No. 9 : meaning-making and neuroscience


Jesus seemed to be interested in lives well-lived.  He spoke often about serving the poor and marginalized.  He preached about caring for those suffering and in grief. He wondered out loud about the lilies of the field and if a simple life might not be a good one.  Jesus mentioned sharing what we have – even the widow’s mite – the last coin.  Jesus seemed to want humans to thrive and to find peace.  It is interesting that Jesus spent so little time talking about worship and yet that seems to be what we do together the most.  I often wonder what Jesus would say about our liturgies.  Don’t you?


One thing we know about the human brain these days is that it has centers located all over its grey-matter which light up depending on what is being considered or experienced.  We used to be able to see areas light up but now we see pin-points light up with very specific thoughts.


What neuroscience tells us today is that when we give a gift away, the area of the brain that lights up is not the “generosity” center but the “lottery win” center.  In other words, when we give away a gift such as a pledge card or a check for a mission or ministry; what is lighting up in our brain when we “give” is, surprisingly, the area which is usually reserved for “receive experiencing.”  In other words, when we receive a surprise gift or a surprise lottery win, or someone does a nice thing for us as a surprise –  the exact-pinpoint-area of the brain which lights up is the same point which lights up when we give a gift away.


We are biologically designed to survive as a species.  One of the ways we are designed to survive is that we are hard-wired to give to others simply because this give-and-take inspires community which enables survival.


I am passionate about asking people to give their money away.  The money I raise for the organizations which pay my salary is a side-benefit.  But my passion and my joy is helping people to give their money away to that about which they are passionate (meaning-making). (See  for more on this.)


October is a difficult time of year for church fundraisers and stewardship leaders.  It is after the launch of a campaign, but not yet at that sweet-spot prior to the ending celebration.  Morale can plummet. Clergy can worry.  Stewardship chairs can despair. But remember that by asking for each gift (and at this point, clergy need to start making personal calls to ask for pledges!) you are encouraging joy in people who have been biologically designed to give.


I walk my dog for his delight, the side-benefit is his health.  I eat shrimp and asparagus in a butter sauce for my joy, the side-benefit is my nutrition.  I walk in the mornings so that I can connect with my God, but the side-benefit is the exercise. Raise money by asking, directly, in person that someone give their money to God through your church (not by email or letter…in person) and then know that the joy will be their giving and the side-benefit will be the funding of your mission and ministries.

No. 8 Meaning-making: the neuroscience of pledging

At this point in autumn, many churches are about half way through their campaigns.  Many autumn pledge campaigns begin in mid-September (or at least my books suggest they do) and run for a solid eight weeks until the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving at which point it is time to end that concentration of your pledge campaign communications plan of direct mail to all members (one per week), emails (one per week), and Sunday announcements and bulletin inserts (one each per week.)  I know.  I can hear the sighs and feel the eye-rolls.  But the question is not “do I have time for all this” but rather “Do I want to raise money for mission and help people become great philanthropists …or not?” God connected, might we?


Last week we discussed “the dark side of the moon” – that syndrome of fear and dread which can so easily grip clergy, church staff and lay leaders who have worked so hard since February (please tell me you have been working on your campaigns since February!) on the campaign preparation, kick-off, mailings and the needful battery of communications. Since most families attend church once a month these days, they hear your pledge messages only twice!) Now it is time to connect and this connection is where most churches fail to raise their money.


The clergy and leaders are so squeamish about asking for money that they do not do that one thing – that one, ONLY, single thing which actually raises money – they sometimes do not move in closer and connect. They too often avoid connection.  And of course, the congregation (except for those lovelies who pledge early, easily and well) will also want to disconnect from clergy, stewardship staff and lay leaders because they are aware that they have been hearing about the need to make a pledge since May (and intensely since September) and yet, life is busy and fear has made resistance high; and so they have not yet sent in their pledge cards, even though we are at mid-October.  So they are in their own little shame-storm and seek the same disconnection from church leadership that church leadership seeks from the disappointment of congregants who have yet to make their pledge.  In short, it’s a perfect stewardship-storm.


