What if giving wasn’t limited to the $20 in your wallet?Read More
I will always remember the phone conversation. The church treasurer told me that she is the only person to know when someone is about to leave the church. In such cases, the giving stops before the involvement does. Secrecy around giving means that the pastor doesn’t know what is going on. Recalling the conversation still makes me sad. The knowledge of who is leaving the church is a heavy burden for one treasurer to carry alone.
When someone stops giving to their church, it is likely a pastoral care moment. Job loss? Marriage problems? Financial troubles? Illness? It could be an expression of anger at the church too. If someone stopped singing in the choir or volunteering at the food bank, folks from church might check in to see if everything is okay. But if someone stops giving (or never gives at all), the church doesn’t respond.
I do stewardship webinars for church folks and I learn so much - the questions are excellent. Recently someone asked me, “should I ask my terminally ill parishioner for a bequest?” Imagine answering that one in real time. I prayed fast. The best time to have the planned giving conversation would have been as part of a group conversation with the whole congregation. So that minister will also need to pray fast and rely on God’s guidance. I’ve been a pastor and I’ve been at that bedside moment. The conversation I’d like to have with my dying parishioner is thank-you. Thank you for your faithful giving to this church over many years. Thank you for your prayers, for your caring, for the jars of soup and the cookies. I’m so grateful that we will be able to keep saying your name and to continue to say thank you as we thank God for your bequest too.
For a pastor to have this final thank-you conversation, she would need to know if that person gave to the church. (Usually there’s 20 to 40% of church members who don’t give, so it can’t be assumed.)
Many Christian leaders - folks whom I respect a great deal - have trouble with the idea of pastors knowing about who gives. A concern I’ve heard a lot is that if pastors know about giving, they will treat people differently. This is true, just as a pastor should treat the couple who just had a miscarriage differently than the couple with a new baby. Pastors have such intimate involvements with people in the church. Life, death, loss. Why is money off limits?
One person wondered how a pastor could address someone’s adultery if the pastor knew that person was a big giver. I don’t know the statistics on adultery among women in their 80s but I think it’s a low risk, all things considered.
That said, I’m not here to pile more on pastors’ plates. I’ve heard concerns of financial abuse. Our church has a sexual abuse policy which includes having windows on Sunday School room doors, including the pastor’s door. We value transparency. So there needs to be ways to handle money both to honour God and to honour people (2 Cor 8:20-21). I’m still thinking this through. For starters, I would want to check in with the pastor. Is he in debt? Does she owe $45,000 in student loans? Henri Nouwen writes about The Wounded Healer - the idea that Christians can’t minister to others until their own wounds are tended. So pastor’s fiscal health might be one starting place in the pastors and money discussion.
Silence and secrecy around money in church gives money more power than it deserves. The spiritual discipline of giving is part of Christian discipleship, and discipleship teaching requires conversation. I hope pastors can be part of that discipleship conversation.
Generosity starts with a grateful heart.
Gratitude is foundational to generosity.
How can churches say thank you? Sending a thank you card is an easy starting point. Churches can do this! I met with Susan Graham Walker from the United Church of Canada today and she gave me a thank you card that they have created for congregations. Yay! It's encouraging to see the national church making it easier for congregations to share their gratitude.
Eleven ways to use thank you cards
Here's 11 ways these cards could be used, I'm sure you can think of more:
- Begin meetings with gratitude - each member of council (or elders, deacons etc.) write one card at the beginning of each meeting to express gratitude for someone in the church
- Thank church custodians who keep the building welcoming
- Thank seniors who faithfully give despite have difficulty attending worship services
- Thank students who volunteer
- Thank donors - don't wait until the end of the year, send a thank you now and a receipt later (with another thank you)
- Thank members - pastors could send out three cards a month to thank members for their involvement
- Thank clergy - church members could send an encouraging note to clergy, teacher or denominational leader
- Thank Sunday School teachers
- Thank church admin staff who keep the church running
- Thank people who make coffee (perhaps this should be in the next list, but I hold this gift in special regard because people will forget a bad sermon but remember a bad cup of coffee....)
