiences and ideas of these congregations and individuals may spark conversation in your congregation:

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Topics: Stewardship
August 17, 2016 by Brendon Hunter

In the August Vital Practices Digest, we offer 5 resources to help jumpstart your fall annual giving efforts, with the 5th a resource to help in developing 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.

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Topics: Stewardship
August 11, 2016 by Erin Weber-Johnson

I`ve been thinking a lot about authority lately. With an upcoming presidential election and a new presiding bishop, I am growing aware of my own response to those in power. I wondered, how does the concept of Authority impact how we engage in fundraising.

For fun, I googled “songs about authority”. Not surprisingly, most results detailed songs about resisting authority including Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They are a “Chang-in”, and perhaps most fitting for this blog, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect:”

"I`m about to give you all my money
All I`m asking in return honey
Give me my propers when you get home"

Franklin describes a desire for mutual respect when asked to give her resources.

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Topics: Stewardship
March 14, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

When I was a little girl, I suppose I knew that my Grandma Wright did not have much money. She lived in a tiny, two room apartment carved into the back of an old house. On overnight visits, I slept on a cot next to her bed. Together we would watch Bonanza or play dominoes. In the morning, she would fry cornmeal mush and let me drown it in maple syrup.

I can see her now, adjusting a simple cotton dress with buttons up the front, tightening the laces on her sturdy black leather shoes with chunky heels, and placing a net over her waves of silver hair. Pocketbook on her arm, we would walk to South Arlington Methodist Church for quilting and midweek prayer. Grandma arrived early to get the big aluminum coffee pot percolating as the other women arrived.

When I think about the widow whom Jesus watched place two copper pennies – all she had – into the offering plate, I think of Grandma Wright. She lavished me with love and fun, reflecting her trust in and gratitude for God’s provision. Her life revolved around her faith; all she did and all she possessed was caught up in that orbit.

Recent studies show that on average today, Christians in America give less than three percent of their income to the church. This aligns with statistics revealing that many churches see average annual pledges, when they are made, hovering around $1,500 to $3,000 – far away from a tithe for most household incomes.

Jesus talked about money quite a bit, but churches have a tough time with it. Americans want to keep their money-business private. People find ways to avoid examining how they could possibly “sacrifice” more to the church, so they will skip a coffee hour presentation on stewardship as they rush off to grab a $6.00 Hazelnut Macchiato down the street.

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Topics: Stewardship
February 18, 2016 by Erin Weber-Johnson

My friend and I finished a meal at a local pub. We looked up and our friendly waiter gave us two pieces of paper and asked if we would be willing to contribute to a local nonprofit. By contributing $5.00, we had the opportunity to write our name on the paper and have it displayed by the bar at the pub.

My friend immediately agreed and began filling out the sheet. This sparked my curiosity and I asked “What was it about the invitation that made you agree to give $5.00 to this organization that you have no previous ties to?”

My friend’s response “because I was invited to personally by our waiter. He’s been so nice to us and I felt a connection.” 

When thinking about what motivates a person to give, there are a number of factors including: context, generation, and previous experience. 

Yet, there is something particularly powerful when being personally invited to give as a way of belonging to something bigger.

Henri Nouwen writes in A Spirituality of Fundraising: 

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Topics: Stewardship
February 1, 2016 by Linda Buskirk

Does this sound like a typical church check list?

Conduct annual stewardship campaign Approve next year’s budget Celebrate Christmas Conduct Annual Meeting; explain what happened with stewardship and the budget Breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t have to deal with stewardship again until this fall

Dear congregational leaders, it’s not that you don’t deserve some relief, but perhaps it’s time to consider stewardship as a year ‘round ministry. God’s abundance is not a once-a-year occurrence, and our response to it shouldn’t be either.

There is so much to learn and to celebrate, why confine the experience to just the same few weeks of the year? Stewardship is Christian formation, deepening spirituality and faith as people consider all of God’s blessings. Its lessons are for all people, regardless of age or financial capacity.

Consider the widow and her pennies. More importantly, consider how Jesus spotted her… He was watching what people were giving! He knows how difficult it is for us to keep our priorities straight, to trust Him in all things.

Lessons regarding our relationship with God certainly can start in childhood. I wonder how many churches still give Lenten coin collection materials to their children? It is simple but can be a profound exercise to teach young people that when they share, they will receive even more, perhaps in unexpected and delightful ways.

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Topics: Stewardship