The answer is this: Move in now and deeply!  Move towards your congregation person by person with a deep, broad, kind, firm smile and connect! There is nothing to be done about sullen, pathologically introverted, sad, wizened and grouchy clergy Bishops or lay leaders in stewardship – they are, sadly, bound to fail in stewardship work as also probably in ministry in general.  But for most clergy and lay leaders, a broad smile, an outstretched hand and the willingness to discuss difficult issues like money and mission-funding will connect you.  And with connection you can discuss the pledge directly but with a smile. But you must be direct.


I have seen clergy say “I can’t do a phone-a-thon, let the staff or vestry do it.” And then the staff revolt and refuse and the lay leaders drag their feet because- well- who wants to spend an evening making phone calls that congregants do not want to receive and leaving messages they do not want to hear?  And yet, in Lent, clergy and lay leaders will talk about sin and repentance with near pathological vigor.  Hmm. It makes one wonder.


So this author suggests that you have the phone-a-thons in late October and early November and have them with gusto.  I suggest all congregants receive a call (ok, message) in the last week of October and a second call (if they have not yet pledged) in the second week of November (3 weeks later and eight weeks after they were asked to pledge initially at the start of the campaign.)  These calls are not rude.  They are essential along with the communications of emails and direct mail which runs concurrently.  It is this kind of onslaught which gets the message of pledging into the minds of people whose lives are overwhelmed with marketing messages. They love the connection and in it, clergy also learn a lot about pastoral care needs. I also suggest a Spring phone-a-thon just to check in and say how much you love them.


In the end, you may disagree. And that’s fine. But ask yourself this question – Dr. Phil’s question – “Is what I am doing now – to raise money in my church – working?”


God sent “the Word” in human form to connect.  God could have just angrily stewed off at the other end of the cosmos, occasionally going berserk and reigning down fire in angry tirades like some teenager off their meds.  Well… like God did so often in the Hebrew Scriptures – to be honest. But instead God chose to connect with us by becoming a human even though God could see that the people to whom God sought real connection would strike back hard with a succor-punch like crucifixion.


If God can model and risk connection to raise mission, then might not we?

No. 7 The Dark-other-side of a Pledge Campaign; some encouragement


The middle of a pledge campaign, in a church or any nonprofit agency, is an emotionally challenging time.  It is what I often call “the other side” which is a reference to that uncomfortable time when a spaceship enters that part of the orbit of the moon when it finds itself on the other side of the moon – the dark side – a place in which communications with mission control is disrupted and everyone on board must brave the lonely cold and wait to emerge into the light beyond the dark side – on the other side of the backside of the moon.


The middle of a campaign is always uncomfortable.  Will we reach the goal or will we not?  Will those last pledges come in on time or will they not? Do people want to fund this budget, mission, project or not? The first gifts are the low-hanging fruit and easy to get confirmed giving an emotional boost to the first month.  They arrive fast and they inspire confidence.  But then there is this uncomfortable space in the middle in which there is “this dark side” during the second month (or year) when staff are exhausted but still have far to go and the second half of the pledges come in slowly, ponderously, like tired elephants at the end of a march; one big foot-bang at a time.


The dark side of a fundraising campaign – that middle bit of its calendar – can also be frightening to the fundraiser be they clergy in an annual pledge campaign or be they a non-profit executive leading a campaign to end homelessness like the one I find myself managing today. It can be a very lonely time when volunteers and staff shrug their shoulders and look at you, the leader, for some hope.


As I write this article I am sitting in the light of the setting moon – my favorite time of day which is why my pottery studio is called “Setting Moon Pottery.”  The land of this farm in New Mexico stretches out before me like a green, soothing leg-blanket in every direction – apples to the West, peach trees to the East, alfalfa to the North and South and that bright, white, bright spotlight of a moon is making its way to the horizon with a musical soundtrack of roosters – hundreds of roosters, in every direction, singing their Te Deum- all in invitation of the sun – a new day.