- Thank people who contribute to the church by baking, shoveling, encouraging, sharing, listening, singing, playing music, smiling, dancing, praying, speaking, reading, debating, affirming, welcoming, organizing, giggling, doubting, crying, hugging or simply by their presence.
Imperfect is fine
Simple, short and sincere will be fine. Long works too. Quote Scripture if you like. Tell stories if you can. Try not to stress about the content: an imperfect thank you card still expresses gratitude.
The author Laura Ingalls Wilder also wrote a newspaper column. She wrote about a boy who had to write about what he was thankful for. His mother sent him on a walk around the block to reflect. Wilder noted that being able to walk and having a mother was already much to be thankful for. Congregations who worship God and pray together have much to be thankful for too; sometimes we overlook the obvious.
We are called to be the church! Thanks be to God.
If you give a wedding gift, you expect to receive a thank-you note. It’s common courtesy. If you don’t give a gift, you generally don’t get a thank-you note. Obvious, right? However, in church giving often nobody gets a thank-you note. Nobody gets thanked. Really. In many churches, donors get an annual receipt with no thank-you letter.
Gratitude makes a springboard into generosity
I’m proposing here that everybody gets a thank-you note. Here’s why: gratitude generally and thank-you letters in particular make a good springboard into generosity.
When I propose sending thank-you letters to donors, some church members object. Not everyone gives; not everyone will get a letter. In this way of thinking, silence around giving seems fairer somehow. Silence is certainly easier, but generosity is too important to keep the lid on it.
How can we encourage generosity if we don’t talk about it?
If someone doesn’t give, they don’t get a receipt and they may never be personally asked to give. This situation is not unique to faith communities – does your organization have board members who don’t give? It’s a fundraising concern for charities of all kinds. For churches, it’s a discipleship question as well: how can we promote the spiritual practice of generosity if we don’t talk about it?
In the spirit of the KISS principle (Keep it Simple Steward) I offer a sample thank-you letter for people who didn’t give (in a receiptable way). This idea comes courtesy of Sherri Grosz from Abundance Canada. I’m thinking of annual receipt time but with a little creativity, this letter could work in other contexts, like after a fundraising event.
Thank you for your support of Peach Blossom. We are glad you are part of our community. So many people take time to listen, to shovel the snow, to wash the dishes after a meal or to share a friendly smile.
Many people contribute cash and food to our monthly food bank offering that helped many families in our neighbourhood have healthy food to eat. Children and adults donated $1,872 to our Christmas giving project to buy coats for refugee families arriving in Canada. Likely you have been part of these projects and we are thankful. Perhaps you put money in the offering plate and we didn’t know your name. Again, we are grateful.
This is the time of year when we send out annual receipts to our donors. These charitable receipts can be used for income tax purposes and depending on your situation, can reduce the amount of income tax you need to pay.
If you would like a tax receipt for your donations in future, we have options.
Envelopes: please donate cash or cheques using the enclosed envelopes, or ask an usher to help you find one. Write your name on the outside and also designate your giving: “food bank”, “Christmas project” etc.
If you don’t designate, we’ll assume your donation supports the general work of the church. Throughout the week, our building provides a welcoming space used by musicians, recovering addicts, knitters and more! Your donations benefit many.
Online: Did you know that you can give to Peach Blossom online using your computer or smart phone? You will receive a receipt via email. Please visit our website at…
Through your bank account: Regular monthly giving makes it easy to give and is now about 40% of our donations at Peach Blossom. We are thrilled when people support the church in this way! Please email... or call…
Thank you for being part of our congregation! We appreciate you. If you need help doing your taxes, or would like to meet with someone to talk, we are here. Please call at …
Blessings to you,
Peach Blossom Church
P.S. Did you know we are hosting afternoon tea next Tuesday and Saturday afternoons? It’s a great chance to chat. Guests welcome!
