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My book club just watched Brené Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” TED Talk. (Yes, we were a book club watching a TED Talk; it was a tough month.) And, I couldn’t be more grateful. After four years at the Episcopal Church Foundation, four years of teaching fundraising and thinking about stewardship…one 20-minute video shifted the way I look at annual giving.
Brown points out the truth that each of us deeply desires to know how to eat right, lose weight, save enough for our retirement, and raise our children. We want to know how to have/be enough. Yet, most “How to” lists are full of things we already know. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read a magazine headline promising to change my life in three easy steps only to be disappointed when I already knew the answers. There is no silver bullet, no step-by-step process to the perfect life.
So it is too with fundraising. Really, what we need is not “How to raise money positively/effectively”, but to ask what is keeping us from living into fundraising as a (to borrow a phrase from Brown) wholehearted ministry.
What follows is not a step-by-step process to the perfect stewardship campaign. Rather what I can tell you, from my experience, are the hallmarks of a positive approach to annual giving – call it wholehearted stewardship.
Here is what I know:
The end goal isn’t an amount. Parishes need to raise enough money to meet operating costs. But what are those costs for and why do we need them? People. Community. Ministry. Mission. God.
Annual giving that forgets to focus on where the money is going and why it’s important is like securing groceries for an excellent meal, but forgetting to cook…or why you were even cooking to begin with!
Henri Nouwen writes, “Fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging. We are asking people to give their resources for the Kingdom of God.”
One size does not fit all. Each generation has their own particular needs. We understand this in pastoral care and with spiritual formation opportunities. Yet, we take it for granted with fundraising that the same tool can be used for everyone. For example, writing an annual letter will only connect to a portion of your demographic.
Let’s take a moment to look at who is in your pews:
- Greatest Generation: Defined by WWII, trust of authority, language of loyalty
- Baby Boomers: Defined by the idealism of the 60’s, distrust of institutions
- Generation X: Defined as first generation of divorce, distrust of authority
- Millennials: Defined by over-programming, seeking mentor relationships, more immediate gratification
That Gen X’er is just as inclined to give as your Greatest Generation retiree. Yet, the language and tools need to adapt to each cohort – from print to digital and right down to the way we phrase our “ask.”
Language of Obligation: The Reverend Gerald Keucher, ECF Consultant, wrote recently, “Usually we communicate a sense of urgency, if not panic, because there’s never enough money. That makes people anxious, and many find it annoying to be made anxious year after year. We also almost communicate a sense of obligation: you should, you have to, you need to, you ought to contribute more than you are giving.”
#3 makes sense in light of #1 and #2. Many Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers are defined by doing the exact opposite of what authorities tell them they “should” be doing. Shaming a person into a gift may get you an initial pledge, but won’t develop lifelong givers with a passion for giving to your parish.
Same Old People working to “just get it done”: When we think about annual campaigns, most of the time we just want to get the job done. What about seeing this as an opportunity to train new leaders and seeking ways to form young givers?
I was recently working on a campaign where the youth were invited to pledge $.50/week or $24/ year by a donor willing to match their gift, securing $58/ year for each youth.
Earlier I mentioned that Millennials often seek mentoring relationships. In fact, the both the New York Times and Harvard Business Review have run articles about the impact this has had on the workplace. A parish I recently worked with saw this as an opportunity and has sought to pair Millennials with established members in the parish. Part of this relationship is talking transparently about giving to the parish.
It doesn’t just happen from September-December. Part of Stewardship is the process of thanking those who have given all year round. I encourage parishes to have “PBS” moments where once a week they take a moment to highlight a ministry and say thank you to parishioners for making this possible. For example, if the choir sings a particularly beautiful anthem, a rector might stop and thank them for their gift to the parish and then thank the parish community for their gifts of financial resources, which make it possible.
I recently worked with a parish that determined and then highlighted the number of volunteer hours necessary for each Sunday’s worship service. Everyone was amazed at how much was given each week. Many were grateful to be recognized. And, with this increased transparency, still others felt more inclined to give of their time and their financial resources.
Erin Weber-Johnson joined the Episcopal Church Foundation as a capital campaign consultant in 2009. In addition to capital campaign consulting, Erin has facilitated diocesan and vestry retreats on annual stewardship, the development of a spiritual ethos for giving, and debt retirement. She holds a graduate degree in public administration from NYU.
Erin and her husband, Jered, previously served as missionaries of the Episcopal Church, based in Taiwan, and now live in St. Paul, MN where Jered is rector of St. John the Evangelist. Erin and Jered have two sons, Jude and Simon Henri, and are proud to call Minnesota home.
- Brené Brown “The Power of Vulnerability” TED Talk (video)
Henri Nouwen: The Spirituality of Fundraising
- Gerald Keucher, “The Seductive Power of Coercion”
- Webinar: Stewardship in a New Millennium