What a church or no-profit fundraiser does is raise money.  What a person being asked for a pledge does is consider their stewardship. These two things happen concurrently.  That is how it works today and that is how it worked two thousand years ago as temples, synagogues and schools were being built with contributions, all arriving one day at a time.


So what do we do while “on the dark side of a fundraising campaign?” We welcome the setting of the moon.  We celebrate the rising of the sun.  A new day.  And we get back to work.  We keep going and wait for the sunlight to re-appear. We pull out those donor lists and go over them again with a red pen… Who needs a call?…Who needs a note?…who needs a visit from a person who has already pledged?”


You see, people love to give to a worthy project – they are thrilled to have made the gift…on the other side of their decision.  But they are busy and distracted and then also, they can get gripped with fear on the early side – when they are making the decision.  “Will I need this money?” they ask themselves in the early morning darkness.  “What if I need this money?” they ponder as their pen hovers tremulously over their pledge card.  But then they move past their fears and so must the fundraisers.  We just do what we always do when we are in a state of fear.  We take another step into another day and pray like hell.


People have been doing this for thousands of years. Here is a reminder that all will be well –taken from the dedication of my next book on asking for gifts, out in November and found at


This book is dedicated to the millions of people in the course history who have summoned up the courage to ask for a major gift from another person. 


From the first cave lent to a stranger running from a Saber-toothed tiger

to the jars given to hold the dead sea scrolls;

from the use of a stable behind an inn for a pregnant traveler

to the cave donated for the grave of a crucified savior;

from the request of a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish

to the request of a fortune from a rich young ruler;

from the jewels and authority given by an emperor and his mother

to the land given for the first hospitals and monasteries;

from the food given to a saint who fed the poor,

to the cathedrals and furnishings given by wealthy merchants;

from royal grants to hospitals to ten dollars donated from a child’s allowance,

from a dowager’s bequest to a pensioner’s


in time of war and times of peace,

in the Great Depression and the Great Awakening,

from the wall given in Capernaum by the Zebedee Family ,

to the Hebrew Temple walls erected by the Anitpater Family;


in every conceivable time of blessing, creation, joy and crisis

good people have asked for major gifts and other good people have discerned an answer. “


No. 6: Case for support: telling your congregation why you deserve the money


When I enjoy my Sabbath Day, one of my favorite things is a big country breakfast made with oven bread from a local pueblo near my farm, fresh Irish butter, fresh eggs from a neighbor’s farm and agave syrup.  There are ingredients to a meal and there are ingredients to a campaign.


The ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum during the time Jesus walked this earth have upturned an old cornerstone with the inscription “from the family of Zebedee.” This archeology is a reminder that even James and John’s family were philanthropists and were given donor recognition.  A short wander around any English Cathedral before collapsing in a heap for a pile of clotted cream in the gift shop will show any tourist the names on wall, floor and window plaques commemorating gifts from major donors going back to the dark ages.  And in your own church, I bet that your pledge records and your brass plaques tell the story of donations large and small going back decades. Those people gave because they were motivated by the Holy Spirit, but the co-creativity of those gifts was a dialogue between the Holy Spirit and the church.  The Holy Spirit whispered something like “go ahead…give…don’t be afraid…you’re gonna die some day…you can’t keep it…let it go…it will feel great!” and the church said (ideally) “Here is why this parish is a great investment of your gift, discerned as your stewardship unfolds.”


Now, yes, I know that some of the ways the church has said “Here is why you should give to the church” have been rather unsavory to say the least.  But often churches and non-profits are able to explain clearly and honestly why they deserve the money they are seeking from parish members and local citizens.


In the olden days, quaint Victorian village churches had full treasuries because the entire population of the village was “asked” to give (and fined if they did not.) And centuries before, the punishment for not pledging was rather worse. (This is a “G” rated article, so I will refrain from the list.) But today, things have taken a turn for the democratic and the church has no option left but simply to deserve the money it seeks in its annual pledge campaign.  So what does one do?


One tells the truth.


