June 2001
Money, God and Vestries

Enabling Generosity

Members of a vestry are responsible for the church’s resources. That usually means obtaining, managing, and directing the use of people, buildings, and investments of and for the church and its ministries.

The daunting task of obtaining resources is one which most vestry members abhor. Simply put, people hate asking for money. Yet someone must do it!

For years churches have shunned the more “secular” approaches to fundraising that prove so successful for colleges, museums, hospitals and other charities (“Here at St. John’s, we don’t do fundraising, we do stewardship!”) as if “fundraising” were somehow tainted, dirty, or sinful. Yet the frequent abuse of the word stewardship has tainted it to mean, simply fundraising.

A bishop, for whom I worked some time ago, announced to a parish he was visiting, “Your stewardship is up!” Did he mean that the people of this parish were living more responsible lives, seeing the world, their skills and talents as gifts from God, acting out of a sense of abundance with generosity? No. He meant that the parish’s pledge income was up. Is that what stewardship has come to mean?

A Sacred Spiritual Context
As vestry members, we must take our responsibilities to obtain resources seriously; we must do so in a sacred, spiritual context, but we must also understand how other, more secular charities raise money. There is much for us to learn from them.

At the Foundation’s new Academy for Episcopal Philanthropy, we are teaching a new approach that melds the two — sacred and secular — approaches together.

In the “sacred” approach, we talk about life as a blessing, as a gift from God. When we see our lives as gifts of God, we can respond with gratitude. As we get more and more into that gratitude, we discover that the extent of those blessings is not only sufficient for our needs, but also over-flowingly excessive! This recognition of abundance in our lives is, to me, the core “good news” of the Gospel. Once we see the abundance of the gifts we’ve been given, we can be free of the sense of scarcity with which the market economy bombards us day in and day out.

How splendid to be able to say “I have enough!” How magnificent to be able to say “I choose not to do this or that with my money” instead of saying, “I can’t afford it.”

Of course, seeing such abundance in our lives is not practical. It is not realistic. It is not prudent. It is magical, mysterious, and built on the sometimes shaky foundations of faith.

Just as our “sacred” approach has four elements: gift; gratitude; abundance; generosity the “secular” approach, too, has four elements: 

  • DO something worthwhile and tell the story about it
  • ENGAGE people who might be interested in that kind of work
  • ASK them to give money
  • THANK them over and over again

Colleges, museums and hospitals do an excellent job of “making the case,” telling you what they’re doing with the money you sent them, and telling what they might do if you send them more. Church people need to be less reticent to “show off” the good works they do. If no one knows about them, how can they help support them?

Say Thank You
It is also important to connect the people to the good work that their money has accomplished. Say thank you by telling people the story of what your church is able to do, because they gave it money.

Engaging people is a long-term process that brings them from awareness, through knowledge, caring, and commitment, to a sense of involvement sufficient to make them comfortable with investment. They know your church well enough that they’ll entrust their money to you because they know you’ll use it wisely and well.

Asking for money is usually done in two ways: in person, and in print. In person, solicitation usually means visits, sermons, seminars and telephone calls. Print methods, through articles in the parish newsletter about what good things the parish has done, are also effective.

And finally, thanking. So many churches could be better at making people feel that their contributions are important and appreciated. Remember, the best motivation for giving is a good experience of giving.

Feel comfortable with your own attitude toward the gifts God has given you. Understand the relationship you have with your own money. Knowing some of the concepts that we teach to meld the sacred and the secular should make you more comfortable with your vestry role as one who obtains resources for mission and ministry.

This article is part of the June 2001 Vestry Papers issue on Money, God and Vestries