Make it your own
There’s a 100% chance that this letter needs to be changed. Go ahead and borrow this template if you like, customize it to make it your own.
I am trying to keep this template fairly generic; I’d probably make this letter even ‘churchier’. “Did you know that you can give to Peach Blossom in your will?” would be a good addition and a great topic to discuss at the afternoon tea.
Invite me over
Here’s another suggestion: invite me to come speak to your congregation, denomination or small charity. I have lots of ideas to share and I’m really good with questions. Talking about money need not be scary! “Jesus talks about money; we can too!”
Gratitude interrupts fear
It's easy to be scared. Even in church. If the rest of our lives seem out of control, then it's tempting to want church to be a predictable place. Our routine could be sitting in the fourth pew with a hymnbook or having an espresso just before the worship band gets going. In my home church, we get upset if there is no coffee after the service. We want church to be a comfortable place. (There's scant theological basis for this desire, but that's another blog!)
Fear of talking about money
Stewardship, fundraising, money, giving, fundraising - call it what you will - this is my work. And people get uncomfortable. Money is a scary topic. There's powerful taboos against talking about money in our North American culture. It's easier not to talk about giving. Wait until the financial situation gets really bad, then send the treasurer up to the front. Tip: a year-end guilt trip is not a long-term stewardship solution. I'm sure you knew this already. So, where to start in talking about money?
Start with gratitude
Christians give in grateful response to God's generosity to us. Gratitude makes a wonderful starting point for stewardship. A generosity assessment (contact me for info here) begins with a short survey asking people to name three things they are grateful for about their church. Then the church can celebrate together. And build on a foundation of gratitude as they learn generosity together.
Three ways to start now
Say thank you. It's impossible to be too grateful. Here's three ways to say thank you:
- Call. Tell someone at your church that you appreciate them. Call, email, send a hand-written note, reach on on social media - whatever. If you know they are a donor, thank them for their support. Repeat often, as grace abounds.
- Pray. In worship, take time to thank God for people at your church who mow the lawn, maintain the website, make coffee, clean up, teach Sunday School and more. Thank God for people who contribute money to keep the church going. Repeat often, as grace abounds.
- Tell stories. What is God doing among you? The bulletin, website, church newsletter provide a forum to tell stories. Celebrate the small moments too. Did the church office take a call this week from someone who needed a listening ear? How long has the AA group been meeting in the church basement? Be grateful for these interactions, and for people who share their time, talent and treasure. Repeat often, as grace abounds.
There are more than three ways to be grateful; the Psalmist reminds us that every day gives us new opportunities. In a world that tells us scary stories, practicing gratitude interrupts our fear. Gratitude reminds us that God gives us all we need and that we can always afford to be generous.
We had so much fun giving that money away
I heard those words while having lunch at a national church gathering earlier this month. A pastor described how his church set up a bequest policy - before they ever received money through a will - so that the church would have clear directions on how to use that money. And to reassure people who might be thinking of leaving money to the church in their will. People do not want to leave money to their church if the church will argue about how to spend it. That last sentence bears repeating: people do not want to leave money to their church if the church will argue about it.
It was a very encouraging conversation. The church had a plan. They divided the money roughly in thirds: special projects at the church, causes the congregation supports and charitable causes associated with the specific donor. Current living members were still the ones keeping the church going - a vital consideration for many congregations. The donor was honoured through causes matched with the donor's interests and values. And it was a celebration of generosity - an opportunity to continue the good work of the church and many other causes.
So the point of my post is: Hey churches! Do you have a bequest policy? Here's an opportunity to encourage and to celebrate generosity.
This isn't a technical how-to post - talk to my friends at Mennonite Foundation of Canada or the many faith-based institutions that can help here. It's a conversation-starter post. Maybe another example could help...