“Case for support” is a fancy fundraising term for “why we deserve the money we are asking you do give.”  And it is the job of a church to “make the case” humbly aware that they are doing so in the very real context of many other non-profits making their case to the same donors (but with bigger budgets to do so.) This is why a church needs to work hard to make the case to the donor prospects (everyone in the pews) and to do so compellingly. A long letter from the Rector just won’t cut it. And a long letter from the Bishop for gifts past the parish and way over into the diocese is, well, embarrassing.  Giving is about relationships.


There will be many tools at your disposal:


  1. The bulletin – an insert explaining each week for the eight weeks of the campaign what good things the church accomplishes with the money.
  2. The announcements – when announcements about successes are spoken
  3. The “ministry minutes” – in which a member of the congregation speaks for 3 minutes on the subject “This is what I love about St. Swithen’s”
  4. The adult forum and youth classes – in which teaching about giving, gratitude and stewardship can be done.
  5. A parish brochure or annual report – (mostly images and few words please) which celebrates what a good investment a pledge is in the life of the church
  6. Letters – sent at week 1, 4, 6 and 8 which tell how the campaign is going and when an end is in sight (but mostly why this is such a valuable thing to which to give.)
  7. The invitations – to the kick-off event and the ending event in which messaging can be inserted about the lives changed by these gifts.
  8. The phone calls – to all non-pledgers at week four and again at week 6 of the campaign reminding the members of the church that the parish is a wonderful investment and is changing lives (and by the way, please get your pledge in by the celebration dinner!)
  9. The thank you letter – for the pledge.
  10. The thank you letter – reporting the status of the end of the effort
  11. The hand-written thank you letter – sent two months after the end of the campaign.


This is hard work, true.  But unless we plan to turn the clocks back to a time in which indulgences were sold or villagers were taxed…I think that this is a new and wonderful adventure in ecclesial philanthropy!  Next week we will look deeper into the “Ministry Minutes.”

No. 5 The value of the pledge campaign kick-off and ending events


There is something wonderful about a group of Christians getting together around a meal to talk about their lives, their Savior and their bounty.  I love pot luck dinners, hot bread, soft butter, crock pot goodness, wine and warm conversation.  I have often dreamed about a church that had less pews and more crockpots.


When Jesus gathered his friends near the end of his earthly ministry he did not say “Please create and manage pomp and circumstance in remembrance of me.”  Nor did he say “Craft great liturgies or sing solemn anthems in remembrance of me.” And he certainly did not say “Gather around terrible coffee and make small-talk in remembrance of me.”  No.  From what I can gather, it seems Jesus asked that what we do in remembrance of him is gather around a meal, get real with each other, weep a bit, laugh some, serve each other in humility and tell the story.


And yet, too often we launch our stewardship campaigns with a long letter and a short prayer.  And of course, given that the average American family only attends Sunday liturgies once a month, they have a one-in-four chance of even being there if you launch the campaign on a Sunday with special prayers.


It is very difficult to raise money in a church when the congregation has not entirely noticed that a campaign for pledges is underway.  So often churches send out the prerequisite “letter from the Rector, Interim or Vicar” – often too late, often too long and often saying much the same thing that was said in last year’s letter.  And the most crushing opening line?  “It is that time of year again….” When I read those words in a “stewardship letter” I begin to lose the will to live.


So I suggest that churches throw one heck of a party at the beginning and at the end of the pledge campaign just to wake everyone up and jar them out of their over-scheduled stupor.  It’s ok to have an event on a Sunday but send a save the date card six months in advance, an invitation two months in advance, a reminder card two weeks in advance and a phone call the week prior to be extra sure they get there for the party.


Then, eight or nine weeks later, throw another party to celebrate the end of the pledge campaign so that there is a natural deadline (and a bit of pressure) for the pledge cards to be sent in to the church.  (Please do not ask people to fill them out on a Sunday an dturn them back in before they leave…the “stewardship” is in the discernment and the family conversations…give them eight weeks to discuss it as a family and to pray about it.) Make this second party a celebration of the parish’s life together, not of the campaign.  However, it is ok to use the date and the event to remind the congregation that the pledge cards need to arrive signed and ready for a new year.


