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:
- The bulletin – an insert explaining each week for the eight weeks of the campaign what good things the church accomplishes with the money.
- The announcements – when announcements about successes are spoken
- 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”
- The adult forum and youth classes – in which teaching about giving, gratitude and stewardship can be done.
- 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
- 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.)
- The invitations – to the kick-off event and the ending event in which messaging can be inserted about the lives changed by these gifts.
- 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!)
- The thank you letter – for the pledge.
- The thank you letter – reporting the status of the end of the effort
- 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.”