An example: Volunteers and bequests
Here in Ontario where I live, volunteers have been running the New Hamburg Relief Sale for 50 years, to raise funds for relief and development work of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Many, many people have been generous with their time, talents, money and energy through the years - quilting, cooking, singing and much more. (And selling plants - that's where the flower in the photo comes from!) Millions have been raised to help with people in Canada and around the world. MCC and local congregations have a great opportunity to invite these faithful folks to leave a legacy. It's a final act of kindness in keeping with many years of giving. Imagine if all the churches involved had bequest policies. What if MCC had a dinner celebrating the long-time volunteers and asked them to consider helping MCC in their wills? Or, putting those two ideas together, a volunteer could leave money to her church in her will, knowing that the church would distribute the money in a way consistent with her values.
Instead of letting the words will, bequest and estate scare us, I really like reframing it as "we had so much fun giving that money away." Then we can make room for a discussion on one final act of kindness.
The Pursuit, a Christian ministry conference in London, Ontario runs from April 27-29. I'm conducting two workshops (see post Lori speaking at the Pursuit) among the many riches on offer! The-pursuit.ca has a great website but so much to take in! I thought it might help people if I shared my picks. Here's what I'm looking forward to on Day 1 - Wednesday April 27. I've chosen fundraising and stewardship themes, with a focus on technology. Many, many more choices available!
April 27 Morning
9:25 a.m. John Stackhouse speaking on diversity in Canada. I remember John from his insightful writing in the Globe and Mail.
11 a.m. Canada Helps demo from the always enthusiastic Paul Nazareth. Every church and charity should become familiar with Canada Helps - such a useful service! Gateway to online giving for many!
April 27 Afternoon
There's an abundance of good choices for learning sessions - fortunately, I can watch videos for sessions I can't attend. I'm looking forward to meeting these folks in person, so many of whom I'm already familiar with through social media and/or their books.
12 p.m. Website tips from Darrell Keezer from Candybox Marketing . 37 ways your website died (1 min) Other great choices include charity regulation from a seasoned pro, Gil Langerak from the Canadian Council of Christian Charities.
1 p.m. Harry Whyte from Ray of Hope (Kitchener ON) will share how he rebranded and rebuilt Ray of Hope into a more resilent charity.Ray of Hope 2 min
2:20 p.m. Demos - Tithe.ly mobile and web giving - definitely the way things are headed!
Silent Partner donor software. It will be good to see how this software is being updated.
3 p.m. Human Cloning Time! How can I choose between these?
Growing Givers' Hearts - Rebekah Basinger. I have never met Rebekah but I feel like I know her because I have been so inspired by her book Growing Givers' Hearts. She really gets that fundraising is ministry. Growing Givers' Hearts 1 min
Rapid Fire Stewardship - Tim Jenkins, Scott Rodin and Lorne Jackson. Should be lively! Rapid Fire Stewardship 2 min
Online Engagement & Building Community - by the wonderful folks from Tech Soup. Tech Soup Online Engagement
So that's Day 1. I'll blog about the rest of the conference on Wednesday!
I'm looking forward to conducting two workshops about church and money in April, at a conference called The Pursuit.
What's the Pursuit?
It's a new Christian ministry event, jointly hosted by three different groups and supported by many. Canadians, Americans, and many denominations and types of ministry. It's good to push the envelope!
Marcia Shetler from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (an insider!) says an important part of the conference is how "faithful stewardship and generous giving" intersects with the church. The list of speakers is impressive and stewardship component is part of a conference serving a larger constituency and offering other organizationally-related topics. (many, many topics in fact - fortunately videos will be available to see the sessions you missed!)
I tried to think of what that would look like and came up with a Venn diagram (when people study Math and then theology, these things happen!)
Video links for Lori's workshops
Here's the links to one minutes videos highlighting my two workshops (these will open in new tabs)
How do I attend this conference?
The Pursuit website http://the-pursuit.ca/ explains all the details.