Being part of a club is no fun at all, however being part of a movement is a blast!  So make this work a movement, and create a very detailed communications plan to get people into seats at both events.  I suggest that churches spend 70% of their effort getting people to an event and only 30% of their effort figuring out the event itself.  If you go all out with balloons and buffets and have a poor turn-out then there is a double failure.  Plan something that is fun!  Make it an event you would want to attend – creative, innovative, and with some physical hook – something that requires that people do something different on that day. And then communicate, communicate, communicate.  Jesus came as the WORD, not the announcement.


If you have already launched your campaign, no worries.  You have plenty of time left for the communications plan which gets people to attend a late November parish dinner to call in pledge cards and celebrate the parish’s life together the weekend before Thanksgiving. Choose the four most fun, funny, life-affirming, mischievous people in your church (if you have a congregation of 12 or 2,000) and put together a party.


Here are some ideas for a fun campaign celebration which have worked for me in the past:


  1. Theme the foods on spices from the Song of Songs
  2. Create France with hot croissants, warm butter, raspberry jam and chocolate melted with a little cream to keep it soft and spreadable
  3. Recreate recipes and music from the founding year of your church
  4. Try a middle eastern breakfast or brunch…really good foods
  5. Make an apple-themed event to celebrate Fall
  6. Have people write the one thing they most love on a card made of paper with wildflower seeds in the pulp (there is a company in Boulder, Colorado that sells some!) and then plant the cards in a garden from which wildflowers will grow next year as symbols of hopes and gratitude.
  7. Move the pancake supper from pre-Lent to the fall campaign…everyone loves pancakes – add apples to them and serve them with cinnamon honey butter. YUM!
  8. Pile rocks in the church yard and then let everyone bring plants to place between the rocks in the pile to make a massive rock-garden – circle the garden with a circle of tables and eat something wonderful as you celebrate life.
  9. Get a jump on Christmas and theme an event with gold, frankincense and myrrh – then use all three to decorate or flavor foods while having the wardens and clergy dress as three kings. Or Queens.  Or both.
  10. Just have the best pot-luck in the world by sending out crock pot recipes and pie recipes randomly to all members and invite them to bring their recipe in to the event. They will. It’s so fun!  Who does not love crusty bread, soft butter, crock pot food and pie!?

No. 4: The Campaign Case for support


Sometimes while walking on my farm in New Mexico it is hard to see the forest for the trees; let alone the sunset. But in church leadership we often need to be able to see the trees.  Developing a case for support for a church’s fundraising is writing the trees so that the forest can be seen and funded. On a farm we plant trees.  In a campaign, we plant ideas which come from the very people to whom we return them in our case communications. Case communications is about hosting a conversation with your congregation which then forms the messages which they then read and regognize as their collective longings.  A church’s case is not the message of the rector and a diocesan case is not the message of a bishop.  The case of a church or diocese is the case (longings) of the people who will then be asked to fund it.  These are new days.


And a case is about words.  Jesus came to Earth as the Word, not the idea. Words are important. One of the chief weaknesses of campaigns to raise money (pledges or major gifts) or people (membership) is the weakness of communications strategy, design, and implementation. The church is used to assuming people will pledge or join simply because they always have or because God says to do so. Nowadays we have to explain why to fund the church.  The olden days of everyone pledging because they were frightened into it or browbeaten into it or taxed and fined into it or pressured by family or village into it are over.  And I am glad it is a new day.  But this increases the responsibility of a church to have to deserve the money they seek to raise and then be able to explain why they deserve the money.


