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. 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.