Other agencies doing effective and powerful work in the world are able to communicate why people should make philanthropic investments and why people should join communities of mission. The ability to communicate effectively will support any ability a church may have to raise money or people. Too often, churches communicate in case-development and their self-descriptions are only aspirational hopes rather than the actual, truthful, measurable effectiveness they are able to prove in a particular place and time as a church. A communications plan, whether for a small church or a large church, is essential to support financial development and membership growth. Here is an outline of some key tasks in developing your case, regardless if it is for the raising of annual pledging, major gifts or a diocesan project:


  1. How to craft your campaign theme/slogan.
  2. Listen to God’s mission in which you are involved.
  3. Listen to people talk about your church’s ministry, mission, and impact.
  4. Pray about the ability to hear a call to a theme.
  5. Look for the vision.
  6. Look for images.
  7. Host conversations
  8. What are you known for in the community?
  9. What do you want to be known for in the community?
  10. How does this intersect with what Jesus asks us to accomplish? (God’s Mission)

be funded.


  1. Discernment of your campaign theme:
  2. Schedule coffees, small group focus groups, brainstorming sessions, crock pot conversations, ect.
  3. Look for a quote from a hymn, a song, an ad, a ministry minute speaker, etc.
  4. Look at your life together right now. What is about to happen and how do you want that happening to be funded?


  1. Crafting the final decision about your case.
  2. Keep it simple and to one message.


  1. Use your message content: Communicate!
  2. Know your people.
  3. Keep an eye out for talent, and recruit, and thank and thank and thank.
  4. Cultivate volunteers the way you cultivate major gifts— relationships.
  5. Your brand is not your logo! Your brand is the combination of who people say you are and who you know you are. Do you deserve the money you think you want to raise?


Here are some questions which might inform the writing of your case-for-support.  Host events and creative-writing sessions which answer these questions and you will have all the materials you need for brochures, letters and sermons.


  1. What do we do that Jesus would recognize and love?
  2. What do we provide?
  3. How do we change lives?
  4. What results to society do we provide which make change?
  5. How has one life been changed by our mission?
  6. Why should a donor invest in this work?





No. 3: systems set-up for pledge campaigns

The links below this article will provide you with the strategic planning overview topics needed for the development of a written and administered plan for any-sized church.  Our churches can, if they are not careful, imagine that they are pathologically different “Oh Charles, __________ would never work in THIS church…we are so very different and so very special!”


I agree that your church is a wonderful manifestation of the body of Christ however, forgive me if I say that after raising money in, and leading churches for 35 years as a lay and clergy leader, people are people and they all give out of loyalty, gratitude, association, investment or guilt.  So it is important to meet humans with a stewardship ministry which makes it easy to make the gift about which they will feel so wonderful. Your congregation needs tools to make their pledge in the same way you and I need tools to eat our dinner…a knife, a fork, a plate, a napkin, a candle, a companion, a prayer, a scotch (or water).


The biggest mistake churches make is assuming that people should give because it is the right thing to do when a member … or because God will weep if they do not.  Neither is true.  People should only give to a church if the church deserves the money due to its profoundly impactful mission and effectiveness.  Every gift and pledge to a church is actually a gift to God through the church not to it.


There are lots of organizations which, based on what Jesus asked us to accomplish on earth (feed the hungry, minister to the sick, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, etc.) are worthy of our gifts to God THROUGH them. Jesus never mentioned giving money to the church and the one time Jesus spoke about money in the temple precincts it was, well, tumultuous to say the least.  Give to the Red Cross and you are giving to the naked.  Give to Heading Home and you are housing the destitute.  Give to Goodwill and you are caring for the marginalized. Give to a medical clinic for the financially poor and you will be caring for widows and orphans – among others.


Not only does the church have competition for philanthropic dollars, the competition is one Google click away.


So churches need not only to deserve the money they raise but also be able to communicate how and why they deserve the money they seek to raise.


The Advance Campaign will help churches with 20 members or 2,000 members to approach the pledgers and donors who are most easily predisposed to giving so that when your church’s campaign or program gets going, the effort of converting the unconvinced can get the time and attention it deserves.


Events, the ministry minutes or case offerings and the personal calls to those not yet pledged at the half-way point will provide the needed core of the work of any campaign.  Then thank, evaluate and begin planning again. (Please forgive the typo of numbers 10-12 repeated…let it represent emphasis!)


Planning the phases of a year-round program rather than an eight-week campaign will turn around your church’s stewardship and will provide your congregation with the help they need to make courageous pledges as well and the joy they need to feel confident about their pledge as a worthy philanthropic investment.


God has many characteristics, but they seem to be able to be boiled down to three things:


God is lover.  God is creator. And God is giver.


We humans have been made in that image.  So we too are made to love, to create and to give.  Do not raise money!  Help your congregation to be great lovers, creators and givers – and the money will raise itself.


For a template/handout on this plan outline go to:


For a short video to teach your Vestry or Bishop’s Committee (Deacons, Board of Directors, etc.) how to create a plan go to


where you will find the first of a series of 25 films created in 2016 to accompany these documents.  The remaining 24 more videos are soon to be placed with key documents as a teaching tool.


In the next article, we will look at the value of special events to motivate pledging in a campaign of any size.


No 2. the pledge campaign strategic plan


No. 2: The strategic plan

The Meaning-making Stewardship Series

Charles LaFond

The greatest potential for growth in a stewardship program is to be found in its prayer and its planning.  The two go hand-in-hand. We discern and then we plan so that we can act. I get dozens of frantic emails in August and September of each year asking for advice on stewardship pledge campaigns in churches in dozens of denominations.  I have the difficult job of telling my writers that writing to me in March would have been a better plan.  But therein lies the problem: the lack of a plan that works.


Moving your stewardship program from a frantic pledge campaign to a financial development year-round program is going to be the difference between limping along and really running the race. Part of the problem is fear and anxiety.  Raising money in our churches is a matter of deep fear for many because they were never taught how to do something which can take one third of a clergy-person’s time.  Add to that the very real, vulnerable human fears around asking another person for money, and you have the potential for parish administrative, management constipation.


Moving past your fears of asking for money will be one of our next few considerations in this year-long twice-weekly series – so fear not.  However planning and meditation will be your two best tools as you move past fear and into the flow of getting the job done, and done well.


This White Peach tree is at the end of its yield in these late days of summer and early days of fall here on the farm in New Mexico where I write, make pottery and raise money to ease the suffering of those experiencing homelessness.  Our apple and peach orchards require planning – a season for soil preparation and fence-building,  a season for water-flow management, a season for planting, a season for nurturing, a season for pruning, a season for checking against illness or infestation, and a season for harvesting thousands of peaches for cobblers, jams, pies and crisps.  Waiting until early fall for a white peach harvest, without having worked year-round to support that harvest will lead to failure – and it is the same with fundraising in churches.


You are not raising money.  You are inspiring gratitude and meaning-making. The money you raise for your church’s mission is a side-benefit.  Your ministry is to help people to reduce their own fears about money, scarcity and abundance, see what they have been given, and then help them to give some of it away to a church-mission worthy of the contributions. A church must model the kind of bold conversation and meticulous planning which we are asking our parishioners to do in their own lives.  Indeed, a part of your work is the very good preaching and pastoral care provided year-round.  However, another part of church leadership is the administration of work which supports church philanthropy with effective communications, motivating case development (why we deserve this money for which we now ask) and efficient donor relations.  Stewardship is what your congregation members do as they make decisions about their budget and their philanthropy.  Financial development is what clergy and lay people do when they are leading the communications which inspire stewardship in the congregation.  The church then adds their own stewardship work to their financial development work when they steward the gifts and the relationships which inform those gifts.  It is ok for a clergy person to refuse to dirty their hands with filthy lucre by being disinclined to manage fundraising (though they risk gnostic heresy); however, they need to be helped to find new employment in an agency which does not need to raise money.


It is the job of the laity to claim their voice.  I once preached on Matin Luther King Sunday an told the congregation “This is you church! Claim your voice! Make a stand.  Clergy will come and go.  You will stay.  Own your church and its mission.”  A few minutes later, in the vesting room, I was told by the senior clergy person that I was never to say such a thing again.  “This is not THEIR church.  This is MY church.  I built it up and I run it.  Never say that again!”  Well, thew problem is that the 1920’s called and they want their leadership style back please. There is too much fast communication now and the generations have shifted too much for the “Father knows best” style of leadership to work anymore.  This applies to fundraising as well.  I encourage vestries and stewardship committees to act up.  Claim your voice.  Demand effective, time-consuming stewardship programs and demand effective financial development work from top leadership in your church.  Without it your mission will be constricted and starved of the financial resources Jesus wants for your valuable mission.


What you will see in this link is a model flow document which will help you to design your own strategic plan for the year.  If you do not have one yet, no worries, set aside two or three hours, go to a local cafe or museum and set your hand at drafting one – then get lots of eyes on it and begin to follow your plan beginning in the months in which you now find yourself. Make sure it has measurable objectives. Note that this model is just a model, and so does not. You need amounts, dates and responsible names of leadership in the plan. What gets measured gets done.   If you are not in need of a year-round strategic plan for financial development then, relax, because the next article will be a micro plan for the fall campaign to get you started.




No. 1: Facing Fear in Church Fundraising

“I keep putting the pledge campaign off because it scares me.”

This was an opening comment by a seasoned rector recently during a workshop I was presenting on fearless church fundraising.  It was honest.  It was vulnerable. And it was a place to start for both of us.

‘I have been a fundraiser for 35 years and a priest for 16 and I still get anxious when I begin a campaign.  Let’s talk over a beer.” Was my response.  It ended well for the Rector.

Fear is the biggest barrier both to raising money and to giving it.  I often say that “People will give to your church’s mission if you help them by using effective practices. People are not greedy, they are frightened by what they see on TV, and their materialism is simply the way they choose to scream.”

Clergy and lay leaders too often see the pledge campaign as a logistical initiative with spiritual implications and indeed it is, but even more is the pledge campaign a spiritual initiative with logistical implications.  Either way, we fail when we do one well and neglect the other.  If you preach stunning sermons of stewardship and giving but employ an un-useable pledge card then you will fail as surely as if you have the tools of a university development office but preach badly about a flaccid, dull keep-the-lights-on mission.

Effective church fundraising, especially in the pledge campaign, must include some basic components and when you have them, your fears will melt away:

  1. The mission of the church needs to deserve philanthropic investment and your congregation needs to have and employ daily spiritual practices.
  2. The parish then needs to be able to explain why giving to the church is a good investment of philanthropy
  3. The leadership need to get their act together about their own feelings about money
  4. The church’s financial development program needs to be just that…a program and not just a campaign.
  5. The posture is that of helping people to make an investment in mission; not begging to keep the bills paid.
  6. The parish or diocese needs to be free of financial, sexual or relational misconduct.
  7. The rector need not see money as filthy lucre, but rather as a valuable tool of ministry.
  8. The vestry needs to make financial development at least 10-20% of the conversation (reports, ideas, plans, etc.) at their meetings. Hoping for the best is not a plan.
  9. The Rector needs to know what every member pledges and what payments are and are not being made on those pledges. If we can be trusted to hear confessions of sins then we can be trusted to know about pledges of money.
  10. The rector needs to up their skill-set and spend the time each week engaging with financial development just like any other leader or any other not-for-profit agency.

Really, in the end, I have noticed that clergy and lay leaders who have incorporated meditation and silence into their day as a spiritual practice “miraculously” find a dramatic reduction in their fears…all of them.  And the other thing I notice is that the definition of insanity is, indeed, doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome.  I doubt you are happy with the tired, old stewardship junk you are seeing trotted out by foundations, kitschy package-programs and consultants, or you would not be reading this article.  So why not try something new?

The most effective way to reduce and even eradicate fear is to have an effective plan.  Next week I will discuss strategic planning and will attach a link to example plans for differing sizes of churches.


“Fearless Meaning-making” is a weekly blog on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico from which he raises money for Heading Home, an agency which seeks to make homelessness rare, short-lived and non-recurring. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising and now, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-making. For more information, videos and model documents go to Charles writes in order to provide new ways and perspectives on church fundraising in the face of old ways which are failing us. Recently Charles increased annual pledging by 50% during a four-year transition and increased the mean pledge from $1,800 to $2,800 with these tools.”